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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