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Teachable Moments: Valuable Lessons on Life and Love for Kids

Meet Jack Bear. For such a little guy he offered many opportunities to teach our kids very valuable lessons about life and about love.

Here is a part of Jack’s story.

Jack was given up when he was 10 years old. By all reckoning that is old in dog years- perhaps 70 years old. It seems he was no longer fun and no longer desired. I always found it hard to imagine giving up a dog for no other reason than age but here was Jack. Then again in many adult relationships we see an end, perhaps a separation or a divorce. To outsiders it may seem that there is no good reason.

Teachable Moment 1– things change, feelings and perceptions, wants and desires and it does not always make sense. Often the truly innocent are caught in the middle and pay the highest price. Things will change in the lives of our children that especially to them make no sense and seem unfair.

From the time he was given up he began to cry non-stop- an unwanted behavior. His crying combined with the fact that he was old and funny looking- undesired characteristics- he was perceived as unadoptable. Differences real or perceived are one reason kids bully each other. The beautiful picking on the less so and the big picking on the small and the “normal acting” picking on those whose behavior is outside the expected or desired. Jack had all three.

Teachable Moment 2– Value the differences don’t condemn them. Jack eventually stopped crying and became a loved member of the family. No- he was never like the rest of our dogs-never played with other dogs at the park. He was not identical to the other dogs- he was his own dog. Teachable Moment 2.5– be yourself. His smaller size, this ‘flaw’ made him a perfect lap dog- better than many others. In this case his size was an advantage.

Teachable Moment 3– there are a myriad of ways to look at things and when we do so we open up tremendous opportunity. I never thought I would grow fond of a funny looking, old, Toy Poodle with the name Jack Bear- I did. See Teachable Moment 1- things change and sometimes perceptions and feelings change for the better. Our daughter never saw Jack’s flaws, was never bothered by his crying, his looks or his age. Teachable Moment 3.5 – one truly good friend who sees the real you and all your potential is worth more than 100 lesser or false friends.

Jack’s health failed him. He developed cataracts and went blind. His teeth fell out and his hearing failed him. He had to be hand fed and could not always control his bladder. In other words he grew old as we all will.

Teachable Moment 4- we will all grow old and we will all die. We need to help kids to understand that this is a natural life-path. Yes seeing loved ones sick is never easy- in fact it is down-right hard. It is natural to feel anger and to feel sad. There is a natural progression of emotions. Understanding this does not erase the pain but it does make one feel unique and less alone.

Teachable Moment 5– as the saying goes,” it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” It might seem better to avoid the pain but closeness, love and friendship though often painful are the greatest gifts in the world. My life was so much more enriched by having Jack in my life than not.

Teachable Moment 6– we can all find teachable moments, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places if we just take the time to look. Thanks Jack- Bear, rest in peace.

9 Ways to Help Your Perfectionist Kid Feel “Good Enough”

Perfectionist kidsOf course we want our children to reach their potential and to excel. Of course we want them to get those great grades and succeed. But often kids feels so much pressure that they become obsessed to doing everything so perfectly to an unhealthy degree. And that can leave them feeling anxious, frustrated and worried most of the time.

Another problem with perfectionists is that they often put those pressures on themselves. “Will it be enough?” “What will others think?” ”Why did I miss that one point?”” I have to stay up later…I won’t get a perfect score!” ”But it isn’t GOOD enough I need to work harder!”

Because they’re never satisfied and always pushing themselves, they are often frustrated with their performance. Of course always wanting to be perfect to an extreme can take a toll on our children’s emotional health as well as disrupt their lives.If they keep up that push, push, push, never-good-enough pace, all that heightened stress can put them in jeopardy for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, migraines headaches, and even suicide. Perfectionists are also more at risk for emotional, physical as well as relational problems.

But let’s keep in mind that this isn’t just a “big kid issue.” Even preschoolers are beginning to exhibit this problem. We see this “I’m never good enough” concept especially in our gifted and talented kids. Here are signs to watch for:

Signs of Kid Perfectionists

  • Always comparing themselves to others; can’t stand coming in second place or doing worse than others; wants to be the best and anything less not good enough
  • Migraines or headaches, stomach aches, trouble sleeping, or other physical ailments before, after, or during a performance
  • Too cautious about trying something new that may be outside of his area of expertise and mean he may not excel
  • May put others down. All in an effort to be their best and make the other person feel less perfect – or inadequate
  • May put the same high standards on others
  • Worrying it won’t be good enough; or fears failure. Avoids difficult or stressful tasks; leaves work unfinished out of fear it won’t be perfect
  • Concentrates on the mistake instead of the overall job or how well he performed
  • Way too hard on himself; can’t laugh at himself or his own mistakes

Though some of our kids are just hard-wired with that inborn tendency to always push, push, push themselves to the max, max, max, there are things we can do. For instance, we can teach them coping skills so they can lower their stress and we can show them how to set more realistic expectations. And we can also take an honest appraisal by tuning into our own expectations and example to make sure some of that push they put on themselves really isn’t coming from us. Here are a few tidbits of proven parenting advice from my book to help you help your child survive, cope and thrive in this wonderful world.

Helping Perfectionists Survive, Cope, and Thrive

1. Lighten the child’s load

Start by honestly checking his schedule: Is there any time for just downtime or play? Is there any of those activities that can be eliminated or reduced? Teach your child he can always go back and finish up an activity, but give him permission to just plain enjoy life. (You may need to remind him and chart that time into his schedule so she does take time to glance at the clouds or just do plain nothing for a few seconds anyway.) While you’re at it, do take an honest assessment at the classes, programs, activities, clubs, etc.

Perfectionist lane

Ask three questions:

  1. Are they ones that stretch my child without snapping him?
  2. Are they tailored to my child strengths and capabilities?
  3. Does my child really need them all?

2. Teach her to be her own “time-keeper”

If she works hours on her writing but actually does a great job the first time through, set a time limit on how long she can work on a particular activity. Then help her log her own time.

3. Teach stress busters

Show your child a few simple relaxation strategies such as taking slow deep breaths, listening to soothing music, walking, or just taking ten and lying on the couch to help improve her frame of mind and reduce a bit of that intensity—at least for a few minutes.

4. Help your child handle disappointment

The inner dialogue of a perfectionist is self-defeating. “I’m never good enough.” “I knew I’d blow it.” So help your child reframe his self-talk by teaching him to say to a more positive phrase that’s less critical and judgmental and more reality-based such as: “Nobody is perfect.” “All I can do is try my best.” “I’ll try again next time.” “Believe in myself will help me relax.”

5. Start a family mantra

One way to help your child realize that mistakes don’t have to be seen as failures, is to come up with a family mantra such as: “A mistake is a chance to start again.” Or: “Whether you think your can or that you can’t you’re right.” Then pick one phrase and say it again and again until your child “owns it.” You might even print out a computer-made sign and hang it on your fridge.

6. Teach “Take a reality check”

Perfectionists imagine something horrid will happen if they hit the wrong note, don’t hit the high beam, or don’t make the standard they’ve set for themselves. Your role is to challenge their views so they don’t think in such all or nothing; black or white thinking, and help them dispute the belief.

For instance: Kid: “I know the moment I pick up my pencil I’m going to forget everything I studied all year.” You: “That’s never happened in your entire life. Why now?”

Show your child the advantages and disadvantages of being a perfectionist. Explain what you can control verses what you can’t. Redefine success as not perfection, but excellence.

7. Watch your example!

Are you a perfectionist? Is nothing ever good enough? Do you berate yourself for every little thing? Beware, research shows that moms who are perfectionists or who base their self-esteem on their kids’ achievement are more likely to have perfectionist kids. Watch out! Your kids are watching!

Remember, the parenting goal is not to change your child, but to help her learn coping skills and expectations that will reduce her self-made pressure. Stress stimulates some kids, but it paralyzes others. So tune into your child.

8. Get real about abilities

Don’t try to turn your child into the “Superkid Perfect-in-Everything. Instead, be more practical about your child abilities and be honest with her. Start assessing and refining her natural strengths—her artistic flair, his creative nature, or her musical pitch. Then monitor, encourage and strengthen those traits and skills so she doesn’t try to push herself so hard in too many areas but instead narrows her focus and has a more realistic assessment of her talents.

9. Make sure there’s time for fun

Encourage laughter and just sitting outside every once in a while and watching the clouds drift by. Teach your child she can always go back and finish up an activity, but give her permission to just plain enjoy life.

Tailor your expectations to your child’s natural nature and development. Temper any tendency to “push her harder” (perfectionist kids are their own best pushers). Those are the true secrets that help our kids reach their potential and utilize their gifts.

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Borba - book cover -parentingsolutions140x180

Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions is available at amazon.com.

 

How to Bring out Your Kids’ Best Behavior

If you’re the parent of a perfect child – one that never whines, argues, lies or misbehaves – this article isn’t for you. But if your child is guilty of any (or all) of the above, don’t despair. He’s just doing what most kids do. So how do you go about changing his negative behavior? Use positive reinforcement, says child behavior expert Noel Janis-Norton, author of Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn (Barrington Stoke Ltd). Here are some tools you can use to bring out the best behavior in your child:

Descriptive Praise

Instead of lecturing your child when he does something wrong, praise him when he does something right. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But for many parents, it’s trickier than they think. “Because humans are more inclined to notice what’s wrong in a situation, we are much more aware when there’s a problem,” says Janis-Norton. “It takes hard work and discipline to notice when children are doing things right, such as not whining or not interrupting.”

The key is to notice – and casually comment on – every little thing that your child is doing that is right, just OK or not wrong. “Descriptive praise is a powerful motivator,” says Janis-Norton. “It catches kids doing the right thing and inspires them to think of themselves as considerate and capable people. The rationale is: What you notice, you get more of.”

Traci McPhereson, 34, of Los Angeles, has seen it firsthand: “My 4-year-old twins responded almost instantly to descriptive praise. I’d say, ‘I see you’re not hitting your sister’ even when my son was just sitting on the floor doing nothing. Sometimes I feel insane saying stuff like, ‘You’re not whining and crying!’ or ‘You’re not sucking your thumb!’ but hey, it works! The positive changes in their behavior have been enormous.”

Reflective Listening

When a child is upset, parents instinctively want to defuse the situation by asking her what’s wrong and then giving advice. Or if she explodes with anger, they’ll get angry, too, and yell at her to stop it. In both cases, parents can calm things down simply by showing empathy, using a technique that Janis-Norton calls reflective listening. “That’s when a parent mirrors what the child is feeling. “It helps to deal with the emotion that’s dominating the child and get it resolved.”

It takes discipline on your part to step back and think before you respond, but the payoff is huge. If your child has lost his temper and is throwing things around, you could send him for a time-out and make him even angrier. Or you could take a step back and say, “You must be very angry about something. I’m sorry that you’re so upset. Can you tell me what happened?” Chances are your child would stop for a second to think about how he feels.

It’s often hard for a child to put what she’s feeling into words. “But when you use reflective listening, over time it will teach your child a vocabulary for expressing her feelings so that she doesn’t bottle them up inside and act on them inappropriately,” she says.

Action Replays

The next time your child misbehaves, be kind and rewind. Instead of scolding, repeating, reminding or lecturing, Janis-Norton suggests you try what she calls an action replay. “This is how parents can follow through with the rules they’ve established with their kids,” she says. “It’s simply asking the child to do things again, but this time the right way.”

Randall says dinnertime is the perfect opportunity to utilize action replays in her house. “My daughter, who’s 3, hates to use her fork,” she explains. “Whenever she starts to eat her food with her fingers instead of her fork, I say, ‘Let’s do that again. Show me how you’re supposed to be eating your food.’ Once she uses her fork, I give her descriptive praise, like ‘See, you knew just what to do,’ and then everybody’s smiling again. It’s nice to be able to avoid arguments that may have otherwise erupted.”

“Plus, doing an action replay will boost your child’s self-esteem,” concludes Janis-Norton, “because she’s now proven to herself that she can indeed succeed.”

Heather Randall, 39, of Sun Valley, Calif., most recently used reflective listening when her daughter had a nightmare. “I went into her room and asked her to tell me about it,” she explains. “Instead of responding with, ‘Don’t worry, it was just a dream, go back to sleep,’ I said, ‘You’re so frightened. Nightmares can sure be scary, can’t they?’ She stopped crying, thought about it for a second, and replied, ‘They sure can.’ After that, she nodded right back off to sleep.”

Calm Your Children’s Back-to-School Anxiety

Imagine starting a new job every year — with a new boss, new colleagues and new projects. Sound a bit stressful? That’s how the start of the school year feels to many kids. Most children experience anxiety when they don’t know what to expect, says Dr. Andrea Weiner, a child and family therapist and the author of The Best Investment: Unlocking the Secrets of Social Success for Your Child. “It’s fear of the unknown,” says Weiner. “Parents need to give children an understanding of what they will be in control of.”

Try these tips to ease some anxiety your kids may have:

How will I know where to go?

Whether your child is starting kindergarten or middle school, moving to a new town or just switching schools, he’s bound to be anxious about getting around the building. Where’s the bathroom? Which stairwell leads to the library? How long will it take to get from one classroom to another? Remove the guesswork (and the anxiety) by taking a tour a day or two before school starts. (Just call the school office and explain the situation.) Time how long it takes to get from one place to another, and point things out along the way. Getting the lay of the land ahead of time will give your child a sense of control before the first bell rings.

Will my teacher be nice?

Teachers are usually in the building setting up a day or so before school starts, so when you take your tour, ask if you can to stop by the classroom and introduce your child to the teacher. This is especially important to young kids who have no basis for comparison. If you know of older children who’ve had this teacher, you might want to ask them about their experience and then pass on the information to your child. (Don’t have the kids talk directly to each other unless you know the older child has good things to say!)

What will I be doing every day?

Kids love routines and get a great deal of comfort from knowing what their regular schedule will be. For kindergartners and first-graders, explain that the teacher will go over everything on the first day of class (and probably for the next few days after that). The teacher will describe the rules of the classroom, what he expects from the students and what they will be doing during the day. For kids starting middle school, explain that they’ll probably get a printed schedule showing the days, times and locations of all their classes.

Will I have friends?

The social aspect of school is a huge cause of anxiety for kids of all ages, whether they are new to the school or old-timers. Returning kids may worry that none of their friends will be in their class, and that they’ll have to form new friendships. New students may not know how to reach out to other kids. Weiner recommends giving kids some conversation starters to take the pressure off. Suggest they ask such questions as “I like your backpack; where’d you get it?” and “What did you do this summer?” They can also share some of their doubts: “Did you understand that assignment? I didn’t get it at all.”

Will I be able to keep up?

All kids worry about their academic performance, according to Weiner. The chaos of attending school during a pandemic didn’t make things easier. The important thing to tell them is that effort counts much more than grades do. Parents should stress the importance of trying and learning, as opposed to succeeding. Say something like, “Some subjects may be harder for you than others, and that’s OK.” And remind your child that teachers really are there to help.

“Most kids think they’re the only ones who are afraid,” says Weiner. “Remind them that everyone is in the same situation and feeling the same way. It helps kids deal with the anxiety a little better when they know everyone is in the same boat.”

Executive Function: Helping Your Child’s Brain Take Charge

Joey is a seven year old referred by his pediatrician because he has difficulty paying attention in school. His mind wanders, he responds to his teacher’s questions in class with “What, I don’t know,” and he is a bit self-conscious about his declining grades. Joey is a super sweet little boy, he does not squirm in his seat, bother other kids or anger the teacher. She simply wonders, “Why is he always day-dreaming?”

The answer, as pediatric neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Beljan says is, “Joey’s boss is out.” Here’s “ADHD and Executive Function: When the boss is out” a blog-talk-radio episode on the boss in Joey’s brain.

Joey’s boss resides in the frontal lobes of the brain. His boss is in charge of the executive functions that help him to preview, plan, think, inhibit, organize and execute tasks of daily living. I call this area of the brain “The Thinker.” You can read all about The Caveman and The Thinker here in The Family Coach Method.

Let’s learn a little about what are executive functions, how do we assess them and how do we improve them?

What is Executive Function and why does it matter?

The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. Executive functions are the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.

Executive functions take place in the frontal lobes, specifically the neocortex of the brain. If you’ve never heard of an executive function that’s no surprise yet, you use them every day. When you get up, choose your outfit, make your bed, make your coffee and plan your day, you are using your executive functions. Planning, organizing, holding information in your immediate memory, inhibiting your behavior, making good choices and managing your emotions are all activities mediated by executive function.

Let’s look at a description of a few executive functions. Think about yourself, your spouse and children. How do you see these functions evident in the behavior of those you care about? What might you, your child or spouse need more of?

Executive Functions

  • Inhibition – The ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts. The flip side of inhibition is impulsivity; if you have weak ability to stop yourself from acting on your impulses, then you are “impulsive.”
  • Cognitive Shift – The ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation.
  • Emotional Control (self-regulation) – The ability to modulate emotional responses by managing one’s feelings. I call this using one’s thinker to manage one’s caveman.
  • Initiation – The ability to begin a task or activity. This includes the ability to independently generate ideas, appropriate responses and useful problem-solving strategies.
  • Working memory – The capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task. Working memory is what you are using right now as you read this article. You are holding the information in memory and thinking about it.
  • Planning/Organization – The ability to identify, plan and manage current and future task demands.
  • Organization of Materials – The ability to create order in work, play and storage spaces.
  • Self-Monitoring – The ability to monitor one’s own internal feelings and performance in order to manage one’s thought, behavior and feelings.

We can improve executive function through a variety of activities. Play is a modality I often use.

As I sit and play with a child I teach them how to approach the play environment, how to choose, arrange and interact with toys, art or play materials. I teach the children that every activity has a beginning, middle and end. We begin a task, participate in the task or activity and then end the experience by putting materials away and making a conscious choice regarding what we will play next. Managing our feelings, body space, speed of movement and impulsivity are also well-addressed through play.

Brain Training is also another modality of executive function enhancement. Cognitive training or brain training consists of a variety of exercises designed to help improve functioning in areas such as sustaining attention, thinking before acting, visual and auditory processing, listening, reading – areas in which ADHD individuals often experience difficulties.

Modalities include computer work, person to person motor-cognition work and neurofeedback.

If an individual is having attentional or learning problems, tutoring or drill and practice in academic areas are often not effective. The principle underlying cognitive brain training is to help improve the “core” abilities and self-control necessary before an individual can function successfully academically. The exercises “drill for skill” directly in the areas where basic specific cognitive difficulties occur.

Brain Training is like exercise for the brain with specific exercises for specific neuropsychological functions or deficits. The key is to build neuronal connections. Activities that include a motor and cognitive component may work best but the research is not to a degree that one can assert Brain Training is yet an Evidence Based Treatment. In a few years, we’ll surely know more.

Research is ongoing as to what forms of brain training are effective. The key is to personalize your choice of program. The methodology of the program needs to meet the needs of your child. Does your child have attention challenges? Is their issue inhibition? Reading social cues? Staying on topic? Dyslexia?

Some programs include Luminosity, Captain’s Log, COGMED, MC2, Brain Gym and Brain Builder. If your child has not had a neuropsychological or executive function evaluation that may be a first step.

If you need to know more about the specific skills you wish to enhance in your child, a neuropsychologist can do an assessment of executive function.

Here are some excellent books on the topic http://www.researchild.org/resources.

Valuable Links

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This post reflects Dr Kenney’s “The Family Coach Method”. Used in practice for a number of years, The Family Coach Method is ‘rug-level,’ friendly and centered on the concept of families as a winning team – with dozens of age-appropriate sample conversations and problem solving scenarios to guide a family to the desired place of mutual respect, shared values and strengths. The goal is to help children to develop the life skills, judgment and independence that can help them navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

Instant Packets of Independence for a Special Needs Child

Today I taught my nearly nine year-old daughter how to make herself some instant Cinnamon Swirl oatmeal. It’s a simple enough task, but for a special need child who was never supposed to walk or talk it is a big deal on many levels. Just think about the many skills involved with the preparation:

  • Beautiful child hugging a green bowl of millet cereal favoriteShaking the packet without dropping it
  • Tearing the paper and keeping everything inside
  • Pouring the contents into the bowl and avoiding getting any on the counter
  • Adding a measured amount of water to the bowl (and only the bowl)
  • Stirring the oatmeal and water together with a spoon
  • Carrying the breakable ceramic bowl to the microwave while keeping the bowl level
  • Opening the microwave door
  • Setting the bowl into the microwave
  • Shutting the microwave door
  • Pressing the “1” button
  • Opening the microwave door
  • Gingerly taking the hot bowl out of the microwave
  • Shutting the door

Sure, for most of us this entire sequence would take less than half the minute it takes for it to cook, but a year ago my daughter wouldn’t have been able to do this.

Most importantly, a year ago she wouldn’t have wanted to do any of this for herself. She was perfectly content to have me run back and forth in a callback to my former waitressing days. Doing this for herself signifies a step towards independence. To me, this means that maybe one day she will be able to live on her own without starving to death. So what if she can’t quite spell perfectly, she can now make instant oatmeal. It’s the small victories that remind me of her quiet, determined march forward – which is not always so quiet and is usually less marching and more kicking and screaming.

How do you celebrate the small steps in your child’s life?

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