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

 

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I Feel… You Feel… Empathy, Compassion, and Inclusion

I want to start with a story about some third graders I watched at a birthday party.  Picture a sunny day with green grass, a tall tree, and 15 children talking and jumping excitedly while parents strung a piñata to a thick branch.  It was time to break the piñata and all the excited children formed a line.  Each one giggled when they were blindfolded and spun around several times.  They all joined in cheering each person as they tried their luck.  However, in the background was one of the children who was in a wheelchair with a broken leg.  While the adults asked him to participate, he opted out.  He enjoyed watching the others swing wildly hitting both the air and the piñata.  Finally, one of the children broke the piñata and the candy fell to the ground.  All the children flew toward the candy and scooped up as much as they could find.  The adults were trying to gather some for the child in the wheel chair, but before they could collect a good amount, one child ran with his huge bounty to the child in the wheel chair.  He gave it all to him, smiled and pushed him to the next activity.  I still cry when I remember this act of empathy, compassion and inclusion.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is a powerful word.  It really means stepping into someone’s shoes and understanding their feelings.  Empathy helps us care for our family members, friends, co-workers, and people we meet each day.  It gives us the power to help those in need and to reduce or share someone’s hardship.  It reduces bullying and brings individuals together in a community.  Empathy starts when someone reads or understands our feelings and then connects with us by showing caring emotions.  Compassion starts when someone offers help.  Empathy can be expressed when someone needs help, is hurt, has strong negative emotions or is even excited and happy.  The first step to empathy is being able to read another person’s emotions.  To start to read emotions we look at someone’s facial and body cues.

Think about all the times during the day you read the facial and body cues of others.  I do when I wake in the morning and check on how my children are feeling.  I do when I give my children a direction or when I say their chores are complete and they can go outside to play.  I do when I see a co-worker and we are speaking on a serious issue or when someone shares an event and experience with me.  I read facial and body cues to know what someone else is thinking and feeling.  When I understand someone’s feelings, I can be a better friend and we can have a stronger relationship.  When I know how someone feels, I can then have empathy for his or her experiences, which means we have a connection and we are more likely to help each other.  When we have a better understanding of each other, we are more likely to lift each other up – true for children and adults.  Just think about the third graders.

Our children learn how to read facial and body cues by watching us do it.  They also learn how to show empathy by watching us do it.  They start to understand other’s emotions in preschool and build on it through childhood.  Building these skills will reduce bullying and will increase acceptance and community building.  We can help our children practice at any age and have fun with it!

A Few Fun Games to Try at Home

Younger Children:

  • Feeling Charades: Have family members pick feelings out of a hat and act those feelings out. Make sure you use your whole body to act those out.  Then you can help your children see both facial and body changes with the feelings.  You also can add in new feeling vocabulary to the hat as you see success (add in exuberant for excited or melancholy or morose for sad and unhappy).  You extend feeling vocabulary and understanding feelings at the same time.
  • Mirror Mirror: Have a hand-held mirror and ask your children to make a facial expression in the mirror. They may really like to see what they look like with different emotions on their faces.  This practice will help him then recognize when others are showing those emotions.  Often children like to make lots of faces into the mirror anyway, so this could be a fun way to connect labels to those faces.
  • Helpful Word List: Have your children develop helpful word lists at home for when they see someone is hurt or when someone is sad or feeling left out. Remember to let children know to use these words when they are in safe situations (for example, not with a stranger).  Helpful words might be:
    • Are you OK?
    • Do you need help?
    • How are you?
    • Do you want to play?

Older Children and Teenagers:

  • Feelings Jeopardy: Have a guessing game where you either act out a situation or talk about a situation and then ask what emotion someone would feel in that situation. An example might be, “A friend forgot that the math test was today until he walked in class and saw the teacher pass out papers.  His face changed from relaxed to…”  Your child would answer, “What is really worried or panicked?”  You can add in, “What can you do to offer help or help him feel he can make it through?”  This extension helps older children begin to see how they can make good decisions for themselves and their friends.
  • What Would You Think or Need?: You can pose different questions to older children and teenagers about what they might feel or think in different situations.  You can also ask them what they would need from a friend.  Help them know that what they think and need is similar to what their friends might think and need.  You can use situations you read in books or see in the media.  You can pause TV shows or stop reading in the book when characters are at a point you think showing empathy would be helpful.  Ask your children, “What would you think or need if this were you?”  You can ask a follow up question like, “So if you were his friend, what would you do to help?”  Older children and adolescents will also begin to form ideas for positive decision making and helpful behaviors that can keep themselves and others safe.
  • How Would You?: You can modify the What Would You Think or Need game to specifically ask about situations where someone is excluded or is teased or bullied.  Use media to help initiate the conversation.  Pause books or TV shows when you see an incident of teasing or bullying and ask, “How would you help the person in need?  How would you offer support?”  Asking children and teenagers these questions gets them thinking about how difficult it can be and how they may act in these hard situations.  Offer praise for any ideas your children think of.  Help them think of ideas too, they will need to know which adults at school and in the community can be helpful and how to talk with them.  They will also need guidance to stay safe in tricky situations.

Good Old-Fashioned Conversation:

We can help reinforce empathy and understanding other people’s emotions by talking about situations at home.  You can talk about a situation where someone noticed your feelings or you felt empathy for someone else.  Talk through the situation and how it felt to connect with another person.  Talk about when you saw your children show empathy and tell them you were proud of them.  Remind them that feeling empathy for others helps them support others and come to the aide of others in need.  We want our children to stand up for what they believe and what others need.  I was so impressed with the third grader who shared his candy cache and included the other child in the wheel chair.  He knew what his friend needed by understanding his emotions and stepping into his shoes.

Recognizing emotions in ourselves and others helps us with building relationships and connecting with others.  Let’s practice with our children so they can continue to connect with friends and understand how others feel.  Let’s build empathy, compassion and inclusion.

 

Past Posts:

Eureka!

My Kid Said What?!?!

The Calm Instead of the Storm

The EYES Have It

Creating Connection

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