All posts by ritaeichenstein

MIXED MESSAGES

21453265 - young boy tries to do his homework  the problem with learning

After the heartbreak of letting the kids go off to school, your parent worry brain will start focusing on new possibilities:

  • Will my child like their teacher/s?
  • Will the teachers like my kid?
  • How is my kid progressing?
  • Does s/he like the way the material is being taught?
  • Is the teacher going to be sensitive to (fill in the blank):
    • Timmy’s allergies,
    • Joanie’s shyness,
    • Max’s fine motor struggle,
    • Sophie’s pushiness is a mask for her anxiety,
    • Allegra’s wandering but creative mind
    • Heidi’s previous bullying experience
    • And always: is there too much homework or is it just my kid?????

YOUR CONCERNS ARE REAL: VOICE THEM!

Most parents  have specific concerns about their child.  Many parents complain to me that when they voice concerns, they either get no response or vague responses from school administrations.

My advice:  Schedule a meeting time (not the standard back to school meetings) to discuss your concerns and ask what can be done?  Don’t wait for them to call you.

What happens if you wait? Well, sometimes, teachers do not notify parents in a timely way that they are concerned.  Other teachers will voice concerns too early and later, when the child adjusts, the concerns seem to fade.  One of the most common issues I hear is that parents learn (too late) by May that their child needs to (fill in the blank): repeat a grade, get tested, have intensive tutoring, is having social problems or they have no idea how to help and s/he can’t come back next year……

HERE IS WHY YOU CAN GET MIXED MESSAGES:   

  1. Schools: Most schools (don’t flame me for this statement) are designed to be efficient conveyor belts of education.  In comes a group in September, out they go in June.  In-N-Out.  The curriculum is devised to meet the mainstream kids.  While many schools have resource rooms, learning centers, and social groups, they are usually crowded and not individualized.  There are some wonderfully individualized and nurturing schools with small classes and a low ratio of teacher:student but these are rare gems.
  2. Teachers: Most teachers I know are lovely dedicated people who could easily be doing jobs that are higher paying or easier.  They are in the trenches with your kids daily.  It’s such a hard job! And unfortunately, your ‘one and only’ is not the teacher’s ‘one and only’.  Teachers teach to GROUPS, not individuals.  They are also not specifically trained to identify problems, nor are they allowed to suggest diagnoses (as much as they may be tempted to).  Also (and here is the biggest one): teachers do not want to scare parents.  To suggest that something is problematic about your child creates a situation where they may have to stand by what they said, even when it is just a hunch.
  3. Principals. Most principals are busy juggling efficiency, friendliness and maintaining a high school standard.  They also have a lot of budget responsibilities.  Acknowledging that a child has an issue leads to IEP, testing and costly interventions.  I understand their reluctance.

COMMON MIXED MESSAGES:

SAMPLE #1:

February:  (teacher): we are concerned about your child’s level of attention and participation in the class

May:  (teacher):everything is fine

Next September:  (teacher):didn’t we ask you to have your child tested for attention last year?

SAMPLE #2:

November:  (teacher) Jonny is not catching on to his academics easily.  Let’s wait and see.

February:  (teacher) Jonny should maybe get a tutor

May:  (Principal): we think jonny needs a different school (too late to apply to other schools!)

SAMPLE 3#

September: (parent):  I am worried about my child’s anxiety about academics

October:  (teacher): everything seems fine

November:  (parent):  I am still worried and now my child hates school

December:  (teacher):  let’s wait until after winter break to see where we are at

January:  (pediatrician) he looks fine to me, what does his teacher say? (teacher): he is doing fine now

February:  (parent:)  his grades are terrible and he has stomach aches every morning.  How can he be doing fine?

May:  (principal and teacher):  we think you should have Jonny tested

Parent:  I called every neuropsychologist in town and they all have waiting lists of 3 months! Why didn’t you tell me this in the fall?

BOTTOM LINE:

TRUST YOUR GUT INSTINCT ABOUT YOUR CHILD.  HAVE YOUR CHILD TESTED WHEN YOU ARE WORRIED.  MIXED MESSAGES OR TOO LATE MESSAGES ARE COMMON FROM EVEN THE BEST SCHOOLS.    GET YOUR CHILD CHECKED OUT AND GET THE HELP THEY NEED.

21453265 - young boy tries to do his homework  the problem with learning

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IQ TESTING: A PERSONAL STORY

I DID IT.  I CONFESS…..

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 I took an online IQ test.

Before I tell you how I did, I need to talk to you about why I did it.  As a neuropsychologist, I administer myriads of IQ tests to all ages, so I’m always thinking about intelligence as a construct and how poorly understood IQ is.

And as summer closes, IQ season opens in my office;  it is definitely IQ testing season here is Los Angeles, where more and more schools are asking for IQ tests as a pre-admission requirement.

I also was curious about these quickie online IQ tests, are they valid? What do they measure? Because, as you may or may not know, intelligence is a tricky thing.  No one has really begun to come up with a great definition of what intelligence actually is, let alone begin to describe someone’s intelligence with a single number.  (Parents, please take note!)

NUTSHELL SUMMARY OF IQ HISTORY (AN INCOMPLETE STORY)

The elusive single number to quantify someone’s intelligence was developed by Spearman, it was called a “G” or general G for estimating someone’s overall intelligence.  Alfred Binet, in France originally developed his own intelligence test to see if children were ‘educable’.  David Wechsler captured the field with his Wechsler tests (WISC, WPPSI, WAIS) and Woodcock and Johnson capitalized on the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory of intelligence which is a highly complex and nuanced version of different aspects of your cognitive brain.  More recently, Reynolds, Kaufman and Naglieri came up with their own equally valid and interesting IQ tests.  I am sure I am missing some wonderful tests in this paragraph (Hey, Stanford Binet, when is your new edition coming out?) Howard Gardner came up with “Multiple Intelligence” (bless him) and stayed away from trying to quantify intelligence as a single number.

(Sorry, that is a very brief nutshell summary of a fascinating topic)

MY DEFINITION OF GIFTED:

As for me, I consider a child who is INTENSELY CURIOUS TO LEARN to be highly intelligent.  Some kids are clearly precocious and may score high on these tests, but if they aren’t curious or if they are too placid, they may score the big points, but I don’t consider them truly “GIFTED”.

“Intelligence is both genetic and experience dependent. That means it take the golden key of exposure to an enriched environment to “turn on” your child’s gifts. TO BE GIFTED IS TO INTENSELY WANT TO LEARN AND TO KEEP IMPROVING ON YOURSELF, YOUR TALENTS AND BE AWARE OF YOUR ENVIRONMENT IN AN INTENSE AND CURIOUS WAY.  NO ONE IS GIFTED IN ALL AREAS”

SO BACK TO MY OWN IQ TEST:

I bit the bullet and took the 10 minute online IQ test.  It was timed.  And surprisingly the timing made me nervous so I rushed.  That’s not the only surprise.  The test was completely non-verbal, and mostly composed of solving either visual-spatial puzzles or math riddles in matrix form.  “Hey! That’s not fair!!”, I shouted to the screen.  These are not my strengths!! To say that the verbal linguistic left hemisphere side of my brain felt discriminated against, was an understatement. So in the end I did ok,  but I ended up feeling judged.  unfairly.  ha!

NOW BACK TO THE OFFICE.

Where I realized that I do this to kids. Every. Single. day.  They are timed and measured.  Thank goodness, I measure every part of their little brains and give them every opportunity to shine.  They are also praised a lot and leave feeling pretty good.  At least I hope so!  ( I sweeten the deal with a nice cup of hot chocolate…..

AND NOW HERE IS MY SOAPBOX TIRADE:

Kids come in all sizes, shapes and learning styles.  Whether they are strongly verbal, street smart, creative, physical, artistic, intuitive, personable or visual spatial will determine a lot about how they do in school, their self worth and the way teachers view them.  YES it pays to have your child tested if you have concerns or need validation about your child’s learning style, because hopefully your tester won’t allow you to ride on a single “G” score but will highlight your child’s natural intelligence gifts.

For example, gifted students with visual spatial strengths and weaker language skills are often over-looked in school.  Such thinkers as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Leonardo Da Vinci were all noted for gifted spatial reasoning skills.  Verbalization often plays a secondary role in the spatially oriented student’s thinking style and is not necessarily integral in the process of his ability to reason.  Occupations that rely on spatial rate reasoning include engineering, architecture, physics, chemistry or medical surgery.  Unfortunately, so many students who are identified as being gifted spatially are disproportionately weaker students relative to their ability level compared with gifted verbal students.

I’m not sure i would call these kids “2E”: twice exceptional.  I would say they are exceptional for sure!  Quiet packages with lots going on in their brainy minds, visual spatial kids need to develop both their strengths as well as their verbal skills.

So next time you start to think of yourself and your kid as an IQ number, think again!

STAY CURIOUS, KEEP LEARNING AND KEEP SHARING THIS BEAUTIFUL WIDE WORLD WITH YOUR CHILD!

ps. If an ad for an online IQ test pops up, don’t do it! Put your phone down and go hug your child instead!

Welcome to Heartbreak

As the summer dwindles down, it’s time for a new season to begin.  For many parents, this signifies a new transition in their lives, which has unexpected emotional baggage.

Many parents are now encountering for the first OR tenth time, the pain of letting their child go – be it college, boarding school or even the tentative first steps of nursery school or kindergarten.  Surprising that the pain of letting go doesn’t seem to diminish as your child grows.  It’s always a surprise.

All of these are yet more ‘firsts’ in the parenting journey – the surprising pain of letting your child go off into unchartered waters for the first time.  Some parents have described the pain akin to childbirth pain, ripping them up emotionally as their children depart.

The truth is, parenting is a series of “letting go” experiences, each with an equal tug of pain as childbirth.  Indeed, to be a parent is to learn to —

nurture and then let go,

nurture and then let go,

nurture and then let go,

—in a series of waves that continue on for a long long time down the road to growing up until they gradually recede.

Surprise! The pain of the moment is almost too much to bear.  Surprise! There is almost no one you can share it with.   You feel as if you want to announce to the world with tears, “Leo started ________________ today. “  fill in the blank: nursery, first grade, middle school, high school, first day at college.  You will likely receive a high five or congratulations from your peers, seeing it as a transition for you into liberation.  Oh but what about your aching heart?

For the majority of parents, these transitions can be both gut wrenching and invisible to the outside world as to just how painful this is.

How to cope?

First, know this:

Your paternal or maternal broken heart is utterly normal; this is yet another wave of child rearing.  Indeed, to be a parent is to have your heart broken over and over again – and it’s normal and healthy!  Sometimes, people reduce your despair as “empty nest” syndrome, a term that doesn’t even begin to cover what you’re going through!

Let’s look at your parent brain to understand the transition.  For many years, your parent brain has looked like this:

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As your child grows, your parent brain must slowly fill with other matters, or else each transition leaves literally an empty space in your brain/ heart space.

Here are some tips:

FIRST MORNING:  make sure you plan a comfort filler for your morning.  Know that your heart space needs some comfort today. TAKE THE TIME TO LET YOURSELF BE SAD AND THEN CELEBRATE. Breathe deeply. Practice letting go. Just like Lamaze but this time the contractions are in your heart. Meditation is a strong medium to acknowledge this journey and gain more equanimity.

BEYOND:  know that  it’s temporary in  a way.  For most parents, as soon as they see that their child has cheerfully adjusted, a lot of the pain becomes soothed.

HERE ARE SOME TIPS TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE:

  1. Accept the timing:  it’s time to let your little one (or big one) fly.  Be sure to let them know you are confident that they can do it! or – share your worries with them, just not the actual morning of the separation.  Worries should be discussed well ahead of the actual event.  if you are unsure of how to raise these worries, seeking professional help of a supportive therapist, even for one session, can go a long way.
  2. Create social support:   Social support can be incredibly helpful during times of stress and loneliness, and self-care should be made a priority during difficult transitions. There are practical things you can do to prepare for or manage the transition of children leaving the home. For example, time and energy that you directed toward your child can now be spent on different areas of your life. This might be an opportune time to explore or return to hobbies, leisure activities, or career pursuits.

  1. Adjust to your new role! This also marks a time to adjust to your new role in your child’s life as well as changes in your identity as a parent. Your relationship with your child may become more peer-like, and while you may have to give your child more privacy, you can have more privacy for yourself as well.

  2. Plan ahead! It’s a good idea to prepare for this transition while your children are still completely dependent on you, or before they leave home (depending on the age of the upcoming separation).

  3. Develop yourself: friendships, hobbies, career, and educational opportunities. Make plans with the family while everyone is still under the same roof, such as family vacations, long talks, and taking time off from work to make special memories.

  4. Special memoriestime to make special memories as a parting gift! Be sure to stick something special in their pocket, be it a felt heart with a magic message, or an extra gift card, something that says “I love you”.

5.  Long term: This low mood should go away as the activities of your newfound hours increase.  If not, please, please get some professional help.  Your child wants you to be happy too!!

With a little planning and a little self care, you too will survive this part of the PARENTING JOURNEY process!

Just How Much Physical Activity Do Your Kids Need?

Let’s be honest: Toddlers are killing it in the zest-for-life department. Take Sophie who animatedly talks about everything, excitedly shriek at every outdoor discovery, or simply run laps around the dining room table. She seemingly never stops — and she does it all with what appears to be joy (or at least a manic state of exhaustion). But what are the guidelines for how active toddlers should be? Sophie plays outside regularly, attends playdates, takes swim class twice a week, goes to ballet on Saturdays, and can have a dance party like no other, but I have no idea if there is some sort of quota we are supposed to be meeting. Our goal is always to just incorporate multiple activities into our day.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, research indicates that 2 to 5-year-olds should engage in two or more hours per day of physical activity. “Many children less than 5 years of age fail to meet the physical activity Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guide of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day​,” the website noted. Sedentary activity for young children has been shown to range from 32.8 to 56.3 minutes per hour.

“Toddlers should be quite active, as young children learn how to navigate the world around them as well as how to regulate their bodies and self-regulate their emotions through the sensory and physical world,” Dr. Rita Eichenstein, a pediatric neuropsychologist who specializes in child development, tells Romper in an email interview. “It is enormously important that toddlers be given as wide a range of sensory experiences as possible.”

Eichenstein says ideas for activities with your toddler include climbing, sand play, water play, playing at the playground, and experiences in the natural world, such as running barefoot in the grass, building a snowman, and nature walks and exploration.

“As our world becomes more constricted, it is important to build in these activities and not to naturally assume that toddlers will find these experiences on their own,” she says. “Many toddlers with an ‘over abundance of energy’ are really toddlers who need more interaction with their physical world, more movement and more sensory experiences.”

Eichenstein says being buckled in car seats, having to sit quietly at restaurants, and other constricted physical experiences are not developmental experiences for toddlers, nor are passive educational iPad apps or television shows. “Only through physical play does the young child begin to build a base for future enrichment,” she notes. “And movement is fun!” Exercising, moving, and playing with your toddler will keep their activity levels in check, Eichenstein says. “Music and props also help encourage dancing, moving, and self expression.”

KidsHealth noted that playgroups are also a solid way to score your toddler some active time. Plus, you’ll reap the benefits of meeting other parents with similarly aged children. And if all else fails, take it from me: Running laps around the dining room table with your kid is a surefire way to tire both of you out.

Adapted from: https://www.romper.com/p/how-active-should-toddlers-be-experts-explain-just-how-much-physical-activity-your-kid-needs-8677308

Do You Feel Sorry for Your Struggling Child?

Feeling sorry for a child who struggles with special needs is a common, understandable reaction from a loving parent. But — it’s not going to help your kid. Here’s how to adopt a new mindset that will.

Nine-year-old Amanda walked into my office, a worried frown on her freckled face. She heaved a heavy backpack off of her shoulders, dropping it with a thud and blurted out, “I’m exhausted!” Her mother agreed, noting, “I feel so bad for her all the time. She is under so much stress!”

As a parent, it’s hard not to feel sorry for your own child sometimes. It’s especially hard if your child has the extra burden of an atypical profile. Children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, ADHD, autism, or developmental delays are additionally weighed down by the necessities of their diagnosis, whether extra tutoring, multiple therapies, socialization groups or intensive behavior training programs.

Parents may have to let go of typical fun activities, such as sports teams or school plays, in lieu of prescriptive interventions. It’s emotionally draining both for child and parent. No one wants their child to be different, and yet differences seem to drive the weekly calendar, continually reminding everyone of the “special needs” of the child.

A major reason it is so difficult to keep a positive attitude when your child is atypical is because, like all parents, you worry. You worry that your child will be bullied, have no friends, never go to college or get married. That he’ll suffer.

And yet, because children learn by watching their parents, it is critical to adopt a cheerful attitude. The way you see your child ultimately shapes her own self perspective. On top of everything you’re challenged to do, you have to cultivate optimism, resilience and confidence in your child’s outcome.

Is that hard? You bet it is. But if you keep these Dont’s and Do’s in mind, you’ll find it easier.

DON’T:

Don’t Always look through the disability lens

Your kid is a whole person with different gifts and great potential. The special need aspect is just one aspect of your child’s life.

Don’t Project

Sometimes, parents will worry about something that might happen – but it’s stemming from their own experiences or fears. Are you worried that he won’t be popular because you weren’t popular? Take some time to find out what your child is worried about; you might be surprised to find out that he is much more at ease than you thought.

Don’t Overindulge to “compensate”

Extra video games or unlimited treats, for example, do not have anything to do with your child’s disability. Stick to “typical” rules, while allowing for occasional leniency in circumstances that really do relate to her disability.

Don’t Be too tough

Tough love doesn’t work with atypical kids. Atypical kids are more fragile. Get to know your child and work with him consciously and gently.

DO:

DO Step in when necessary

Some atypical kids are prone to social isolation and depression. Teachers, even if unintentionally, can exacerbate the problem. Keep an eye on your child and have open communication so he’ll feel comfortable confiding in you.

You are your child’s advocate, and your child will need assertive intervention at times. This is not “babying” your child. It’s part of your job as a pro-active parent of an atypical child.

DO Encourage participation

Don’t limit your child’s activity options based on what you think she can’t do. If she really wants to join that club or try that sport or take those lessons, chances are there is a way to make it happen.

DO Enjoy the present

Staying in the moment and noticing your amazing child as she unfolds is an important—and joyful—exercise. Take a short break from the everyday jostle to savor small moments of just being together.

DO Express gratitude daily

Before bed, perhaps at tuck-in time, encourage your child to think about what he’s thankful for. Chime in with a few ideas yourself.  Practicing gratitude as a family goes a long way towards ultimate feelings of positivity and happiness.