Category Archives: Dealing with Teachers and Schools

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!

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Why aren’t the kids playing? 

  
Kids don’t play anymore. It’s no secret that playing has been replaced by longer hours of homework and passive screen time. Do we have to sacrifice the previous years of childhood in order to maintain a high level of academic success? 

Here is what we know now. And if we know it, why aren’t kids in the US playing more? 

Read on: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/10/07/if-we-know-play-based-learning-works-why-dont-we-do-it/

The Day I Had To Tell My Son He Was Different

A common issue that many parents ask about is when  they should tell their children about their differences.  There is no single answer and each family may take a 7615524_s (1)different approach.  Particularly after having their child tested, parents want to know how to talk to their child about the results.  This article represents one parent’s version of how they handled this issue.

Reprinted from Kveller, October 14, 2014, written by Samantha Taylor:

When my very bright son’s grades started to plummet, we decided it was time to find out what was going on. In an attempt to help him, we subjected him to a sleep study, neurological exams, academic exams, and psychological testing. At the same time, Joey was struggling with skills for the standardized tests, so he was taking multiple practice exams and being pulled out of class to work with a reading specialist.

He was patient, and handled them all like a champ. Occasionally he’d ask about the testing. We’d give him a simple but truthful answer, and move the conversation along by talking about Minecraft.

After a few weeks, his questions started to change. Instead of asking what the tests were all about, he started to ask if there was something wrong with him, or if he was different than the other kids in his class. I noticed his self-esteem wasn’t doing so hot, and at homework time there were tears. He started to call himself stupid.

When my husband and I got the results of the testing, we were pretty surprised.His scores were off the charts high for memorization, spelling, and math. However, his scores for reading comprehension, specifically language processing, were extremely low. The team at school decided that he would benefit from 90 minutes per week of language therapy with a Speech and Language Pathologist.

On the way home in the car, it hit me. We need to tell him the results. His ego is deflated, and it shouldn’t be. He’s 9, and doesn’t need to know all of the specifics, but this kid has gifts. He needs to be reminded of that. He also needs to understand that he has a deficit, and he’s going to get help for it.

After consulting a mental health counselor (who had worked with us before) I was prepared to tell Joey all about the test results. My husband and I practiced the language we would use. This was a delicate situation; we wanted to handle it properly.

I wanted Joey to know that this conversation was special, so my parents came over to watch the other kids. My husband and I got in the car to take Joey to his favorite Italian ice place and have the talk. On the way there Joey asked if he was in trouble, what we were going to talk about, and why his brother and sister were staying at home. I didn’t want to have the conversation in the car. The way I had prepared was to talk to him face to face.

We got our desserts and sat down. The talk went something like this.

“Joey, the reason we are here is to explain all of the testing you’ve been going through. We want you to know that we got all the test results, and thought we’d share them with you. You have an amazing memory. Your math scores were at the 6th grade level. Your spelling scores were at the 9th grade level. You have an amazing brain. There’s one thing you need help with. When your brain reads something, sometimes it has a hard time understanding what you’ve read. That’s why you’ve been pulled out of class to work with the reading coach. Now you get to work with another teacher to help you get better at that skill. This is just like someone who needs glasses to help them see better. You are an amazing kid with an incredible brain, and we just wanted you to know that. Do you have any questions?”

“Nope,” he said, in between bites of cherry ice.

“Really? You don’t have anything to ask us?

“Nope, I’m good,” he said.

My husband gave me that “let it go” look. So I did. I let it go. The conversation quickly moved onto Minecraft.

That night as I was tucking Joey into bed, I just couldn’t help myself. I asked him again, “Did you have a chance to think about what we talked about this afternoon? Do you have any more questions?”

“No,” he said. “Thanks for telling me. Do I have to take anymore long tests?”

“No, Joey,” I said. “That’s all done.”

“Cool, goodnight Mom.”

Sometimes I forget that he’s on his way to becoming a young man. He’s turning 10 next month. We can no longer expect that he’s not going to be curious about anything out of the ordinary. From now on, I’ve learned to keep him in the loop from the beginning. The thought that he assumed he was dumber than the rest of his class because of the excessive testing breaks my heart.

There comes a time when you realize your kids aren’t babies anymore. I’m going to start talking to him like the little man that he is slowly becoming before my eyes. With parenting there’s always room for improvement, and there’s always room for Italian ice.

Having “The Talk” With Your Child: It’s Not The One You Think

22338339_sFor many families, talking to your child about the birds and the bees is not the hardest conversation you will have.  For parents of atypical kids, the hard conversation will be the one that answers the question: “What is wrong with me?” “Why am I so stupid?” “Why don’t I have any friends?” or “Why am I so different?”

How do we help our children understand their issues and teach them to advocate for themselves? When and how do we start the process and when can we begin to expect more self reliance? This is a cluster of questions that I wish more parents asked.

Over the years, children have come to my office exhibiting a wide range of coping skills. The range of understanding their own strengths and struggles is wide and is not necessarily connected with their cognitive abilities or emotional intelligence.  I’ve listened to remarkably eloquent 10-year-olds speak about their dyslexia and how difficult it is for them to read. And I have witnessed hyperactive and restless teens who have no real insight into how they tick. It’s not that they are not interested in learning about themselves.  They have never had “the talk” with their parents or a therapist:  they still have no clue as to what their diagnosis really means and are often still dependent on others to help them pave their way without having a real understanding of who they are and why they need the help that they are receiving.

Sooner or later, though, all children will have to go out into the world and fend for themselves.  Kids of all ages are more confident when they have a good understanding of their own needs and have done the hard work to learn to accept their differences.

Demystifying a child’s condition—that is, telling children what their issues are and helping them come to grips with it—is an important and often overlooked part of parenting an atypical child. It can be difficult to approach this subject; layers of defensiveness and avoidance build up over years of struggling so that many children can be unapproachable.   Just as some parents have difficulty accepting that their child is different, it is even harder to help a child come to terms with his or her difference.  Kids do not want to be different.  And yet, almost all children with a difference, be it a learning disability, ADHD or autism spectrum, among other issues, understand or sense that they are uniquely challenged.  Having “the talk” can help your child get to the next level.

Sometimes, though we hold back from talking to them about it, hoping they will ‘straighten out’ or become more ‘typical’ so we won’t have to have the conversation. But if your child is going from therapy to therapy on a weekly basis, he deserves the benefit of a good solid talk to explain what is going on in his brain and what are some techniques to help him.

In reality, for many families, “The Talk” happens in stages, as the child grows and is more able to understand the information and adapt him- or herself to the demands of the larger world.

What Does Your Child Need to Know?

Here are the steps that kids need to go through in order to become fully active in their own care:

  • Stage 1 – Awareness:

Knowing and accepting that everyone learns differently and has different needs.  No one has it all.  Learning that each person has unique needs and everyone needs help in becoming the best person they can be. Talking to your child about different talents and pointing out the ways that they are uniquely talented (as opposed to a sibling or neighbor who excels in another area) is a good way to make the concept resonate.

  • Stage 2 – Getting information:

Finding the name for what they have and learning about it (if a name exists).  This is an important step as learning what Dyslexia or ADHD or Autism Spectrum are can elicit different reactions in children.  Some children may feel relieved that there is a name for what they have. Other children may be frightened or annoyed and scared that there is something ‘wrong’ with their brain.  Finding the best way to deliver the information is important.  Some parents can read their child a book, for others, a trip to an informed therapist can help pave the road.  Many parents are more comfortable in reading the child a book that help describes a child that struggles in similar ways.  Children take comfort in hearing that they are not the only ones with this type of difference.

  • Stage 3 – Monitoring:

Learning the best interventions, accommodations, and what works best for them.  For many children, this is where a solid neuropsychological assessment can make the difference.  A good assessment should have a list of optimal interventions, discussions about a child’s learning style and a roadmap of accommodations that will work best for your child.  In older children, it is advised that the child be part of the debriefing plan, to learn more about themselves from a professional who has just tested them.

  • Stage 4 – Self Advocacy:

Knowing how to talk about it with others becomes important as a child grows up.  This is a critical transitional step that helps a child move from dependence to self reliance.  This should begin to happen in high school, if not sooner.  Children may need to practice how to speak to teachers, coaches or other adults about their particular conditions.  For sure by the time teens are preparing for college, this information should be clear, crisp and effective.  I often coach my older teens in scripts to use when speaking to high school teachers or college professors.  Don’t hesitate to use a script and to role model how to discuss their differences with others.

These stages may not happen in a neat, orderly sequence. In fact, a child may take until his 20’s to get all the way through all four stages. Ideally, we’d like our kids to have all four stages in their toolkit as they navigate through life.

Nancy Bley, Dean of Students at Park Century School in Culver City, CA, http://www.parkcenturyschool.org/  said, in an interview, “the best time to discuss a child’s disabilities and how they learn is as soon as they perceive a problem and it is identified. The most important thing is that kids get enough information and awareness about their own learning style and learning needs to be able to advocate for themselves. Even the youngest child needs to feel comfortable in asking for help, the first step in self advocacy.”

Even if your child isn’t lucky enough to be in a special needs school that builds their self advocacy skills, having “the talk” with them on an ongoing basis in a supportive manner will go a long way to build a self reliant and confident young adult.

Umbrella Parents, Part 2: How Much Is Too Much?

Sometimes you have to retract the umbrella to find out what your kids are capable of.
Sometimes you have to retract the umbrella to find out what your kids are capable of.

Last post, I defined “umbrella parents” as parents who have to do what it takes to get their child’s needs served, even if it means looking like a ‘smother mother’ to other parents. I have always advocated parents being fully in the ring with their kids—and urge them to do whatever it takes to get their child’s needs met at school, camp, sports teams and elsewhere.

In that post, I also talked about executive function development and how it is often delayed in atypical children. This makes it essential for good parents to pave the way for their kids. Teachers, coaches, counselors and well-meaning parents of other children can be unintentionally cruel unless they are instructed otherwise. Your child clearly needs strong parental support as he or she is growing up.

But when does protecting your child become a habit rather than a necessity?

Or, as the exhausted mother of a teen put it, “Just exactly until when do we have to keep doing all of this?”

What Are Habituated Parents?

Umbrella parenting takes a lot of energy, planning and anticipating daily twists and turns of life. But eventually, it’s time to let go…. slowly. Sometimes this doesn’t happen fully until young adulthood, but it’s never too early to try to release the reins and see what happens, if only for a moment. Otherwise, parents risk becoming habituated to their children’s dependency and forget that the goal of umbrella parenting is to ultimately let go.

Here is an example of what I mean by a habituated parent:

Herbert is 11 years old. He’s so anxious about coming to me for testing that he is lying on the floor of the waiting room at his mother’s feet. She apologizes for him but does not make him sit up. He is, you see, anxious.

Herbert sullenly shuffles into my office and slumps into the chair. Mom checks that he has his backpack and enough snacks, and then tells him she loves him twice before leaving.

Who is the anxious one here?

Herbert slumps passively through his days while Mom takes care of all his needs. He is not developing the skills he needs to navigate the world independently or advocate for himself. Mom is too afraid for him to teach him what he needs to know. She has forgotten to retract the umbrella once in a while to help him learn to fend for himself.

Retracting the Umbrella

Instead of worrying yourself ragged like Herbert’s mom, try stepping back now and then, just a little.

You may start to notice that your child is capable of much more than you thought he could do. This change may come in stages, or progress at a more rapid pace. Take your cue from how things go in school. I find that many parents have no idea how independent or resourceful their child can be at school (or how polite and interactive), because he regresses as soon as he gets home.

Your child may be aware that she has a problem but is unable to act on the coping strategies she is learning right away. Once she matures that extra little bit, things suddenly click.

You may be surprised at how much your child can manage on his own, when you start to retract that umbrella bit by bit.  If you have been a vigilant umbrella parent for a while and are wondering if it’s time to step back,  take that baby step to see how it goes. Remember: even a small step can be a major accomplishment for your child. Give it a try and  be sure to share with us and with  other “positively atypical” parents and friends about your experience.

Next Post: Key teachable moments for every child.