Working Together to Overcome Hurdles

Imagine 2 students getting ready to run on a track.  One student looks ahead and sees a pretty clear path, maybe a few speed bumps or a few dips and pot holes to avoid.  The other student sees hurdle after hurdle after hurdle.

My questions for you are:

  • Who will likely get to the end faster?
  • Who will likely be more exhausted?
  • Who will likely be more frustrated?
  • Who will not want to come back to the track tomorrow?

 

This is my analogy for the struggles students face when they are going through school with a learning, attention or social difficulty or disability.  Students with difficulties or disabilities have to work harder and take more time to do the same work than students who do not have the difficulties.  As a psychologist, I work with the student, family, school, and any professionals to overcome those hurdles.  First, I help figure out what interventions will help students develop specific skills in those harder areas.  Second, I work with the student, family and school to figure out specific ways to make learning less exhausting and frustrating and help students feel more confident and empowered.

How do I do this?

  • I get to know each student individually and learn about his or her strengths and difficulties
  • I work to understand the environments the student lives and learns in
  • I learn about the goals the student, family and school have
  • I connect this information to what research says are proven ways to help the student
  • I work together with the student, family and school to develop an educational plan to put these proven ways into action and program for success.
  • In some cases, I work to develop a comprehensive and official plan with the school, such as a 504 Plan or an IEP (Special Education Plan). I work to make the plan meaningful and powerful for the student all the way through school.

 

A professional evaluation is always helpful when families are worried about their children’s learning or social and emotional development to identify concerns and strengths and ways to lower and overcome hurdles to promote success.  I have helped students to overcome hurdles when they struggle with reading (Dyslexia), writing (Dysgraphia), math (Dyscalculia), attention and ADHD, and social and emotional needs.  By looking at each student as an individual and working together with students, parents, educators and other professionals, I can help reduce those hurdles, making the “daily race” feel a little less tiring, and helping the “runner” feel a lot more successful.

If you are ready to find out how to help your child overcome some of the hurdles, give me a call. 720-432-1336

Past Blogs

Eureka! I Have a Solution!

Oh No! Why? More on Problem Solving

The Calm Instead of the Storm

 

Eureka! I Have a Solution!

Ever get that feeling of frustration when you had a problem and weren’t thinking of solutions?  Did you know that anger and frustration decrease when we are able to think of ways to solve problems?  Well, it’s true – the more ways we can think of to solve problems, the less angry and frustrated we are.  Problems can be anything: social, friendship, academic, work related… whatever!  When we can think of ideas, we are more able to move forward past the problem and have a better attitude.

You might be asking, “How can I help my children learn how to think of solutions to problems?”  Here are three good ways we can help children learn how to do this.

  • Model (I’d like to reference my last blog post My Kid Said What?!?!? on Overt Modeling). The more we show children how we search for ideas to solve problems, the more likely they are to try it themselves.
  • Practice thinking of solutions with your children. Capitalize on opportunities to think through problems.  When you are watching a TV show or reading a book with your children and the characters run into a problem, pause and ask your children to think of ways it can be solved.  Have them think of multiple ways to solve one problem.  You also can ask them if the solution the characters came up with will actually solve the problem.
  • Cue or say that it is time for them to think about ways to solve problems. You can have a code word with your children that helps them know when it is time to think of solutions.  They will need help to generate ideas and to figure out if some ideas are better than others.  Be Aware – you may have to wait for your children to calm down before they are ready to think about solutions (if you need ideas on how to help your children calm down, please see my blog post The Calm Instead of the Storm).  We always think of more ideas when we are calm.

Learning how to solve problems helps to reduce our feelings of anger and frustration.  With practice and guidance, children can have many proud Eureka! moments with successful problem-solving.

 

 

Previous Posts:

 

Creating Connection

Phonemic what? How to Support Your Child’s Reading

 

The Calm Instead of the Storm

I often have parents ask about ways they can help their child calm down when they have big feelings that are overwhelming.  I hear parents say, “I know he is angry or upset, but I can’t help him because he can’t move past his feelings.”  We all know we have the right to feel whatever feelings we have, but learning to control those emotions helps us learn ways to handle problems and communicate our thoughts and needs.  We know we are better able to think and problem solve when we are calm, not when we are angry or overwhelmed.  I listed a few helpful hints that I like to share:

  1. Find The Calm:

a. Give your child a space to calm down. But make going to the space a positive thing, not a punishment (this is not a Time Out space). Maybe the space is a chair in the living room, a bed, a small nook near the kitchen.  The space can be different for all families.

b. The quiet space can have a soft or comforting toy, stress balls, fidget toys, music, white noise, anything that might be comforting.

c. Let your child have a few minutes there to calm down.

2. Practice The Calm

a. I talk about practicing the calm just like we practice basketball lay-ups or baseball pitching. We have to practice lay-ups over and over so we can use those skills in a high-pressure game.  Same thing for learning how to calm ourselves down, we need to practice so we can use those skills when the pressure gets high.

b. Calming can be breathing, stretching, going to the Calm Space or any mix of those! I put some resources at the end of this post so you can see what might be helpful for you.

c. We need to practice these strategies when we are calm. We can’t expect to have these calming skills if we only try them in the heat of the moment. We must practice them often when we are calm.  Some families practice right at bed time, some practice before they read together, some practice before dinner.  Pick a quiet and calm time and add in some breathing or stretching at that time.  Not only does this help with learning how to calm, it also helps families build strong relationships – an added bonus!

d. Remember to praise The Calm!

3. Model The Calm

a. I always think that children need to see us as parents and guardians as using The Calm when we get upset. The more we model it, the better.  I call it overt modeling.  Make sure to show your child how you calm yourself down when you are upset.  Talk about how you need to do that too!

b. If you really want to make sure to model how to calm, then think up an issue and talk through it. Here is an example.  “I burnt the meatloaf! I can’t believe it.  I need to calm down, I am angry at myself!  I think I will take a minute and sit down on the couch, it is my calm space.  I need to breathe slowly too.  I am going to breathe into the count of 4 and out to the count of 4 a few times.  Now I feel a lot better.  I need to solve this problem and think.  Hmmm I know, we can use gravy and ketchup and it will taste just fine!  I am glad I calmed down because then I solved the problem.”

Emotions are wonderful because they help us enjoy experiences, know when something is wrong, or connect with others.  But when emotions overwhelm us, they take away our ability to think and problem solve.  Learning how to calm helps us think of ideas and solutions to solve problems and to communicate to express our needs in a thoughtful way.

 

Resources:

Reaching Higher Educational Center

Belknap, M. (2006).  Stress relief for kids: Taming your dragons. Duluth, MN.:  Whole Person Associates.

Shapiro, L. E. & Spague, R. K. (2009). The relaxation & stress reduction workbook for kids: Help for children to cope with stress, anxiety & transitions. Oakland, CA:  Instant Help Books, Harbinger Publishers, Inc.

Previous Posts:

Creating Connection

Phonemic what? How to Support Your Child’s Reading

Flip-flopping Negative to Positive

Relationship Lessons from my Cats

 

 

 

Creating Connnection

Meaningful connections and the feeling of belonging can mean the world to children and adolescents.  Let’s think about ourselves.  When we feel we are wanted, we want to be there.  When we feel we are needed, we want to contribute.  When we feel cared for by others, we want to care for others.  Research shows that students who feel connected at school or activities are more likely to stay in school, finish school, feel safe at school and help school feel safe.

How do we help our children feel connected to others?

Some ideas:

Ask your child for help and give them chores: As parents we definitely need help.  When we ask for help, our child knows his or her contribution to the family is important and needed.  Yes, we will hear complaints, but easing your child into chores and helping promotes responsibility as well as feeling needed and wanted in the family.

Help them find positive environments: When you try out different activities, search out the activities that match your child’s interests and personality.  Check in with the adults supervising the program to know what your child is doing if you are not there.  Check in with your child to gather their feelings about the activities.  Finding a good match with the right activities can help foster that feeling of belonging.  Talking with you about how activities feel can help your child learn when something is comfortable and when something does not feel like a fit (a lifelong skill).

Talk to others who see your child: Connect with your child’s teachers to see if your child is connected at school.  Ask what your child does in work groups.  Find out if your child feels comfortable contributing to groups.  Ask if your child finds company during free time.  Ask what your child chooses during recess.  These questions will shed light on your child’s connection with peers and daily events.  They will also give you ideas about possible interest areas for your child, which can help you choose meaningful activities.

Talk to your child about their daily activities:  Taking time to connect with your child about his or her day builds connection at home and checks in on his or her perceptions of connection to peers and teachers.  Remember to make eye contact and put away any distractions, so they know you are really listening.  Once you get a response to your first question, ask a follow-up question to get a little more information.  You can ask:

  • What was one funny thing that happened?
  • What was for lunch?
  • What did you play at recess?
  • What did you do at choice time?
  • Tell me how band (or a class that is fun or a favorite) went.
  • What was one interesting thing that you learned today?

We all want to feel needed and wanted.  When we have a connection to others, we have reason to be there and to care.  Let’s create a connection with our children to show them how wanted, needed, and cared for they are.  Let’s give them the tools to create those connections themselves.

 

Phonemic what? How to Support Your Child’s Reading

I work frequently with families who have questions about their children’s reading development and how they can support their child with reading.  It is important to me to help give answers to parents whether I am just providing general information or working with individual families to examine their children’s reading development.  Two questions I hear often are:

  1. What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is hearing and identifying sounds in our language and knowing that words are made of sounds and syllables.  While phonemic awareness is not letter-knowledge, it helps us know and hear sound similarities and differences that are represented in written words.  It helps us get ready for reading and mapping sounds to letters and visual symbols.  If we can hear and discriminate similarities and differences between language sounds and hear the individual sounds in spoken language, then we have an easier time learning that letters represent certain sounds in our written word.

Examples of phonemic awareness:

  • hearing that SUN starts with a similar sound as SAND
  • hearing the three separate sounds in SUN: S-U-N
  • hearing that FUN and SUN rhyme or end with the same sounds

All of these examples have to do with hearing sounds, not reading the words.

2. How do I help my child develop this skill?

Research indicates that phonemic awareness can be taught and that learning these skills (at any age) helps with learning to read (and reading also helps these skills develop).  Here are three fun and easy games that you can play to help your child hear sounds in our language.  Just play them for a few minutes each time.  Keep them fun and easy.  You can do these games anywhere – at the dinner table, in the car, or walking over to a friend’s house.

A. Rhyming:

Have fun playing rhyming games.  Ask your child to rhyme with words you give them (make it easy when you start).  Your child can even make up words to rhyme.  “What rhymes with SKY? Fly! My! Ty! Zy! Ny!”  Don’t forget to demonstrate first.  Have your child give you a word and you provide a rhyme.  You can support hearing rhymes by reading rhyming books to your child and commenting about the rhymes you hear when you read.

B. Sound detective:

Ask your child if two words sound the same at the start of the words.  “Let’s play detective.  Do SUN and SAND start with the same sound? SSSSSun, SSSSSand?  What about SUN and MAPSSSSSun, MMMMMap?”  Don’t forget to demonstrate first!  After your child is hearing sound similarities and differences at the beginning of words, you can ask them about the end of the words like TOP and DROP, or TOP and TIP.  You can even move to sound blends like DROP and DRIVE or FREEZE and FRAME.  Point out any sound similarities when reading together or even just in conversation.

C. Guess my word:

You can play a word game where you say individual sounds in words and your child has to guess what the word is.  Your child may need time to learn this skill.  An example is: “Guess my word – S – U – N.  SUN!”  Say the isolated sounds, not the letters.  Keep the words small and pause just slightly between saying each sound.

 

You can find children’s books that support phonemic awareness at:

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/concepts-phonemic-awareness

https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/phonemic-awareness

 

 

 

 

Flip-flopping Negative to Positive

Recently, I found myself overwhelmed with negativity just by listening to a half hour of TV.  I found that no matter what I was listening to, there were overwhelming negative messages and predictions, hurtful behaviors, and feelings of helplessness.  I paused and thought how widespread these thoughts and words are currently for all of us, our children included.  If it is bringing me down, what is all this negativity doing to our children?  I started to think, I need to flip-flop the negative into the positive.  Now seems like a good time, too, with Thanksgiving coming.  So, it’s time to take action.

Research on Positive Psychology shows that highlighting moments of gratitude can alleviate the focus on negative emotions and experiences.  So I set a goal for myself, making it small and do-able so I did not feel overwhelmed.

My goal: focus on gratitude for myself and with my children.  Each day I reflect on something I appreciate.  Today I appreciated visiting with my friend and her family, watching my kids toss the football with their grandfather, sharing a humorous moment with my teenager.  I take a moment to reflect on these events and visualize or repeat the events in my mind.  Today, I quickly wrote these moments in a notebook I have next to the bed.  Some people prefer to journal, some to voice-record on their smartphone.  Any recording method for tracking these moments works, but having a record to look back at helps us know that there is much to be grateful for every day.  The record helps me to fully feel the positive emotions that I associated with the events now and in the future and I can use the record to brighten my mood when I feel down.

Then I ask my children to focus on moments they are grateful for during their day.  Just thinking about these moments shifts focus from the negative to the positive.  Here are some easy ideas to help with finding gratitude:

  • Give each person a chance at the family dinner table to say something they are grateful for and have one person make a list for all to see
  • Have children write what they are thankful for on a slip of paper and place the papers in a jar (see how full the jar gets at the end of the week and celebrate that)
  • Keep a weekly list on a dry erase board for each person and at the end of the week revisit those moments
  • Make a paper chain with a moment we are grateful for on each link and make a goal to stretch that chain around the family gathering place
  • Make a video diary of the moments and film children talking about the moments and watch them at another family time

Remember to make it fun and easy – children can dictate to you so you can write it down, they can draw a picture, they can write one word (spelling doesn’t count), or they can write a full sentence.  Ask your children to come up with ways to track their gratitude.  Sometimes they come up with the most creative and fun ways!

Another side effect of talking to my children about gratitude is that I am spending time with them, listening to them, reflecting with them, laughing with them.  In other words, I am building my relationship with them.  Relationships are a cornerstone for building inner strength and feeling happy.  When I spend the time with my children with no distractions, I know they feel connected to and needed in the family and their community.  I want that relationship now because it will help them know they can come to me when they need help or comfort in the future.  I also know that if they have a positive relationship with me, they are more likely to have a positive relationship with others.

I will continue to focus on gratitude to flip that negative into the positive.  I have a feeling that I and my children will feel happier for it!

Resources:

http://anxietyfreechild.com/positive-psychology-guide/

http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/martin-seligman-psychology/

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/gratitude_activities_for_the_classroom

 

Relationship Lessons from my Cats

I know it is hard to believe that I learned something about relationships from my cats.  You may be saying to yourself, “They are solitary and aloof animals and not very interested in relationships.  Why is a psychologist who works with children talking about these animals that prefer to be alone?”  But the more I think about these two creatures and their interactions in our house, the more I feel I need to share what I learned.  

The Backstory

We have an older cat, named Malcolm who has always been cuddly and personable.  He loves his people.  He was rescued from injury and starvation when he was itty bitty and we have had the pleasure of loving him since.  As a family, we decided he (and we) needed an additional cat.  We adopted a young kitty, named Martina, labeled “feral” by the humane society and who was scared of everything including her own shadow.  We were told the best way for her to feel comfortable is to have her in a room with everything she needs and to sit and visit her quietly and give her time to acclimate.  We were told to keep the older cat away until she seemed more confident.  After a little while, we introduced the two cats with hesitation and a watchful eye, since we were unsure how each of them would react.  They walked cautiously toward each other, gently but thoroughly sniffed each other and then began to rub noses.  We were amazed!  It was like they were old friends reuniting after years apart.  Malcolm took her on tours of the house, showed her the cat tree, and shared his eating area with her.  Now, four years later, Martina is still hesitant and shy, but she has gained confidence and comfort in our house.  She and Malcolm are best buddies and are often found curling beside each other in the sunlight.  Martina needs us to walk slowly toward her and to talk softly and gently.  She needs both her quiet attention and moments of space from us.  Their story makes me think of our relationships with our children and with others.

The Lessons I Have Learned

  1. Kindness:  Watching Malcolm help Martina feel safe and comfortable in our house reminds me of the importance of kindness in our relationships with others.  He offered help and guidance in her new environment.  He was often seen checking on her when she slept or when she felt like she had to hide.  As people, kindness in our relationships is just as important.  It fosters safety and feelings of comfort and belonging.  When we extend kindness toward others and toward our children, our children learn how to extend it too.  They carry on that kindness in their future interactions.
  2. Patience and Individual Differences:  It has been four years of caring for Martina, and she is still shy.  We have been patient in our relationship with her, knowing she needs us to wait until she feels comfortable.  We need to honor her view on the world.  She is different than Malcolm.  He always wants attention, and she lets us know when she is comfortable with getting attention.  In our relationships with others, we need to extend patience to each other by honoring our differences, understanding opposing points of view, and having perspective about the needs of others.  With our children, we need to know that their timelines for trying new things and being ready for certain experiences are their own and we have to understand that sometimes we need to show patience and understanding of their views of new situations or activities.  We model how to take the next steps or try the new things, but we have to be patient for them to feel comfortable and confident in trying them.  Showing this patience in our interactions with others and in our connection with our children will enhance our children’s ability to relate to other people and honor differences in their relationships.
  3. And lastly, Trust:  Trust is something that was not a given in our interactions with Martina, and her trust is still hard-won.  Malcolm built trust by showing her kindness and being patient with her hesitation to do something new, like sit on a lap or come out of hiding to play.  Her early experiences, before we had her, helped define how she felt she could trust people.  Only with kindness and patience were we able to begin to build trust with Martina.  Only by honoring her individual needs could we show we were trustworthy.  It is the same way when we relate to people.  We need kindness and patience to build a trusting relationship.  When we know someone will treat us with kindness and be patient with our thoughts and needs, we begin to trust them.  Trust is not easy to come by, but something we need to work on with others.  When we show our children how to build trust in how we interact with them, then they can extend those skills to people they meet and build solid foundations for friendships and relationships.

Malcolm and Martina have taught me a lot about relationships through their interactions with each other and with us.  I think with kindness, patience, and honoring individual differences, we as parents and people can build strong, trusting relationships with our children and other individuals we meet.  In addition, the more we extend kindness and patience, the more likely our children learn these relationship skills and build trusting relationships in their lives – now and in the future.