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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Running on Highways

 

This past weekend I joined a group of moms from Southern California to run a 205-mile relay from San Francisco to Napa, California. The promise of wine-tasting and 48 hours of family-free time was enough to get me to agree to something so crazy.  Our team name was R.I.O.T. Moms, with the acronym for “Running Is Our Therapy” a fitting description for how exercise and outdoor time can rejuvenate even the weariest of parents.

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The past couple of months have reaffirmed my own parenting journey. My husband and I sold our house in the Pacific Northwest, closed up shop on our jobs, and headed south with kids and dog in tow to relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area.  The promise of good weather and time to focus on family was all we needed to make the jump to a new adventure. Throughout this transition, which included my oldest starting kindergarten, my kids have been relying on each other and my husband and I in new ways.  Amidst the uncertainty they often look to mom and dad for stability, and that trust can be both reassuring and draining.  I’ve been practicing some meditation techniques, channeling my inner calm, so when the chaos threatens to take over – one child is crying, another is telling a loud story, the dog is barking, the dinner on the stove boiling over – I can take a deep breath and keep my core calm and regulated.

 

Children feed off our nerves. A child who easily becomes dysregulated is looking for outside sources of strength to bump up against.  Sometimes, this is figurative – needing a calm presence to reflect back to them the way to cope with a situation.  And sometimes they actually ARE bumping into things – crashing into you, into their sibling, hitting walls, or tripping over their own feet – to seek some sort of barrier or boundary to the chaos coursing through them.  How we react – kneeling down, modeling deep breaths and quiet words, giving hugs and pressure squeezes when needed, reflecting their emotions with words and simple phrases – can mean continued shouting and tears, or a de-escalation of the situation.

 

Running a relay takes you on beautiful trails through the woods, winding streets coursing through quaint little towns, and hot, gravely highways with semi-trucks roaring past. I have a hard time on those highways, thinking I have little shoulder to run on, my footing irregular and my temperature rising.  The sound from the trucks can be overwhelming, moving me to frustrated tears if I let it. A dysregulated child feels the same.  Senses on overload, fear of the unknown driving action, uncertainty of how to proceed. For many of our children, being unable to get the train pieces to fit together, or an incessantly itchy tag bothering their neck, is all that is needed to get on that chaotic highway.

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I worked on my meditation techniques during those miles. The face of calm on the inside.  Ironic, since I probably looked a hot mess on the outside.  Breathing, keeping my blood pressure at a steady state.  Visualizing my end goal and the steps to get there.  Using my thoughts and words to channel chaotic emotions.  These all mirror many of the strategies we use with children to help them regulate their bodies. Self-soothing strategies are lifelong lessons we can teach, to deal with frustration, chaos, and situations outside of our control.  Check out more links below to strategies you can use at home…

Avoiding Meltdowns

Self-Soothing Strategies

Behavior Strategies

Anxiety Management

And a big “thank you” to my fellow RIOT Moms, who persevered with me!  205 miles ain’t got nothing on us!

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Pack Your Bags!

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.

Getting the Environment Right (and focusing on the positive)

 

 “He can’t sit still at school!”  “She always gets annoyed by her brother at home when they are playing!”  So often we want to focus on the problem areas, the situations where our children aren’t meeting our expectations, that we forget to look for clues in the activities and environments where they are excelling. As you work on communication skills with your child, give thought to the environments where they are thriving.

 

I work with children who can hold it together well at school, but unleashed upon the home environment, every bit of self-control seems to fly out the window.  They disobey, push their parent’s buttons, and antagonize their siblings.  Conversely, I also know children who can’t seem to focus at school on their academic work, but stay occupied and focused for an hour building a Lego set with 1000 pieces in their backyard at home.

 

You can find clues in your child’s favorite pastimes.  If they hold it together well at school, look at the structure in place within the school environment.  There is a set schedule, set rules, and announcements which are reviewed every day.  The expectations are consistent, the transitions mostly predictable, and the time for breaks and down time logical.  Some of our most difficult children need the most structure. They need overkill with repetition, transition preparation, and a review of expectations.

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If your child is falling apart at school, consider how their learning can tap into the multisensory environment they love at home.  Outside time, physical breaks, sensory reinforcement (like sitting on a wiggle cushion or having a hand-fidget), hands-on learning… all can help refocus and energize their learning.

 

What ideas can you find from the activities your child loves?  Why do they love that karate class?  How about digging in the backyard?  What makes them read for hours in the backyard hammock?  Make a list of everything you can think of that about that environment (“She loves reading fantasy, she can go at her own pace”), and include the sensory components of each (e.g. “it’s sunny and quiet, the hammock rocks back and forth,”etc.)  Then circle the elements of each activity that you could replicate for another, more challenging situation.

 

Need help?  List your child’s favorite activity and environment below, and we’ll come up with some ideas.

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”