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Friday, February 20, 2015

Reward Ideas for Children

In my last post, I wrote about ways to target and shape a behavior. One of your most powerful tools is to use rewards for what you’d like to see, but sometimes it can be challenging to come up with ideas! Here is a list of possible rewards you could use. Not every idea will be right for every child, but use this to select a few good matches or generate your own ideas about the reward that would motivate your child.

Reward Ideas for Children:

  • Time to play with Mom or Dad
  • Extra time to play alone
  • Choosing a book for a parent to read to them
  • Choosing a book to read to a parent
  • Taking a bubble bath
  • Extra screen time
  • Going bowling 
  • Playing a sport with Mom or Dad
  • Having a sleepover in a different room of the house
  • Movie night with pizza and popcorn
  • A Pokemon card (or other small collectible item - larger items can be earned with a token system)
  • One item from a dollar store (suggestion: stock up on small treats and put together a prize box so the child can select from this)
  • Choosing a show to watch
  • Extra outdoor play time
  • Staying up 10 minutes later
  • Allowance 
  • A special food/drink treat 
  • Sitting in the front seat
  • Playing with special toys like play doh
  • Creating an art project
  • Going to the park
  • Taking a walk
  • Choosing a meal
  • Helping to make cookies

You may notice that most of these are not tangible rewards, but rather a privilege or time spent with others in the family. If you choose a non-tangible reward, it may be helpful to either give the reward immediately or present a coupon representing the reward to the child.

Do you have other ideas for rewards? Please share them below!

Emily Herber McLean, LPC is a child and family therapist at The Center for Psychological Services. To learn more about her practice, visit www.centerpsych.com.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rethinking Home Boundaries and Parental Leadership

Empowerment, self-esteem and self-confidence come come from freedom to grow and stretch, right? Not completely true! Are you surprised? Powerful ways of being in the world don't just show up in our kids even if we give those qualities the space to develop. 

What can a parent do to encourage qualities that lead to success?

When our first child was born my wise mother said, “Your children will be a strong as the wall they have to push against.” This was not the only advice she shared, but it was one that stuck with me for a long time. Twenty-eight years later I still remember and am so glad she shared this wisdom. A "Strong Wall" attitude worked as a parenting tool in our family.

What is being a “Strong Wall” parent?

A “Strong Wall” is quite different from a “support, nurture and they will find their way” attitude that prevails in many homes today. Don't get me wrong; I’m an advocate for supporting and nurturing. AND parents can amp that up further by consistently holding their kids accountable and responsible.

Why advocate for strong a “Strong Wall” type of parent?  Here are some solid reasons:

            Boundary Setting makes kids feel safe. It is a parent’s job to provide secure boundaries from which kids can explore the world. Parents will be helping their child be bold enough to explore expressly because they an authority that they can count on. There are a lot of authorities that aren’t so reliable.  Parents can teach their kids to make good decisions by being consistently firm, supporting and using boundaries. 

            The Pre-Frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until a person is in their twenties! This is the part of the brain that is active during the decision making process. Helping children to develop good decision-making processes is good for the growing brain. By the time they enter young adulthood, and the brain is near completion of its growth, they will be familiar with what a good decision feels like and what it produces for them. 

            Parental boundaries interrupt the sense a child might have of a right to do or have something. Developing an attitude of entitlement can be short-circuited though use of clear parental boundaries. These boundaries help kids know that the world wasn't built just for them. Imparting a realistic view of the world helps children fit in better socially, emotionally and scholastically. 

            Bumping up against boundaries helps children grow. Struggles are where we experience our biggest growth opportunities. With well thought out boundaries the struggles can be manageable, creating the opportunity for success. This process of struggle and success is what builds self-confidence and self-esteem. What a great reason for setting boundaries!

Even though you might get push back, parents who practice regular boundary setting are not being mean or unfair. Just the opposite! The parent who constantly caves in is creating a situation where the child is more powerful than the parent. Can you imagine anything scarier for a young child that feeling more powerful than his parents who are in charge of protecting him or her?

Being a supportive and nurturing parent while holding your kids accountable to reasonable expectations is a great way for parents to guide their kids to becoming independent, responsible adults.

If you need help setting boundaries in your home, reach out. We will make the process of learning and implementing boundaries manageable and rewarding for you and your family. The Navigators Way is happy to help!

Parents, do you have questions raising your child with learning issues? You can raise confident capable kids despite learning issues. Reach out for answers to your most perplexing questions today!

Becky Scott

Monday, February 9, 2015

Why We Flip our Lid and Self-Regulation Strategies: Dan Siegel's "Handy" Model

So we had a great day.  Right up until the moment we didn’t.  That was when my eleven-year-old, Jess, flipped his lid.  We’ll return to this phrase in a moment, but first let me explain.  My husband and I were suppose to go the movies and all day Jess had been looking forward to playing Mario Cart with his babysitter.  Then I got sick and we cancelled the sitter.  Jess did not take this news well. Okay, maybe that’s an understatement; he totally lost it.  Now here’s the thing you need to know about Jess, he is normally a very well behaved kid.  He is not particularly impulsive or reactive, he makes pretty good decisions (for an eleven year old boy), and his communication skills are excellent. I mean with two parents who are shrinks, how could they not be.  But in this moment, he was reduced to a walking explosion, leaving a mess of verbiage and destruction in his wake.  Crying, yelling, lamenting how terrible his life was, trashing his room.  Yes, my wonderful child had turned into a monster.  

Now I know that all you parents out there know what I am talking about.  You’ve all seen it.  I hope not too frequently, but certainly at least from time to time in your own child.  Maybe even in your spouse, or let’s be honest in yourself.

But here comes the part of the story that offers hope, the beautiful element that Jess used to clean up the metaphorical mess that he had made with his dad and me.  My husband and I know enough to not intervene when Jess gets really upset. We can’t calm him down, he needs to do this himself.  You know this as well—once a tantrum starts all you can do is get out of the way and let it run its course. In time its momentum will die, and so did Jess’.  But then, ah the beauty of it - Jess came back into the room, a grin on his face and an apology emerging from his mouth that went like this, “Mom, Dad, I’m really sorry.  I was just really disappointed and I guess I flipped my lid.”  Boom, there it is!  This is the language we had been working hard to give Jess so that when a loss of emotional control emerged he would have a tool to understand it and get himself back under his own control.  “Flipping your lid” was the very terminology we had been using and, I knew, the reason he was smiling.  He understood what had happened and in looking back upon it could see how over the top his reaction had been.

So, you ask, what is “flipping your lid”?  It's a term coined by Dr. Daniel Siegel, a clinician and author of numerous books on parenting and child development.  In his most recent book, Brainstorm, Dr. Siegel does a wonderful job explaining how brain development in adolescence explains many of the challenging behaviors we see in our teens. But this particular phrase really pertains to all of us, from youth to adulthood.

To understand it you first need to visualize your brain.  To do this we can use Dr. Siegel’s  “handy” model.  Hold up your hand. Now fold your thumb into your palm and then fold your fingers over your thumb.  This is your brain.  Let me explain.  Your fingers represent the highest parts of your brain, the cortex that is located just under your skull.  Those of you who have seen a brain, this is the part with all the ridges and valleys.  The front portion, that's located just behind your forehead, or in the handy model, the portion of your fingers between the knuckles, controls qualities such as self-awareness, impulse control, planning, and decision making.  

Now lift your fingers so that your thumb is visible. Your thumb represents the emotion-generating portion of your brain, or the limbic system.  By the way, experiential memory is tucked into that area as well.   If you lift your thumb revealing your palm you have a sense of where the brainstem is located.  This is the oldest and most ancient part of our brain.  It controls wake/sleep cycles, respiration, and many other behaviors that are necessary but to which we direct little thought.  
The brainstem and limbic areas are referred to as sub-cortical given that they reside below the cortex.  These sub-cortical areas interact to create states of being angry or scared, the very behaviors that most frequently lead to an excessive emotional reaction.  

Now tuck your thumb back in and wrap your fingers over it again so we can see what happens when you get hijacked by those sub-cortical areas.  On the count of three I want you to quickly lift your fingers, but keep your thumb tucked it to your palm.  1-2-3!  This represents what happens when you “flip your lid.”  The primitive and emotional areas of your brain take charge, knocking the cortex off-line and in doing so taking out your capacity for self-reflection, problem solving, and reasoning.  Our brain is no longer functioning in an integrated way, but rather has been hijacked by a strong emotional reaction.

So back to Jess, as he came into the room apologizing, his hand was up, fingers pointed skyward and thumb tucked into his palm, illustrating what had happened just moments earlier when he lost it.  He had a way to explain to himself and to us what had happened, and in doing so his capacity for thought and reflection has been reinstated.

I have found in my clinical practice that this "handy" model of Dr. Siegel’s is very powerful for it resonates with children, adolescents, and adults alike.  It certainly has in my own home.  Let me offer another use as well.  I have found that with Jess, just putting my hand up and simulating the flipping of his lid in the moment before an upset erupts can derail it.  It’s almost as if, when timed right, the model reminds him to keep his cortex intact and gives him a tool to do so.

Now you can take this tool to your kids, as a conversation to have in moments of calm so that when the lid starts to blow, they have a means of understanding their loss of control to emotion and you have a tool to keep your wits about you. And don’t forget, the model applies to you too.  As you start to feel yourself losing it, remember to keep that cortex intact!

You can find more about these thoughts and tools by Dr. Siegel in his 2013 book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.


Jennifer Jackson Holden, Psy.D. is managing director of the Paoli, Pennsylvania office of the Center for Psychological Services. www.centerpsych.com drjenniferholden@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Stress Management in the Classroom

With new, common core demands, challenging homework, and competition for high grades, many students stress about school performance.  However, many of these students do not know how to manage their worries, and this can lead to trouble sleeping, panic, tantrums, health concerns, a sense of learned helplessness, and even high levels of anxiety and depression.  So, what can be done to help students manage their academic work load while maintaining their emotions?

Help your Students Understand the Pitfalls of Stress and Worrying:
1) Stress Interferes with Learning and Makes it Difficult to Concentrate:  
Stressful thoughts become a distraction and causes students to miss important lessons. Here is an informative NY Times article on this: Click Here
2) Stress Has a Negative Effect on Memory:
Research shows that stress and worries make it challenging for the brain to access memories.  In fact, prolonged stress can cause large amounts of cortisol production in the brain which can even shrink the memory center of the brain - the hippocampus. You can learn more: Click Here
3) Stress Makes Us Unhappy and Unhealthy: 
Worrying can harm the body and lead to illnesses.  Harvard News and WebMD offers more on this topic.

How Can You Help Your Students to Manage Their Worries?
1) Bring Movement into the Classroom:  When you feel that you are loosing your students focus, offer short, kinesthetic breaks.  In addition, encourage your students to get participate in sports and other physical activities.  The research shows that exercise has been shown to reduce stress.  In fact, students that exercise regularly manage stress better than those that don't.  Come learn more in this NY Times article.  
2) Monitor Your Homework Load:  Communicate with other teachers so, homework loads are manageable for your students.
3) Provide “Personal Days” with No Homework: Occasionally offer your students a day with no homework or allow then to use a "pass" when needed.
4) Maintain a Worry Box: Sharing worries can be embarrassing or students may be afraid that they will be criticized.  Offering your students a worry box, where they can submit their concerns, will allow you to address problems individually or as a class.
5) Teach Time Management Strategies:  Break large assignments into manageable activities with clear expectations and deadlines.  In addition, brainstorm time management techniques as well as ways to prepare for assignments and tests in advance.
6) Integrate Short Mindful Meditations: Before stressful events such as tests, offer the option of participating in a short mindful meditation.  Here are two free meditations that focus on stress relief: Meditation 1  Meditation 2.  
7) Offer an Organized System for When Students are Missing Materials:  It can be challenging for students to catch up after missed days of school.  As a result, create a system where missed material, notes and homework can be available on the internet, through email or from a peer or advisor. 
8) Return Assignments as Soon as Possible: Quickly grade and return assignments and tests.  Also, offer students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes by providing comprehensive comments or by setting up a session with you or a support staff.
9) Allow Extra Credit for Test and Assignment Corrections:  Help students learn from their mistakes by offering extra credit or additional points for completing comprehensive assignment and test corrections.
10) Set an Example for Your Students:  Students can learn how to let go of their worries vicariously if you, too, exhibit this behavior.  Think out loud and let your students hear how you manage your own worries. 
If you have any other ideas, please share them below the post.

Cheers, Erica

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials. She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Does the ‘Dyslexia’ Label Help or Hamper Teachers?

Many parents feel like they get more support for their child if they have an ‘official’ label.  Perhaps they believe they will acquire explicit support, testing accommodations, or that a diagnosis will provide directed attention in classes. They most-likely expect teachers and special education teams can better plan lessons, if they know the diagnosis behind their child's difficulties.
"Knowing what the difficulties are" is exactly the issue: 
Dyslexia - though at times useful for the above reasons - is an umbrella term for reading difficulties unrelated to a child's intelligence. That doesn’t give teachers any explicit reasons for the basis of those difficulties. They could be visual, or phonological, related to memory deficits, or more.  Additionally, a recent study by the British Psychological Association found that the dyslexia label actually hampers teachers in a very profound way:
"[teachers felt] the label ‘dyslexia’...was seen as a fixed disability, and that the teachers believed their ability to help children with ‘dyslexia was unlikely to develop over time. By contrast, [with the label] ‘reading difficulties’, [they] were less likely to see the children’s problems as permanent; were also more likely to believe that they would be able to help them, and that their skills developed with experience."
All teachers want their students to achieve their full potential and more. However, this psychological research seems to show that by removing supposedly fixed labels, teachers feel they can try to change a child’s literacy trajectory.

Should We Shed Labels Altogether?
This is not to say we should scrap the term altogether! But it is valuable food for thought on the question of how helpful it is for teachers from a psychological perspective.  It also raises the question: Are our teachers adequately trained to meet the diverse needs of their students?

Sarah Forrest is a Literacy Specialist for the Easyread System. Easyread is an online intervention for children with reading difficulties, dyslexia, auditory processing problems and more. www.easyreadsystem.com

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Three Steps that Can Change Your Child's Behavior

If you’ve ever looked into setting a goal for a child, you probably have a sense of how much information is out there and how overwhelming it can feel. There are charts, systems, stickers, tokens, and many more options, not to mention the difficulty in determining how to create a goal! This article will help you sift through the information to help you create your own way of changing behavior.

Defining the Behavior:
When you’re setting a goal, one of the first things you want to do is define the behavior in specific terms. This will help you get a sense of what it will look like when the goal is reached. For example, rather than saying, “Johnny will be peaceful,” try to be specific about what that looks like, such as, “Johnny will share toys with his brother or tell him calmly that he doesn’t want to share.” The second example identifies the behavior you want to see so you’ll know what you’re looking for.

Shaping Behavior:
The next step is to consider a principle called shaping. Shaping is the process of using small steps toward a larger goal to reach the desired outcome. It involves rewarding behavior that is not necessarily the target, but is moving in the right direction. The idea is to create some positive momentum. To continue this example, if Johnny currently hits his brother every time he doesn’t want to share, asking him to suddenly stop and use appropriate language might be a far goal that could feel too tough to reach. This type of goal might cause Johnny to feel so frustrated that he would give up. However, we might begin by noticing any time that Johnny doesn’t hit, even if he also yells, and specifically praise his behavior. Once he is able to stop hitting consistently, we can modify what we’re praising to be a bit more close to the end goal, such as rewarding instances in which he doesn’t hit and walks away without yelling. Another step could be to not hit, walk away, and offer his brother a different toy or tell his brother how he feels. Finally, he may arrive at sharing his toys or telling his brother calmly how he feels, our end goal.

Tracking Behavior:
The third point to consider is how you’ll track his behavior. Once you’ve identified what you want to change and how you’ll notice steps in the right direction, you’ll want to create a system that is reinforcing to the child. This is where the charts, tokens, or stickers come in. Choose a system that works for you to show Johnny’s successes. You can create a sticker chart, fill a jar with cotton balls, or give tokens that can be redeemed for a reward. You can then create a system to manage rewards, which can be tangible or non-tangible, such as choosing a story for you to read to him at night. I’ll write more about rewards in my next post to expand on this topic.

Behaviors typically don’t develop overnight and are not likely to be changed overnight. However, if you have a plan, you’re more likely to make a positive impact on your child. 

Emily Herber McLean, LPC is a child and family therapist at The Center for Psychological Services. To learn more about her practice, visit www.centerpsych.com.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Goal Setting 2015! On-Ramp to Success

What would January be with out goals? Most people re-do their goals in January.
 How do you engage in the sticky job of helping your children engage in goals that will be good for them? Looming large in this activity is the knowledge that setting a goal for someone else is a recipe for disaster!

Research comes to the rescue in this case. Taking a look at the latest research could improve the odds of you helping your child set goals that they actively engage in. Carol Dweck, Ph.D. and her approachable book Succeed – How we Can Reach Our Goals, It is written for everyone from an entrepreneur to a stay at home mom. All readers will leave with insights to their goal setting process as well as helping others set attainable goals.

Here are a few choice suggestions to consider when helping your kids set goals.
  • Own the goal: Instead of assigning a goal, give your child several options to choose from. The act of choosing will add to their understanding of the value and rational of the goal itself. This deeper understanding increases ownership of the journey and the results. You structure goals that will be beneficial and let your child engage the goals that speak to them.
  • Make it a “Get Better” goal: Help to frame a goal so it is seen in an “I will Get Better at this” verses “Be Better than others” framework. Your child will focus on self-improvement rather than comparison and that helps with motivation and perseverance among other things.
  • Make it Personal: Use the right triggers to unconsciously or consciously motivate a child to work steadily toward a goal. This can come in the form of an agreed upon reward or a celebration around something intrinsic to the completion of the goal.

Success is a determining factor in Self Confidence and sustained Motivation. Creating success comes from a many little steps, goal setting being one, as it directs the child’s attention to worthy behavior in pursuit of a longer term desire. Thoughtful attention applied to goal setting is an important step in helping our children experience success while they increase their capacity to manage themselves well in the world.

Parents, do you have questions raising your child with learning issues? You can raise confident capable kids despite learning issues. Reach out for answers to your most perplexing questions today!

Becky Scott

Thursday, January 8, 2015

83 Words of Encouragement

If there is a single little thing a parent might do to improve a child’s behavior, it is positive encouragement.  A nice comment or a pat on the back can go a long way.  So that you never run short of appropriate words for this purpose, use this list.  I’ve highlighted some of my personal favorites:
  1. You’re on the right tract now.                    
  2. Way to go!
  3. You’re doing a good job.
  4. Keep on trying.
  5. You did a lot of work today.           
  6. You’re the best.
  7. Good work.
  8. Nothing can stop you now.
  9. That’s right.  
  10. You’ve about made it.
  11. Now you have the hang of it.                         
  12. You’re very good at that.
  13. That’s the way.                                             
  14. You certainly did well today.
  15. You’re doing fine. 
  16. I’m very proud of you.
  17. Now you have it.                       
  18. You’re learning fast.
  19. That’s great.                                                   
  20. You’ve just about got it.
  21. You did it that time.                                       
  22. That’s good. 
  23. That’s coming along nicely.                           
  24. I’m happy to see you working like that.
  25. Great.                                                                
  26. That’s better than ever.
  27. Fantastic.                                              
  28. That’s quite an improvement.
  29. Terrific.                                                 
  30. Good work.
  31. That kind of work makes me very happy.      
  32. Tremendous.
  33. Now you’ve figured it out.                        
  34. Outstanding.
  35. How did you do that?                                 
  36. Perfect.
  37. That’s better.                                                    
  38. Fine.
  39. Excellent.                                                         
  40. That’s really nice.
  41. That’s well done.              
  42. Wow!
  43. Keep it up                                                        
  44. That’s it.
  45. You figured it out fast.                                    
  46. Keep up the good work.
  47. Much better.               
  48. Good for you.
  49. Good thinking.                                                
  50. Exactly right.
  51. Super.
  52. Nice going.
  53. You make it look easy.  
  54. You’re doing much better today.
  55. I’ve never seen anyone do it better.                
  56. Superb.
  57. Wonderful.                                                    
  58. I knew you could do it.
  59. Keep working on it. You’re getting better.   
  60. That’s a great way to do it.
  61. You’re doing beautifully. 
  62. You’re really working hard today.
  63. You’re getting better every day.                     
  64. You remembered.
  65. You’re really improving.                                
  66. I think you’ve got it now.
  67. Well look at you go. 
  68. You’ve got that down pat.
  69. I like that.
  70. Couldn’t have done it better myself.
  71. Now that’s what I call a fine job.                   
  72. You did that very well.
  73. Congratulations.                                             
  74. That was first class work.
  75. Sensational.   
  76. That’s the best ever.
  77. You haven’t missed a thing.                           
  78. You really make my job fun.
  79. You must have been practicing.                     
  80. You have reason to be proud.
  81. It’s a pleasure to teach you when you work like that.
  82. I enjoyed this time with you.
  83. Thanks.          
Maybe you have some others to add to the list.  Please pass them along. We could all use a well-stocked closet of encouragement!  By the way, you might also take occasion to use some of these empowering and encouraging phrases on yourself when you need a little pick me up on a rough day.

That said, keep up the good work!


Jennifer Jackson Holden, Psy.D. is managing director of the Paoli, Pennsylvania office of the Center for Psychological Services. www.centerpsych.com drjenniferholden@gmail.com.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

5 Ways to Motivate Students to Complete Homework

After a long day at school, enticing students to complete homework can be challenging.  Few young learners look forward to tackling assignments at home.  So what can we done to make this often painful process less taxing, and possibly fun?

Homework Can Be Home Fun:
After-school assignments should never have been called "homework." Clearly, combining the words home and work it not a good marriage.   So what can be done to improve students attitudes and motivation about home assignments?
  1. Shed the name homework altogether and come up with a more appealing and motivating task names.   Imagine you are selling a product, and create fun and enticing names for all your assignments and lessons.  For example, don't assign script or cursive, ask students to practice their roller-coaster letters! Furthermore, generate excitement about upcoming units by showing your own enthusiasm for the content.
  2. Bring the games, music, and art into assignments.  Many students enjoy the arts as well as playing games, so try to weave these into what I call, "home fun." Assigning these creative options also ignites the fun factor and makes academics more memorable too.
  3. Offer assignment options.  Each student possesses their own preferred ways of learning.  As a result, provide choices that allow students to share their knowledge while granting them the power to select an empowering approach.
  4. Limit homework time.  Students are often spent after a long school day, and there is a lot of research that suggests that home assignments are not beneficial.  In fact, a Canadian family took this very issue to the Supreme Court in their country, claiming that there is no evidence that home assignments improved academic performance.  They actually won the ruling, and their children were granted and exemption from all homework. 
  5. Offer your students extra credit for completing home assignments.  Most students are motivated to improve grades.  This will offer them the incentive.
  6. I hope you found this blog helpful.  If you have other ideas, please share them below this blogpost.
Cheers, Erica

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

Monday, December 22, 2014

How to Teach Children to Give

As we reach the holiday season, a focus can unintentionally shift onto material items. Many get swept up in the excitement of getting new toys, and as a parent it can be challenging to know how to shift the focus to giving. However, as adults, we can greatly influence the lens through which children view the holidays by examining our own language around this time of year.

To learn more, check out this video by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny. If you're not able to watch at this moment, allow me to summarize:

These researchers wanted to see if the language that adults use influences the children’s feelings of generosity. To create their experiment, they asked children at a Christmas party to talk to Santa, who was played by a member of their team. They presented two scenarios to two different groups of children. In one scenario, Santa asked children what they were most excited to get for the holiday. In the other, Santa asks what they were excited to give for the holiday. Immediately following this, two children were taken to see one of Santa’s helpers, who was also played by a member of the team. The helper then presented the child with a choice of a big chocolate or a small chocolate, with the understanding that the one they did not choose would go to the other child. That is to say, if the child sacrificed by choosing the smaller chocolate, the other child would have the benefit of receiving the larger option. They found that children who were asked what they were excited to give before they received this choice were 50% more likely to take the smaller candy, therefore giving the larger candy to their peer.

This experiment highlights the importance of cognitive framing, which is the process of using language to impact a person’s interpretation of the information. You might use this when you want to ask for help with a chore and you present it as an opportunity to help. For example, “I’d like you to help out by emptying the dishwasher,” is likely to go more smoothly than, “Why don’t you ever empty the dishwasher? Get to it or no TV.” 

If you’d like to shift the focus to giving this holiday season, think about the language you use and lead by example. Ask what your children are excited to give to others, share how happy you feel to give to them, or even arrange a giving project by volunteering as a family. 

Emily Herber McLean, LPC is a child and family therapist at The Center for Psychological Services. To learn more about her practice, visit www.centerpsych.com.

Friday, December 12, 2014

4 Tips to Deal With Difficult News

Picture yourself in an IEP meeting or conference with a teacher. The conversation turns to a difficult topic concerning your child. You know you want to hear them out but you can feel your blood pressure starting to rise…. Raising kids with learning disabilities and/or attention challenges has its moments. Any parent knows this is true.

What do you do during these challenging moments to help yourself really hear what the person has to tell you? When the listening gets difficult, what do you do to stay connected? You will always be able to determine the value of what they have to say later, but not if you don't hear it now!

Here are four tips to use when the listening gets difficult. With practice, these will allow you to listen deeply despite the frustration you might be experiencing:
  • Listen Non-Judgmentally: Assume the information you are listening to is just one person’s opinion. That opinion matters but it isn’t the end all and be all. Learn to look for the grain of truth in every encounter.

  • Ask for Honesty and Truthfulness: To find clarity about what is being said, ask for truth and honesty – not just nice talk. Nice doesn’t always bring clarity. Nice tries to mollify. If you have a challenging situation, getting to the heart of the issue is more important than cloaking the truth in “nice”.

  • Focus on the Future: When faced with a challenge, it is easy to get bogged down in the details of the past or present. This usually doesn’t help after the basic level of understanding is achieved. Knowing where to direct your energy to make changes is critical. Ask future oriented questions to help determine your next steps.

  • Write Down and Confirm Key Points: When encountering difficult information the emotional component hampers us from remembering what we heard. Confirm what you heard as wrap up for your meeting. Write it all down for reference. Keep all your child’s information in one folder or notebook for easy access.

Using these tips your conversation will be better focused and you will better understand and remember what is said. This makes reengaging easier. Challenges often aren’t solved in one meeting. Solutions are built over time with cooperation and collaboration. As a parent, using these tips will help you connect in the best way possible ensuring solid solutions for all.

Parents, do you have questions about your child with learning issues? You can raise confident capable kids despite learning issues. Reach out for answers to your most perplexing questions! 
Becky Scott

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Magic of Positive Comments: The Magic 5:1 Ratio

As you move into the holiday season the nature of school schedules is such that you will be spending more time with you kids, and your spouse.  Holiday breaks can be wonderful, full of fun trips, time with extended family, hot chocolate and sledding, and warm cuddles in front of the fire.  They can also be filled with messy homes, bored children, and too much time on screens.  It is a time that is ripe with potential for feeling irritable and annoyed.  It is also a wonderful opportunity to work on strengthening the positive emotion between you and your kids, and you and your partner, building up the reserve that can get depleted by the daily grind through the course of the fall.

So Here’s a Strategy to Help You Do Just That… Gottman’s 5:1 Ratio:
John Gottman, a well known researcher on couples and marriages, found that all couples fight; people who live together have conflict.  You and I know that parents and children do as well.  Gottman’s research focused on identifying the factors that made some couples successful and led to failure by others.  Fighting was not the significant factor.  What was more important was the degree to which couples could accentuate the positive and minimize the negative.  Take note, elimination of the negative wasn’t significant or even attainable.  It was an increase in the positive that made a tremendous the difference in the endurance and success of marriages.  Gottman found that stable, happy couples have about a 5:1 ratio between positive and negative interactions.  That is, for every criticism or negative comment there has to be at least 5 compliments or positive comments.

Why 5:1 Ratio?  
Gottman found that positive interactions build up a “reservoir of positive feeling.”  You might liken this reservoir to a savings account into which you are making regular deposits to be withdrawn on a rainy day. Couples who have such reservoirs of positive feelings use some of this when they are criticized, which sustains them through the difficult work of resolving the conflict.  Positive expressions of love, respect, and affection keep love nurtured when they are offered with consistency over time.

What if you Applied Gottman’s Magic Ratio to Your Relationships with your Children?  
For every criticism or complaint you made a point of offering five positive comments.  These aren’t hard to offer, but it may require some attention to do so.  This can be challenging, especially in the midst of a living room that looks like a hurricane hit it with a trail of belongings that follow your children through the house as they lay across the couch with their face in a screen. 

What is the Benefit? 
The benefit would be that parent/child relationships that are inherently positive, provide the foundation needed for a child to develop confidence, healthy self-esteem, and resiliency.  For those of you with a child who has a learning disability or other significant challenge that makes life harder than it may be for their peers, such qualities are all the harder to establish and that's much more critical to their success.  Also keep in mind that when parent/child relationships are not experienced by the child as inherently positive, anxiety, oppositional behavior, and adjustment problems can ensue.  In a relationship where the 5:1 positive to negative ratio is evident, kids are more likely to be cooperative and to listen and respond when a parent does have a complaint. 

Strategies for Success:
So, can you see the value of working on this positive undercurrent in the way you treat and/or hold your child?  To make it a bit easier, here are some tidbits to put in your pocket to offer them throughout these days of holiday cheer, and then well into the winter…

“Good Job”     “I love you.”     “Thank you for…”     “That was nice.”     “I appreciate that you…”

Other ways to contribute to the positive energy savings account include:
  • Do not overlook what seem like small things.
  • Remember that sometimes simply remaining calm and not overreacting can be interpreted as positive and have a wonderful effect. 
  • Pay attention to your child (especially when he or she is doing something positive).
  • Be empathetic.
  • Be respectful and accepting of all feelings.
  • Maintain a positive view of your child.
  • Always be on your child’s side.
You might also pay attention to negative behaviors on your part that warrant a decrease:
  • Eliminate criticism
  • Shed blame
  • Avoid sarcasm
So, I Leave you with this Question: 
Have you said five nice things to your child today?

Be well and happy holidays,

Jennifer Jackson Holden, Psy.D. is managing director of the Paoli, Pennsylvania office of the Center for Psychological Services. www.centerpsych.com drjenniferholden@gmail.com.