How Do I Teach My Child to Advocate for Themselves?

 

One of the hardest (and most rewarding) things for a parent is watching your child brave new situations alone.

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Without you by their side, it can be challenging for them to learn to advocate for themselves.  Some children come more naturally to these skills, but many have to learn them slowly and systematically through experience.  It can be the difference, however, of sitting and staring blankly at a test with no solution in sight, or raising a hand and asking a teacher to clarify a question. daydreaming at school

Self-advocacy can mean that your child writes an assignment down completely and then checks in with the teacher at the end of class to make sure all the assignments are copied correctly. It can help them take control of any struggles they may face, accept their learning challenges, and find ways to navigate their school experience.

 

Below is a quick list of ways to work on self-advocacy with your child. As I discuss self-advocacy with my students, I always follow up with the benefits of looking out for yourself.  That being better organized and on-top of our assignments and tests is a win-win situation.  By taking control of our needs and becoming more efficient with our time, we condense the time we have to spend on homework and other tasks, opening up more time for free time and play.

  • Work with your child’s teacher. Sure, all our teachers are busy, but they want what’s best for your child.  If your child needs a more structured system, work with them on ways to achieve it.
  • Role play. I can’t say enough about rehearsing possible situations that may arise in the comfort of your own home, while your child is relaxed.  Make it a priority to discuss with them different ways we can ask for help when confused or upset.
  • Practice.  Self-advocacy at school can be practiced early on, when you are present.  Have a question in pre-k or kindergarten about what snack to bring?  Encourage your child to ask their teacher for help, with you behind them. Let them be their own advocate.
  • Encourage your child to be specific. Requesting additional time on a test to work through problems is more specific and focused (and an easier thing for a teacher to allow) than just saying “I don’t know” or leaving answers blank. I’ve met many children who get test anxiety and draw a blank, leaving answers empty and throwing in the towel. Many children don’t do well with timed assignments, and most teachers are willing to work with them for a solution. After all, they’d often rather test knowledge than speed (exceptions might be fluency tests and state-mandated testing). But it’s helpful for a teacher to know specifically how to help, with extra time for assignments, more clarification for long division, or a book on tape so a child can listen and read. Your child can practice with their teacher on how to answer parts of questions, skip questions and come back, and maintain a rhythm through testing.time timerAfter all, a child who self-advocates becomes a college student or young adult who can independently navigate the complexities of adult life.  Just this morning I worked on my own self-advocacy (and self-control) skills calling Comcast for the 4th time in two weeks about incorrect billing charges! 😉

Self-advocacy means independence and confidence, and allows your child to feel in control of their academic success.  It’s that peace of mind that is essential, as self-confidence can make all the difference in school achievement.

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Traveling with the kiddos…

 

I think as parents we build up our nervous anticipation of traveling with kids.  Usually, trips go more smoothly than we predict they will, and the (sometimes literal) gross disasters are fodder for years of family stories to come.

 

And what better way to educate our children than to travel?  For it is through travel that we see new sights and sounds, eat new foods, experience new cultures, and push our comfort level.  Our children learn to occupy themselves when bored, become comfortable with their own thoughts and imagination, and communicate with others in a whole new way.

 

Travel can be as simple as a road trip around your state.  Each town has a unique personality to meet along the way.  An airplane flight to a neighboring state to visit grandparents teaches children how to wait patiently, how to follow oral directions, how to read signs and posters, and how to find gate numbers.  What better way to get hands-on learning?

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Your children experience new people with all that people-watching: new mannerisms, new ways of dressing, and overhear conversations on novel topics.  What could be a better “classroom” lesson for the day?

 

When schedules allow, it isn’t hard to get away for a weekend.  I believe prioritizing your child’s education, as we all do, includes these rich experiences.  Patience, flexibility, and fortitude are lessons taught remarkably well on the road.  As parents, we can prepare our children for the journey ahead, knowing full well that hiccups will occur, but they often won’t be something we can’t handle.

 Here are a few things to try on your next adventure:

  • Talk with your child about expectations and what the traveling will be like.  Kids do well with a framework on which to map their experiences.

 

  • Allow extra time to pull them aside, out of the hustle and bustle, and explain what is happening next.  Before you go through the security gate at an airport, for example, take them aside and kneel down, telling them what to expect in the next few moments.

 

  • Help them use their eyes and ears to observe the world around them. Give them a visual scavenger hunt (like “I Spy”) or pictures in their journal to find and draw.  For an upcoming trip, I’m printing photos from the internet and sticking them inside journals.  My daughters will be able to use the pictures to identify important landmarks and historical monuments.  They can color or write their own ideas, too!

 

  • If your child has special needs, they will need some accommodations in your plans.  But even our special kids need these experiences.  Plan ahead and bring some fallback comfort items to keep them at ease.  They will respond well to your energy level, so take a deep breath and meet them where they are at.

 

You can find all sorts of great suggestions on the internet for travel-specific tips and tricks for kids.  Use what works for you, discard things that don’t.  But by focusing on the actual travel as a learning experience, you can see the experience through your child’s eyes and focus your attention there. 

Where will your next trip take you? Do you have a great kid-friendly travel experience to share?  Leave a comment below and let us know how you did it!

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*My family and I are heading on a road trip soon to visit a new baby niece.  I’ll take my girls on a plane flight to visit grandparents for spring break, while my husband stays behind.  Our girls have proven themselves good little travelers, other than the occasional baby explosion, so we’ll put them and their potty-trained backsides to the test on an international trip in late spring.  I will let you know how it goes!

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Homework Tips and Tricks

*Let me just say this.  I am not a big fan of lots of homework.  I think it is redundant and unnecessary for many students, and for others can completely strangle their love of learning.  I think there is a time and place for completing an assignment that couldn’t be completed during the day, or working extra on a long-term project.  But I think our education system in general has gone the wrong way with homework.  Struggling students can spend three hours a day in early elementary school tackling their homework, and their systems are already fatigued from a full day of school.  It is not unusual for the middle school students I work with to spend five hours in the evening completing homework.

That being said, I encourage parents to help their children find a balance. Encourage  quality over quantity, and keep in close communication with teachers to determine what is necessary for your child.  Good teachers understand this balance, and while they can’t change what’s required on state testing, they are usually very willing to work with a student on a bit of balance.

 

After a long school day, it can be difficult for children to sit down and tackle their homework.  Make sure they have eaten a snack and exercised outside, and then use an analogue clock or a Time Timer to allow for short bursts of homework activity.  For early elementary students, try 10-20 minute work sessions; for older students, try 20-30 minute work sessions.  (I always recommend analogue clocks rather than digital clocks to help your student understand the passing of time, rather than just a single moment in time.) The Time Timer is helpful because it shows a countdown of time in bold red, so even preschool students are aware of time passing.

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Is your child having trouble sitting in one place for homework?  Make sure they have exercised after coming home.  Then, try a wiggle cushion on their seat, let them stand at the kitchen counter, or sit on an exercise ball.  After holding it together all day at school, their little systems may be fatigued, and sitting still in one place too challenging. 

 

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Decide what the goal of the assignment is.  Posture and core strength are necessary for good handwriting.  If the focus of the assignment is good handwriting, make sure both feet are solidly on the floor, they are sitting upright, and using their non-dominant hand to hold their paper in place.

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If the focus of the assignment is language, ideas, creativity, allow for some body wiggling and poorer handwriting.  Many of my students stand, rock back and forth, and use a wiggle cushion for tactile and vestibular feedback.  I can tell they are focused and attentive when their body is moving and they are helping to regulate their engagement. As we analyze the task, brainstorm and organize ideas, and get a preliminary essay completed, the focus is on their language and the ideas they are generating.  We can go back later and clean up the handwriting during the editing phase of the writing process.

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Homework taps into the executive function skills your child is developing.  For a child who has worked hard holding it together all day at school, this can be a very challenging process.  Focus on completing a few tasks well and enjoy the time you spend with your child.  Allow them to share their work with pride, and encourage them as they progress.

What are some homework tips that have worked with your child? Please share.

Raising a “Quirky” Child

5 Tips for Raising a Quirky Child

While we want to celebrate what makes each child unique, there are times when we see our children standing out from the crowd and we worry they are standing alone. Our hearts ache when we see our children left out of play, gossiped about, or ostracized from the group because of the little quirks that make their personality their own.

As a parent, there is a fine balance between allowing our little quirky child to brave his own path, and helping him learn and understand the way people interact, why they act a certain way, and how we may better “fit in” at certain times. This is learning that is ongoing, as our quirky kids will experience new situations throughout their lifetimes. But as parents, we can often be by their side, helping them navigate the nuances of the social world.

20130829-200426.jpg1. Practice entering into a conversation or play scenario. Initiating a conversation with another child gets trickier the older your child gets. It’s often hard for a child to come up with a way to enter play. At your child’s level, role play some ways to join a conversation. Hi there… I love Legos, especially Star Wars ones! Can I play, too? Practice together, then let your child practice with another parent or sibling.

2. Be straightforward and matter-of-fact about social rules. After you witness an awkward encounter, talk with your child about appropriate ways of interacting. It’s great to say hello and smile when we see our friends, Aidan. We don’t want to hug or kiss them, though, because we need to respect their space. We save our kisses for Mom and Dad.

3. When you know a tricky situation is coming up, prep your child ahead of time. Give them some strategies on how to interact. It’ll be fun to see your friends on the soccer field, Sarah. Let’s smile and say “hi” when we get there.

4. Problem-solve with your child. From problem behaviors to extreme anxiety, the best solutions usually come from letting your child have their own voice. If they are part of the brainstorming, they will be that much more vested in a solution.

5. Give them a chance to express shyness or anxiety in a loving environment.  Everyone gets stressed or anxious by tricky situations. Let them know that you are there for them and will try to help them if they have a question.

Your child’s quirks may one day reveal themselves to be his strengths and individual glory. Celebrate him, support him, and love him for his gift to the world.

Kids Do Well If They Can

daydreaming at schoolBehind every challenging behavior is an unsolved problem and a lagging skill.

Every child demonstrates frustrating behaviors at times.  As they grow and develop, children challenge the world around them, sorting through their own feelings to find an individual voice.  Some children demonstrate mental overload by whining, crying, or withdrawing into themselves.  Others reveal behavior that is more outwardly-focused, such as yelling, shouting, and spitting.

Still for others, a mental switch is flipped, and being unable to process a situation takes them into a “fight or flight” response where they bolt from the situation, lash out physically, hit, punch, or kick.  The problem is, once the switch is flipped, they often don’t have the cognitive capacity to process the situation appropriately.  What’s a parent to do?

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Language processing problems, and/or anxiety often lie behind an apparent behavior outburst.  Consider the following list of skills (adapted from Ross Greene’s “Lost at School”) frequently found lagging in challenging kids:

-Difficulty handling transitions, shifting from one mind-set or task to another

-Difficulty persisting on challenging or tedious tasks

-Poor sense of time

-Difficulty reflecting on multiple thoughts or ideas simultaneously

-Difficulty maintaining focus

-Difficulty considering the likely outcomes or consequences of actions (impulsive)

-Difficulty considering a range of solutions to a problem

-Difficulty expressing concerns, needs, or thoughts in words

-Difficulty understanding what is being said

-Difficulty managing emotional response to frustration so as to think rationally

-Difficulty attending to and/or accurately interpreting social cues/poor perception of social nuances

 

These skills require quick and flexible thinkingMost children with behavioral challenges already know that we want them to behave.  They also would like to behave the right way.  What’s lacking are important thinking skills that allow them to regulate their emotions, consider the outcomes of their actions, understand their feelings and those of others, and respond to changes in a plan.  Such flexible thinking skills are challenged when the demands in a situation are more than the child is able to handle adaptively.

They aren’t doing it on purpose.

The kids who are most often described as being manipulative are those least capable of pulling it off.

 

While a clear diagnosis (language processing disorder, attention-deficit disorder, anxiety disorder, etc.) is helpful in pointing us in the right direction, a child is more individual than their own diagnosis.  There are also many children who fall through the cracks in receiving a true diagnosis, meaning they don’t fully qualify for all the conditions of that disorder.  But you don’t need a diagnosis to have a problem.  You just need a problem to have a problem.

The situations which are most challenging for our children vary depending on the strength and development of their organizational and flexible thinking skills.  The challenge for parents and professionals is to break down situations where these behavior outbursts are occurring and develop strategies, in collaboration with the child, for better behaviorIt is also important to truly address lagging skills in processing and flexible thinking in order to fill the holes a in a child’s development.  Children who experience the most success with behavior modifications are those who are considered an integral part of the team, who are asked for their insight, who problem-solve with their parents and teachers, and who are asked for their opinions every step of the way.

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For more information on collaborative problem-solving, check out Dr. Ross Greene “The Explosive Child”

 

Wait, did you say I can still use Facebook??

I mentioned that I would follow-up my post on SCREEN TIME for younger kids with some ideas and suggestions for healthy screen time for older students. To sum up my previous post, I encouraged you to keep children under 2 away from all screens, to look at decreasing or eliminating screen time for preschool and kindergarten children, and to structure limited viewing for school-age children.  Be honest with yourself about how much screen time your child is actually having every day.  The ability to play by oneself and occupy oneself with imaginative thoughts is a learned skill.  Children need practice and time to be able to form that skill.

While even my 1-year-old seems to intuitively know how to turn on, swipe and unlock an iPhone (no, I don’t let her play with it… she just has grabby little hands), that “tech knowledge” does not translate into an understanding of how an iPhone actually works.  In the “olden days” a child could figure out how to build a radio by taking apart and rebuilding the gadgets inside.  But an iPhone, computer, or television is now so complex that even programming one is difficult for the brightest high school students.

You can find support for nearly any view on the internet, but when I look at language and social skill development with my SLP lens, I’m identifying circles of communication.  A message produced, sent, and received, followed by the recipient producing and sending his own message.  Email falls into this category, as does text or instant messaging if received the correct way.  (Many of my students struggle with innuendo, sarcasm, and humor, which are often lost in an email or text, however.)

When we look at how to incorporate screen time into an older child’s life, we can first looks at PDAs and online homework.  Those two systems should be used as a backup system for a planner and binder with in-class notetaking on assignments.  Many schools use Edline of PowerSchool as online systems, or a similar system.  In my experience, teachers often forget to update their online schedules, don’t add valuable information, or are unavailable to respond to after-hours emails regarding assignments.  A middle- or high-school student needs to know how to record their own information in class, asking questions as needed while they are still face-to-face with the teacher.

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At home, having a designated place to charge and keep the cell phone can be vital for homework efficiency for a student.  I often tell my students that if they keep their phone off, Facebook logged out, and computer powered down, they will be much more efficient at completing their homework.  As a result, they will free up “down time” after the work is through to play video games or check their Facebook.  I have one student who has decreased his homework time from 6 hours every night, down to 2 hours every night by staying off the computer.  (He’ll get on at the end of his two hours if he needs to type something.) He LOVES the extra time he has for free time after his homework is finished.  It’s a win-win situation for him.

My thoughts on video games for middle and high school kids?  If they enjoy playing in their down time, let them.  Wait, what??? For a child who is going through the tumultuous process of growing-up-with-hormones-racing and the insecurities that come with that growth, video games are often their only platform for controlling their own destiny.  There should be a few guidelines, however, that parents follow.

  1. Set a certain amount of time on screen time “down time”
  2. Encourage other “down time” in the absence of screens where your child can be alone in their thoughts
  3. Don’t forget about exercise and outside time!
  4. If your child struggles with social skills, beware of the tendency to retreat into video games.  Make sure they are involved in at least one extracurricular that encourages them to be social.

I’m actually a big fan of Facebook and other social media, especially when used well.  Studies have found that the more social a child is, the more frequently they reach out to others through social media.  For a child with limited social skills, great.  For the social child with ADD/ADHD, not so great if they haven’t completed their “to-do” list.  Sit down with your child and decide what the boundaries are.

I often recommend that parents provide a lot of structure around these outlets, at least initially.  Bullying and inappropriate contact can occur, and it is wise to be cautious of your child’s independent use of media.  Placing the family computer and the cell phones in a central place can help you keep tabs of your child’s internet surfing.  A child who can effectively navigate social media gains a confidence and expertise in social relationships needed for school and the workplace.  As parents we can teach them how to let it add value to their lives, rather than taking away from real-life experiences, friendships, and holistic health.

Anger… and Maintaining R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I’ve been working with several students on their anger outbursts and how to regulate their intense feelings.  Then I happened on THIS from Ahaparenting.com about how parents fight in front of their kids has a neurological effect on their children.  The strength and ferocity of the argument can cause a child’s stress hormone levels to escalate, which takes some time to diminish after an argument (this flight-or-flight stress response.)  A few tips for managing anger and keeping it from turning into a full-blown argument, from Dr. Laura Markham:

“Is it ever okay for parents to disagree in front of kids?  Doesn’t it model the resilience of relationships, and how to repair them?  Yes, if you can avoid getting triggered and letting your disagreement disintegrate into yelling or fighting.  For instance:

1. One parent snaps at the other, then immediately course corrects: “I’m so sorry – I’m just feeling stressed – can we try that over? What I meant to say was…” Kids learn from this modeling that anyone can get angry, but that we can take responsibility for our own emotions, apologize, and re-connect.

2. Parents work through a difference of opinion without getting triggered and raising their voices. For instance, if you and your partner have a good-natured discussion about whether to buy a new car, your child learns that humans who live together can have different opinions, listen to each other, and work toward a win/win decision – all respectfully and with affection. Having these kinds of discussions in front of kids is terrific, as long as you agree to postpone the conversation if one of you gets triggered and it becomes an argument.

3. Parents notice that they have a conflict brewing and agree to discuss it later. Hopefully, this happens before there’s any yelling — or you’ll be modeling yelling! And hopefully, you can close the interaction with a big, public, hug. If you’re too mad, take some space to calm down and then prioritize the hug in front of your child, with some little mantra like “It’s okay to get mad….We always make up.” This takes some maturity, but it models self-regulation and repair.”

When we teach our children and students how to handle their emotions, we want to make sure we are providing an appropriate model to back it up.  It is healthy to express emotions and not keep them bottled up inside, but we need to show our children a productive way to handle that anger.  An angry child can turn that passion into a quest to change to world, with the right guidance and structure.

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For tips on teaching your child to self-soothe, read my previous post here about essential tips for self-soothing.