Top 5 Holiday Tips for Children with Special Needs

All kids can get overstimulated from time to time. The holidays, with its bright lights, loud sounds and crowds can be particularly tough on kids. Children with special needs may have even more difficulty during the celebratory season. Dawn Grosvenor, mom to a special needs teen and founder of Hopelights Media, has written a wonderful article to help families with special needs children manage the holidays with minimal upset and hopefully, maximum joy:

HOPELights™ Holiday Top Five Tips for Children With Special Needs

Studies show there are over 10 million families in the U.S. that have children with special needs who experience some form sensory processing dysfunction, making all children special this holiday season

Holidays are a busy time of year, full of activity from people to places that can easily over stimulate Holidays can be fun...not scarychildren, especially those with special needs. A 2022 report by the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found 14 million U.S. children in the have special healthcare needs, or nearly twenty percent of all U.S. children. More than one-fifth of U.S. households with children have at least one child with special needs. HOPELights holiday tips are designed to aid the families that love and support special needs children—having guidance on high-sensory events like the upcoming holidays are critical.

“This means millions of children in the United States have some sort of challenge with things like loud noises, environmental or event transitions, crowds, sensitivities to taste or touch just to name a few,” said Dawn Grosvenor, founder of HOPELight Media. “Which is why putting special emphasis on how to help children and their families through the holiday hustle and bustle is critical in ensuring they have a positive, healthy and loving interaction with friends and family. Holidays should be cherished and foster positive memories that last a lifetime. ”

HopeLights Holiday Top Five Tips for Children With Special Needs:

 

  1. Make a Visual Schedule – Many children are used to routine, structure and consistency, but much of this is lost during the holidays. If your child can see it coming for days, hours and minutes before it happens, transitions from place to place or even events in your own home will be more welcoming to your child.
  2. Identify “Anchor” or Transition Items – Most children have an attachment to a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, toy or other item. Make sure your child has his or her favorites nearby especially if you are traveling. Let them carry a special bag of their favorite goodies. It is a little piece of home and helps them feel grounded and secure.
  3. Establish Warm Up Times and Personal Space Parameters – Holidays bring in visitors or not-so-familiar faces that your child only sees once or twice a year. It is important these visitors give your child time to warm up and re-establish a connection. Great Aunt Betty may not be familiar right away, but she will be rewarded with a warm interaction 20 minutes or so into her visit if Aunt Betty and your child are prepared for the event.
  4. Create and Communicate Code Words – Special needs or not, every child hits a melting point. Too many people, too many presents, skipping or moving a nap time can lead to the uncomfortable fit. As a parent, we can sometimes see these coming or at the very least we can intervene at the beginning. Talk with your family members before everyone gets together and establish a “Code Word” and ask them to help when you say this word or phrase. It can be as simple as “Houston, we have a problem.” By establishing code words with friends and relatives, this lets them know when you and your child need a private moment. You will be amazed how well they understand and cooperate without hurt feelings and it takes the pressure off of you.
  5. Set Your Own Expectations in Advance – As parents we sometimes expect too much of ourselves, and put even more expectations on the “perfect” holiday. Remember you are only one person with only one goal, to love your children and ensure they are safe and happy this holiday season. Create your own To-Do lists and schedule plenty of time between events and preparation of visitors so you are not rushing through the holiday, but savoring each moment.

8 Proven Tips To Get Your Kids to Write Thank You Notes

writing-thank-you-notesDid you know that writing “thank you” notes is a simple, verified way to boost your child’s gratitude? That’s what researchers from the University of California at Davis and Southern Methodist University found. But that’s not all: Researchers also discovered that being thankful might be the key to raising your child’s happiness and well-being.

For more than ten years two professors, Robert Emmons and Michael McCollugh, examined data of several hundred people who were involved in their simple gratitude experiments.

One ten-week study asked a group to write down five things in a journal they were grateful for that happened in the last week for four days a week.

A second group listed ways they were better off than others as a way to appreciate their blessings. The psychologists then looked at the medical and psychological tests of each participant prior to the study, and then again ten weeks later.

  • Those simple gratitude exercises made those participants feel 24 percent happier.
  • But that’s not all: the students were also more optimistic about the future, felt better about their lives, slept better, felt healthier and less stressed, were less materialistic and more likely to help others. And those results were not hard to achieve.
  • Best yet, you can help your child reap some of those results just by encouraging them to write thank-yous.

While most of us agree that taking the time to write “thank-yous” is a habit of gratitude we should encourage, getting many kids to actually write them –without the whines and complaints — is often a problem.

So here are a few fun (and a bit sneaky) tricks to getting your kids to write those notes for this year’s batch of holidays presents. Kids can start writing cards at young ages

8 Tips to Get Kids Into the Habit of Writing Thank You Notes

1. Set expectations for gratitude
Be clear and upfront this year. Any present–regardless of the price or size–deserves a “thank you” note. If your kids hear those expectations now, they’ll be less likely to put up a battle later. Parents who raise grateful kids don’t do so by accident.

2. Keep reminding!
Keep in mind that kids may need constant reminders. “Did you remember to thank Jeff’s mom?” And don’t overlook the slips: “You can call to thank her when you get home.”

3. Enforce the “Write then play” rule
Implement one simple family rule: “You must write the thank you note first, and then you may use the gift.” Believe me, that mandate speeds up the writing process.

4. Set age appropriate guidelines
A young child can dictate his comments and only needs to sign his name. School age kids should use this rule from The Etiquette and Leadership Institute at Athens, Georgia:

“The total number of sentences in a thank you note should be half the child’s age.”

So a ten-year-old should be expected to write a minimum of five complete sentences; a six-year-old should write just three sentences.

5. Turn on kids’ creative juices
Another way to get kids more involved in the “thank you” writing process is to ask them to come up with their own unique way of thanking Grandma. A few creative “thank you” note ideas for kids might include:

  • Making a video just for that person that expresses appreciation.
  • Taking a photo of the child wearing or using the gift. The developed four-by-six inch print makes an instant postcard; the child just writes a brief note on the back and addresses and mails it. Tweens and teens can take a photo from their cell phone and send it to Grandma (along with a thoughtful message).
  • Writing the thank you on a piece of card stock and then cut it into a few pieces like a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Spelling out the thank you use M&M’s or alphabet cereal glued on a piece of cardboard.
  • Picking a flower and press it flat for a few days between wax paper arranged inside a heavy book. Once the flower is pressed send it inside a heavy piece of folded paper with a note.

6. Help imagine the emotion behind the gesture
A hard lesson for kids to learn is that they’re really thanking the person not for the gift but the thoughtfulness behind it. “Grandma thought a lot about what to give you this year.” “Mark went to five stores to try to find what would make you happiest.” Keep reinforcing the thought that went into the purchase.

7. Be the example
One final tip: Remember, your kids are watching your example. So don’t forget to write thank you notes yourself! Have you written your thank yous?

8. Thank your kids
What about thanking your kids? Don’t overlook your kids’ daily thoughtful deeds. Just be sure to tell them what they did that you appreciate so that they are more likely to copy your example and send their own “appreciation messages” to others.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured. UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours. It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching! UnSelfie is AVAILABLE at amazon.com.

6 Ways Kids Can Use Technology to Improve Their Grades

With schools back in session, I thought I’d use this opportunity to show how kids can use technology to improve their grades. As someone who taught at the college level for more than 10 years, I often made these same recommendations to my students. Remarkably, many of them tell me that they were completely unaware of these resources.

1. Using Boolean Operators in Search Engines

Search engines use algorithms based on both logic and popularity, which is why Wikipedia is often at the top of the results from most search engines. Since most people rarely go through more than one or two pages of results, it’s important that the results are as helpful as possible. Boolean operators will help accomplish that for you.

For example, when searching for information on Alexander Hamilton, you will get different results based on what is typed into the search engine:

  • Alexander Hamilton will return pages that contain either word.
  • “Alexander Hamilton” will return pages that contain an exact match.
  • “Alexander Hamilton” and “Maria Reynolds” will return pages that contain both exact matches, likely related to their affair and the subsequent blackmail by her husband, James.

There are plenty more Boolean operators available and the results will definitely be better for the student.

2. Google Scholar

As popular as Google is, it is subject to results based on popularity. Google Scholar, on the other hand, will provide research quality results and have better search criteria tools, including dates, patents, authors, and more. Those kinds of results rarely show up using traditional search engines.

Not that Google doesn’t have those features, but Google Scholar puts them front and center so that the student is more likely to use them. That’s not to say that the popular version of Google isn’t sometimes a better option, as it would miss out on many reliable sources because they don’t fit academic standards, such as news sources and trade journals.

3. Khan Academy

Parents of younger children may already be aware of Khan Academy. Our daughter was using it at an early age after using it in grade school. For those that haven’t used it, Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that provides free lessons and educational videos for students of all ages.

4. Wikipedia

My students were always surprised when I told them that they could actually use Wikipedia to help write their papers for my classes. They were never allowed to cite Wikipedia, as it could very well be providing false information, but it is often right – probably even right more often than it’s wrong. The trick is to take advantage of the work done by the people who wrote the pages by looking down at the bottom of the page at their references. Many of them include links to other sources and if those sources are reliable, then Wikipedia was helpful even if it wasn’t listed as a source itself.

5. Microsoft Word References

I found that one of the best kept secrets that my students didn’t know about was how much Microsoft Word can help students by making sure that their papers are written to academic standards, including APA and MLA requirements. Almost all my students were in at least their sophomore or junior years, but many knew nothing about how Word can take out most of the “grunt work” when it comes to writing a paper to APA or MLA standards. This is especially true when it comes to listing all of their sources.

Students should always check with their teacher/professor about which optional information should be included as well. For example, I always required that students include the URL link to any online sources even though it’s not an MLA requirement. Using Word’s Reference features will make their papers much easier to do and help ensure that they meet the technical requirements of the assignment.

6. But What about ChatGPT?

My students always liked that I never gave tests. I never considered them to be realistic, as no boss ever told me to clear off my desk and take a test. They gave me assignments and I had to complete them. That’s what artificial intelligence platforms like ChatGPT can do, but at the expense of having the students learn, which is the real reason the students are in school. Additionally, these sites are not infallible, especially if the request isn’t written in the proper way. That means that students still need to qualify the results provided by them. So, like Wikipedia, it may provide some benefit, but it should never be accepted at face value or used as provided by the platform.

And even if ChatGPT is accurate, students still run the risk of being discovered as not having done the work themselves. Faculty have access to a host of AI checkers – here is just one example. Additionally, what comes out of an AI will not be written in the student’s “voice” and will be easy to identify as such.

In one of my first semesters as an adjunct professor, I had a student submit a paper that clearly wasn’t written by her. The grammar and tone were more like a doctoral thesis. With a quick search, I found three sites that were selling the exact same paper for less than $10. All of them had disclaimers that they were meant as a guide but should not be used in place of a student’s work. As a result, she failed the assignment.

Where AI platforms like ChatGPT can help students is by helping them brainstorm ideas, a critical part of most assignments, especially in the early stages of the work. For example, when I entered, “give me a list of 5 topics related to global warming for a high school report” into the platform, I was provided with five solid ideas that I could use to write a paper or create a presentation. It all depends on how you phrase your query and students should be prepared to try variations on their original query to see how it affects the results.

The Bottom Line

The benefits that technology can provide to students are very real. On top of that, most of what’s shown here uses technology that is already familiar to most students. By using any of these resources, students can generate better quality work in less time than they would otherwise.

Did You Know…Every 2 Weeks a Child Dies From a “Tipover”?

Tipover HazardIt’s not something we like to think about…and it certainly could never happen to us…but the reality is that every 2 weeks a child dies because an unsecured appliance or piece of furniture has toppled over onto them. In fact between 2000–2008, the CPSC received reports of nearly 200 tipover deaths among children 8 and younger. More than 90% of them involve children under 5!

Typically, injuries and deaths occur when children climb onto, fall against or pull themselves up on television stands, shelves, bookcases, dressers, desks, chests and appliances. Sometimes it’s the out-of-reach item placed on top of furniture, in other cases it’s the furniture or appliance itself that will topple causing serious if not fatal injuries. The CPSC has issued a warning, urging parents to inspect and secure these items. They also offer the following safety tips:

  • Furniture should be stable on its own. For added security, anchor chests, dressers, TV stands, bookcases and entertainment units to the floor or attach them to a wall.
  • Place TVs on a sturdy, low-rise base. Avoid flimsy shelves.
  • Push the TV as far back on its stand as possible.
  • Place electrical cords out of a child’s reach and teach kids not to play with them.
  • Keep remote controls and other attractive items off the TV stand so kids won’t be tempted to grab for them and risk knocking the TV over.
  • Make sure free-standing ranges and stoves are installed with anti-tip brackets.

One thing we often forget is that even when our own home has been thoroughly baby-proofed, our friends and family’s homes will likely not have received the same attention. It’s up to us to be vigilant…wherever we may be.