Transition Trouble | How Family Routines and Rituals Can Help

If your child experiences difficulty with transitions, changes or any activity requiring flexibility, you may be wondering what’s making it so hard.

Your child may be hypersensitive to changes in routines or unexpected events for a variety of reasons. Some possibilities include poor organization orplanning skills, sensory issues, developmental delays, inadequate coping mechanisms, maladjustment or an anxiety disorder. If your child also exhibits any of the following symptoms, it could be anxiety that is causing all the commotion:

Symptoms of Transition Caused Anxiety:

• Negative, rigid, perfectionistic or unrealistic thinking patterns

• Irritability, tantrums, anger or aggression

• Constant worry about what might happen

• Avoiding new or unfamiliar people, places or activities

• Excessive clinginess or withdrawal from activities and socialinteractions

• Interruption in sleeping or eating habits

• Psychosomatic complaints such as stomach aches, headaches and fatigue

All children and adults experience anxiety at a natural level, and it’s considered normal until it negatively impacts a child’s functioning at school, home or with friends. If your child is overly anxious for what is expected at their age, it is likely interfering with family life. Adding routine and structure into your home, wherever the opportunity lies, will surely help an anxious child be more successful across his environments. Read more

Hitting, Biting, Pushing, and Shoving | How to Handle your Child’s Aggressive Behavior

As a parent, it can be both frustrating and upsetting when dealing with a child who is exhibiting aggressive behaviors. Parents may feel that they cannot enroll their child in certain activities and/or groups because they fear that their child will be aggressive towards the other children. Also, some parents might even feel worried or embarrassed about receiving phone calls from daycare or school, reporting the aggressive behaviors that their child displayed.

Step 1: Addressing Your Child’s Behavior:

The first step to addressing your child’s aggressive behaviors is figuring out why your child is acting like this. A child can become aggressive for several different reasons.

Some children may exhibit aggressive behaviors because of:

  • Insufficient speech development
  • Lack of routine Read more

Surviving Meltdowns: Supporting Children with Language Disorders During Breakdowns

Parents often tell me about the challenges they face when helping their child through a meltdown. It’s difficult to know how to help when you can’t figure out why your child is upset to begin with. Moreover, it can be discouraging when all your efforts to diffuse a situation seem to fail.

Children with speech and language difficulties often display frustration when they cannot effectively express themselves. Frustration can result in even less effective communication, which ultimately exacerbates the problem; it’s far more difficult to communicate when our emotions are heightened, whether through anxiety, fear, frustration or anger. This presents a problem for children with communication disorders, who are often less able to convey their needs in moments when they need to the most.

If you’re a parent and this issue sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Here are strategies I often encourage families to try when helping their child through a meltdown.

Strategies To Help Your Child Communicate During A Meltdown:

Use a calm voice: You may feel as frustrated as your child looks, but do your best to keep your response calm, consistent and neutral. Your tone will convey a message of safety to your child.

Use simple language: Your child may have more difficulty processing incoming language during a meltdown, so it’s important to keep you language simple. Simple language will be easier for your child to process. Instead of saying “John, you need to stop crying and put your shoes on because now it’s time to go home,” try using concise phrases such as “shoes on” or “first shoes, then go home.” Read more

How To Help Fidgety Students Pay Attention In Class

For many teachers, it can be hard to teach class when students are wiggling around in their seats or on the rug during instruction. Though it may be difficult to determine exactly why children fidget and have difficulty paying attention there are things that teachers can do to help!

Some children might fidget in an effort to pay attention to the teacher. These children are often classified as “low arousal” children who need more movement to keep their bodies upright and to participate in the classroom. Other children might be fidgety because they are constantly seeking out sensory experiences from their environment to get a better understanding of where their body is in space.

Some children might fidget because they do not have the trunk control to maintain a static muscle contraction in order to sit upright. Other children might be overly sensitive to light touch and might be bothered by the way the chair or rug feels on their body, how their clothing feels, or how close their classmate is sitting next to them.

Below are some strategies for teachers to help their students with fidgety behaviors in the classroom:

• Provide students with seating surfaces, such as a Move’N’Sit cushion or therapy ball to give their body sensory input. Read more

Strategies to Decrease Nail Biting and Other Anxious Habits

Many things can cause stress for children, including academics, social problems at school, or even sports. Some children may be less resilient than others, and these stressful events can lead to anxiety problems. Unfortunately, many children may be unable to express their worries and emotions verbally, or they may not be aware of what it is that causes them stress. Therefore, often times children will express their anxiety through behaviors or anxious habits. Stress and anxiety can lead to poor and inconsistent sleeping patterns, depression, fears, difficulties with social interaction and isolation, among other problems. Follow the tips below to help ease the stress in your child’s life.

Tips To Identify Decrease Stress In Your Child’s Life:

• Children don’t often express anxiety with words, as they tend to not understand these feelings, not be fully conscious of them, or do not know how to express them.

• Habits/symptoms that may be signs of anxiety or stress include: nail biting, chewing on fingers, picking on clothing, inconsistent sleep routine, stomach aches, head aches, fear, worry, distress or isolation.

• Anxiety and stress affects concentration, decision-making, ability to make friends, and mood. Depression is closely linked with anxiety.

• How To Help:

Make sure your child has good sleeping habits and can recharge her batteries for the next day. Sleep improves concentration, boosts the immune system and aids in Read more

What Is Executive Functioning?

Disorganized Child“Executive functioning” is a buzzword right now in the academic and parenting worlds. I often hear teachers use the term loosely at staffing and school meetings. What does it actually mean, though, and why do so few children seem to have executive functioning skills?

Executive Functioning Defined:

The definition of executive functioning is actually implied in the name – it is the CEO of an individual’s daily activities. These skills make up the child’s ability to organize, plan, problem solve, inhibit responses, fluidly transition between tasks, monitor work, and effectively change solutions based upon new information.

Examples Of Executive Functioning Skills:

These skills can be seen throughout a child’s day: does the child have a set plan for a morning routine, or is it chaos on a daily basis? Is the child’s room organized so that anyone walking in knows where items should be? What about his/her backpack or locker? Does the child forget to turn in homework assignments that he/she actually completed? Does the child forget to write down daily assignments or forget to bring home necessary materials? What about the social world – does the child struggle planning activities with friends? Read more

Strategies to Improve Homework Success

boy doing home workAfter a busy day, the last thing you want to do is fight with your child about finishing his homework. Turning in an assignment or performing successfully on a test should feel like a great accomplishment for you and your child, not a constant battle. Every child prefers different organizational and environmental strategies to help him focus and stay on task; and different strategies may work in different days depending on the child.

Homework Seating Tips:

• Exercise ball: By replacing a typical chair with an exercise ball, the child automatically receives more input to their body. He is now required to keep his feet flat on the floor, his shoulders down and relaxed, and his trunk erect with his muscles constantly firing as he keeps hjs body in an upright position. This extra input gives him increased attention and focus during fine motor and tabletop activities.

**Note: Exercise balls used as a chair are not appropriate for children who have poor postural control and weak core muscles, as this will cause them to focus on keeping their body stabilized on top of the ball, as well as on the task at hand. This may lead to rushed or sloppy work because their attention is on the exercise ball, noton their homework. Talk with an OT or PT if you have questions about the best seating for your child. Read more

Successfully Surviving Spring Break at Home with Your Kids

It’s spring break and you are home with your kids: kids drawing at home

What does that mean? It means that kids are completely ecstatic and simply can’t wait for this vacation from school! For them, it means: no homework, no alarm clocks (aka sleeping in), and no racing to the bus before the sun has truly risen for the day. Some parents are thrilled with these benefits and add the many benefits spring break allows for the parents: no packing lunches, no driving from school to school trying to pick up carpools and race to after school activities, and getting to spend some quality time with your kids. Yet, for many parents, spring break evokes a feeling of sheer panic:

WHAT WILL WE DO ALL WEEK WITH ALL THE KIDS HOME TOGETHER, AT THE SAME TIME, WITH NO SCHEDULE, AND NOTHING TO DO?!!!

As a parent myself with 3 school-age children, I can see both sides of the spring break debate. Yet, I’m here to tell you that you can survive staying home during spring break with your kids. Even as I write that, I’m still stricken with the panic myself. But, as I take some deep breaths, I will walk you through some survival tips for the next 7 days.

Spring Break Survival Tips:

1) Have a plan: The worst words a parent can hear from children over break is, “I’m bored!” Ok…that, and the fighting words between siblings. But, the bored part is within our control, at least for a little while. The fighting words between siblings will most likely be addressed in another blog, not to worry. Anyway, back to “have a plan”. If you have never had a family meeting in your household, here’s a great place to start (and a great topic). Call to order a family meeting to discuss possible activities that can be done during the week off from school. Everyone should have a chance to give input.

2) Engage your kids in the plan: Kids like to feel that they have choices and that their opinions count. And, what better time to allow them to have those choices than spring break when the week is full of possibilities? Write down all the ideas the kids have for activities, places they’d like to visit, friends they’d like to see, etc. Even if one of your kids wants to play Wii and relax, there will be time for that and it’s good for the kids to have some downtime. Perhaps that can be the “family game night” activity one night this week.

3) Make a calendar of possible activities: This will allow you (and the kids) to see what the plan is for each day. Whether it’s playdates or a trip to the museum, the kids can see what is planned. It allows them to see that their ideas are put into action and also teaches them the art of negotiation. For example, “Yes, we are doing the activity that Jake chose tomorrow morning, but we are doing your activity on Tuesday when your friend Emily and her mom are free to join us.” Of course, the calendar can be changed, if need be.

4) Be careful not to over-schedule: You’ve heard of not over-scheduling kids’ activities, playdates, etc during the school year, but the same is true for vacations. Be sure to give breaks throughout the day, so the activity chosen is still enjoyable for the kids (and for you). This is especially true for children who have difficulty with transitions. For example, if you’re going bowling in the morning, maybe some game time or an art activity with just the family is good for an afternoon activity, rather than another outing or high-energy excursion. And, it’s ok to have some “screen time” (as we call tv, computer, and video games in our house) to give tired moms and dads a break too.

5) Schedule a grown-up night out: Yes, I did say “schedule”. As parents, it’s easy for us to forget about adult time and especially time for ourselves. So, before you get caught up in the calendar of all the kids’ activities from morning until night, make sure to add a “grown up night” to that calendar. Phone an in-law, a parent, or a sibling and see if they would be willing to watch the darlings for a couple of hours so you can have some grown-up time with your spouse or significant other. Or, see if a friend would be willing to sit for your kids one night and you can sit for theirs another night. Or, if finances allow, hire a sitter! I promise this will be a great addition to your spring break plans. If your spouse travels or you can’t go out together one night during this week, make it a grown-up night with some friends.

Some ideas for spring break kid-friendly activities that won’t cost a fortune:

• local libraries often have free passes or discounts to local museums and attractions-check that out! Or, just spend some time at the library.

• parks (if the weather permits). Try one that you’ve never seen before- maybe in another town and have the kids make a comparison list: what they like best at each park.

• take a train ride

• visit an animal shelter and bring newspapers. They always need newspaper for training

• volunteer at a local nursing home or get a group of kids together to do a talent show of sorts

• rent a movie about something the kids learned about in school-making popcorn helps them forget they’re learning while they watch

• take pictures when you go on activities and even make a scrapbook at the end of the week

Gifted Children And What It Means To Be Advanced

gifted childI was asked to write a blog on giftedness in children – specifically, how to access it and how to ensure that a child with cognitive strength is able to reach his or her potential. This has proven to be a hard topic to write about. I don’t like the term “giftedness” for several reasons, but before I divulge those, I need to discuss what it means to be “gifted.”

A quick review of basic statistics is necessary in order to understand how we assess children has demonstrating superior ability. Traditionally, when we think of giftedness, we are thinking of a child’s IQ score. The vast majority of IQ scores used standard scores. A standard score is a statistical term in which a score of 100 is solidly average (50th percentile) and a standard deviation (the spread of scores from the mean of 100) of 15. In layman terms, scores between 85-115 are considered to be average.

When you are talking about giftedness, we see scores with at least two standard deviations greater than the mean (meaning an IQ score of 130 or higher). So, gifted children are those children that have IQ scores of 130 or higher. Pretty easy to identify, right? Wrong. One of my major critiques of giftedness is that parents and some academic folk rely way too much on the overall IQ score to determine if a child is gifted.

What Are IQ Measurements For Children?

The current gold-standard IQ measure, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) came out in 2003. On the WISC-IV, children attain a Full Scale IQ score, which is comprised of several factors: verbal reasoning and comprehension, nonverbal reasoning, immediate attention and memory, and processing speed. Here lies one of the concerns in assessing giftedness. Which score should one use? Read more

Helping Kids Handle Aggression

Aggressive behavior needs serious attention soon after it occurs. It may be predictive of more serious disruptivemad boy behavior disorders in later phases of development. Mental health professionals consider disruptive behavior a disorder when the behaviors are frequent and intense, reaching a level that negatively impacts a child’s social, academic, or interpersonal worlds.

Since disruptive behavior seen in the preschool and grade school years can predict serious health and behavioral problems in adolescence, it is highly recommended that you intervene as early as possible.

How Parents Can Help With Childhood Aggression:

  • Participate in parent training with a qualified behavior therapist to learn new techniques for behavior management
  • Read behavior management manuals suggested by professionals, such as Families (Patterson, 1971)  and Living with Children (Patterson & Gullion, 1968)
  • Pay attention to and reward appropriate behavior. Ignore minor offenses.
  • Model and role play alternatives to aggression with your child. Create a story line with characters they prefer, and set up hypothetical situations. Prompt them to practice healthy emotional expression and solve the problems you are presenting in positive ways.  Read more