“I’m bored.” We’ve all heard this complaint from children. What do these words mean, and what’s a helpful response?
The causes of boredom in children are many and diverse, ranging from low interest in a particular activity or subject, high energy (without knowing where to direct it), perceived lack of control in an adult-driven world, desire for novelty, anxiety, feeling under/over challenged, and attention and learning problems. While it’s no surprise that under-stimulation can lead to boredom, so can schedules that are too full and busy. Another factor may be “screentime,” which has been linked to sleep deprivation, “trimming” of unused neural connections, and compulsive behavior driven by variable reinforcement (aka the “Vegas effect”).
But regardless of its cause, occasional boredom is not a bad thing. In fact, for children whose minds are developing, it may be especially healthy and rewarding.
For one thing, taking a break from an information-overloaded world may be beneficial to mental health. Also, being bored provides an opportunity to wonder and daydream – a sort of “call to adventure” that fosters curiosity and inspires new ideas. Studies have shown that daydreaming can lead to increased creativity by stimulating divergent or “outside the box” thinking. Finally, managing boredom may help children develop important executive functioning skills (planning, organization, focus, self-control). Rather than relying upon external stimuli to keep them occupied, they get an opportunity to explore their own interests, set personal “goals”, and experiment with ways to pursue them.
So, the next time your child says, “I’m bored,” just roll with it! Allow the child to be bored and see what happens. Yes, there may be a period of adjustment…but give them a chance to learn how to self-direct, to create, to daydream, and to explore possibilities!
©2023 Individual Matters. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.
Setting and achieving a goal can be a powerful and life-changing experience for people of any age! A study in 2015 by Psychologist Gail Matthews showed that when people wrote down their goals, they were 33 percent more successful! One of the best ways to write out a goal is using the SMART Goals method. Any goal is more likely to be achieved if the goal itself first passes the SMART test:
Specific and Small: To pass the SMART test, the goal must be specific and small in scope. A goal that is too big, general, or too far out in the future can cause overwhelm and stress/anxiety. The key is to chunk bigger goals into smaller more specific ones.
Measurable: To pass the SMART test, there can be no ambiguity about what it means to achieve that goal. For example, to “be happy” or “be more outgoing” are not measurable goals. A SMART goal is either achieved or it is not. The action that drives the goal either happened or it did not.
Attainable and Achievable: To pass the SMART test, the goal must be reasonable and within the power/control of the student. For example, being selected to an NBA basketball team in 8th grade is not 1) achievable or 2) within total control of the student. In contrast, practicing basketball for 30 minutes every day is reasonable and within the control of the student.
Relevant: To pass the SMART test the goal must be relevant (or important) to the individual and connected to other life goals, interests, and objectives. If the goal is not relevant, then the motivation and purpose will be lost.
Timeframe with Start and End Date: To pass the SMART test, the goal must have a clean start and end date. Open or floating deadlines can spell disaster for any goal, project, or intention.
SMART goals don’t have to be school-related, and there’s never an inopportune moment to set them. Even during summer, students can set and achieve goals that are meaningful to their own interests and desires! Give it a try! And once your child sets and achieves the goal, don’t forget the most important part…to celebrate!
©2021 Individual Matters, LLC. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.
Today we’ll look at the last piece of the R Solutions for Everyday Living. As previously discussed, each R Solution targets one or more area of executive functioning (EF). This week’s R Solution is: Review and Recharge.
Now is the time to take a break from our EF work, look back at our journey, and review progress! If your students set a S.M.A.R.T. goal, did they accomplish it? Where did they excel, and and where did they get hung up? Parents and students can do this together. Just remember, this should be a positive, constructive process. Just because there’s always room for improvement doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate successes along the way.
Here are some areas to Review: Did our S.M.A.R.T. goal target the real EF deficit? What went well over the previous weeks, and what didn’t? What times or activities caused anxiety, frustration, or “blow-outs”? When/why did things not get done? What tasks or activities on our checklists could be added, deleted, or moved around? Are there any skill “gaps” that got missed? (Tip: Use “I’m wondering…” as a conversation starter)
Recharge: Recharging looks different for everyone, and everyone needs it! Developing and using EF strategies are hard work, and for some, the use of EF strategies will always feel upstream. Therefore, it is important to determine how your child recharges (which they show us through their actions and interests) and build that activity (or that “non-activity”) into their rhythm and routines. (Tip: Put “recharge” on the student’s to-do list!)
Hope you’ve enjoyed this series! Join us for the next podcast, where we’ll continue to “learn about learning” and share ways to help your student (and yourself) live a more positive and fulfilling life.
©2021 Individual Matters, LLC. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.
This is the fifth segment in a series about executive functioning (EF): our “5 R Solutions for Everyday Living.” In this episode, we discuss how and why “Rewards and Reinforcers” can alleviate problems with EF.
Rewards and reinforcers are an important and valuable component for supporting children practice and develop EF skills.
By definition, a “reinforcer” is something that increases the likelihood that a desired behavior will increase. Positive reinforcement is an extremely powerful tool—arguably the most powerful tool you have in your toolbox as a parent or teacher! And the research says positive reinforcement produces faster and longer-lasting results than punishment!
Rewards and reinforcers come in many forms, including “edibles,” experiences, tangibles, activities, and social interactions. Another powerful reinforcer is affirmations! Rewards and reinforcers do not have to be huge or cost money. They can be very simple. Examples include putting a marble in a jar, a sticker on a chart, or keeping a weekly log in a journal. The reward for a completed task or goal could be relaxing with a movie, or spending one-on-one time together with someone special.
When I bring up rewards and reinforcers, parents and teachers are sometimes resistant to the idea because they are not on board with “paying kids” to do things they should be doing anyway. I can totally understand how it might feel this way at first. However, it is human nature to seek what is pleasurable and avoid what hurts. We are wired this way! So, use this innate part of human nature to help your children and students learn skills, build strategies, and find success! And don’t worry, once a strategy or skills is established and integrated into daily living, the need for the reinforcer will fade away.
In addition to serving as an incentive, rewards and reinforcers also help a child self-monitor and mark progress. If you recall, self-monitoring and completing “the final lap” are both EF skills. Reinforcers help the child monitor and mark that a task is complete. For example, when the morning check list is finished, a marble is placed in the jar. Five days of morning checklist completion leads to five marbles. And five marbles might equal an hour of game time with Dad!
In summary, the importance of rewards and reinforcers cannot be overstated. They tap into a fundamental trait of human nature: the tendency to seek pleasure or happiness, while avoiding things that are less enjoyable or lead to suffering. Rewards and reinforcers motivate the behaviors that we want to see in others (rather than punish the behaviors that we don’t want). And, when used correctly, they help an individual monitor progress towards an end-goal. Give these a shot and see what a difference positive reinforcement can make in your child’s life!
©2021 Individual Matters, LLC. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.
This is the fourth segment in a series about executive functioning (EF): our “5 R Solutions for Everyday Living.” In this episode, we discuss how and why “Rhythm and Routine” can alleviate problems with EF.
You can create Rhythm and Routine for any segment or transition in your day that is challenging or causing unnecessary stress and conflict. I prefer Rhythm and Routines to “schedules.” Schedules are based on specific times, such as start times, length of time, and ending times. Rhythm and Routines allow for more flexibility while consistently ensuring the same tasks (and sequence/order of those tasks) are always stays the same.
Let’s look at school mornings. Take a minute and reflect on your morning routine from wake-up to drop off at school—how is that going? Do you have a routine or established rhythm? How consistent are things remembered versus forgotten? How often do you have to circle back home (tire screeching) to grab a mask, lunchbox, or homework? School mornings are often a stress-filled sprint for families. By creating a set morning routine that follows a stable and predictable rhythm, the habit of chaotic mornings can be completely transformed!
There are 4 keys to establishing a successful morning:
1) Identify all the items that need to be done (your child should help with this).
2) Chunk the items into smaller segments based on where in the house they take place, and put them in order based on the layout of your house and logic (brushing teeth and combing hair are in bathroom and brushing teeth happens after breakfast).
3) Create a checklist with visuals that follows the order/sequence (put this list in a plastic sleeve so that items can be checked off with a dry erase marker each morning—checking it off the list is part of the routine).
4) Create and implement a system of rewards and reinforcers (more on that next time).
Be sure to check out our latest podcast/video (embedded above) for more details about Rhythm and Routine!
This is the third segment in a series about executive functioning (EF): our “5 R Solutions for Everyday Living.” In this episode, we discuss how and why “Reduce” can alleviate problems with EF.
I love this R Solution because it can address all six clusters in Dr. Brown’s Model of Executive Functioning (Activation, Focus, Effort, Emotion, Memory, and Action)! The goal here is to help the student reduce to a single point of focus, which will help the student focus and sustain attention, prioritize, reduce overwhelm and frustration, activate with a starting and ending pointing, etc. There are so many strategies (too many to list in one short article) that really work…so I hope the takeaway is that when in doubt, reduce, reduce, reduce. Below is a list of 5 strategies that really work for students, parents, and teachers:
1. Set a timer and work on one task for a set amount of time. The amount of time will vary depending on the student and the task ,and you may have to experiment to identify the optimal number of minutes (could be 20 could be 55). This strategy reduces attention and productivity to a single point of focus, helps activate and prioritize, reduces stress and overwhelm, reduces load on working memory, chunks larger tasks, and provides a method for self-monitoring and time management. This can be especially useful for ”studying,” “practicing,” and completion of long-term projects. For example, if I say, “study your test.” What exactly does this mean? Setting a timer provides a quantitative measure for a qualitative task. It also promises relief (it will be over in 20 minutes) for mentally fatigued and exhausted students.
2. Declutter. Remove visual, auditory, and tactile clutter in the the learning environment, workspace, bag, folder, planner, desk, room, etc. If the mind is ”cluttered” or disorganized, the environment must be orderly. Also, if you notice increased clutter in the student’s space or belongings, it is a good indication they are overwhelmed.
3. Tighten up your Message: When giving instructions or directions, eliminate unnecessary and only loosely related information, words, and directives. In other words, talk less and stick to key actions and objects. Avoid overtaxing their working memory, diverting their focus, and overwhelming their senses.
4. Give Big Picture (or punch line) First. When giving instructions or directions provide a clear idea of where the activity is headed, when will it be done, and what is the point so that the student can focus on key details, prioritize, and maximize their worming memory capacity.
5. Set SMART Goals. SMART GOALS are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, and Time-specific. I love SMART goals because they help direct focus, break larger goals into smaller goals, set timelines, reduce overwhelm, and help students self-monitor progress. I also love setting SMART goals with students because the aspect of the SMART goal they struggle with, reveals their specific area of executive dysfunction. For example, if the goal is identified as “Work on my Science Project,” I might suspect this student has trouble prioritizing, planning, chunking, sequencing, and self-monitoring.
If you like these strategies, pick one or to work on this week, and see how they go for you. We recommend you don’t try all 5 at once. After all, the point of these is to reduce – not to overload yourself!
– Dr. Katen
A Series on Executive Functioning
This is the second segment in a series about executive functioning (EF): our “5 R Solutions for Everyday Living.” In this episode, we discuss how and why to “Reframe and Redefine” problems with EF.
Before we can implement an effective solution in any situation, we must first accurately define the problem. Before we can help a student with any struggle, we must first identify what is really going on. Once we correctly call it what it is, we begin the process of solving the problem without blame and shame and with accountability.
For example, there is a common belief that procrastinators are simply perfectionistic, and the fear of not being perfect interferes with their ability to get started and get it done. There is also a common belief that procrastination is deliberate avoidance. While these might be true sometimes, often there is a different reason—a skill deficit.
So if perfectionism and deliberate avoidance are not the causes…what is going on?! In many cases, the true culprit is a deficit in executive functioning, and specifically in the area of activation.
Correctly reframing and redefining the root of the problem helps (1) avoid blaming and shaming, (2) sets problem-solving in the right direction, and (3) creates space for accountability and success.
Activation is one subset of EF skills and includes getting started, organizing, prioritizing. A deficit in activation is essentially a broken “start button.”
Obviously, the solution to a broken start button (or deficit in activation) is very different than the solution to deliberate avoidance or perfection anxiety. If the start button does not work properly, then that child’s brain needs an override. The override can be internal, such as panic or strong interest. The override can also be external, such as support from a person or a change in the environment (more on this next time).
Before we can help a student with any problem, we must first accurately reframe and redefine the true nature of the problem. There is always more to a student than what we can observe. Behavior is communication. And… when the root of the behavior is mislabeled, we miss what the behavior is trying to tell us, which often leads to unwarranted blaming, shaming, and continued failures.
A Free Presentation Series for Parents with Students of All Ages
Individual Matters hosts a series of presentations for parents of students of all ages. Join Dr. Katen and other local experts to learn about all things that have to do with learning.
The presentations take place on the FIRST TUESDAY of every month for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Topics will include:
- Learning Simulations
- ADHD: What is really causing the attention problem?
- Dyslexia and other Learning Disorders
- Auditory and Visual Processing
- Executive Function and Learning
- Learning Styles and Using Strengths to Find Success
- Gifted and Advanced Learners
- Successful Learning Skills: Organization and Homework Strategies
- Autism and Other Social Challenges
- IEPs, 504s, and Advocating for your Child at School
- And many more!
Location: 2530 E. Foresight Circle, Grand Junction, CO 81505
Day/Time: 1st Tuesday of each month, 5:30-7:00pm
If you can make it, please RSVP by email or phone so we can be sure to have enough seats and snacks.
Hope to see you there!
Do you answer “yes” to any of the following questions?
- Are you curious what hidden gifts or talents you possess, but don’t use?
- Do you sense that you learn or perceive the world differently from others?
- Does it feel like you could conquer the world – if only you didn’t have so much anxiety and self-doubt?
- Do you have big wishes/goals, but feel like you’re not educated (or smart) enough to attain them?
- Ever wonder why you experience relationships and social gatherings differently from your family and friends?
- Is school or work a struggle? Boring? Simply a poor “fit”?
- Are you an entrepreneur who wants to fine-tune your role in your business?
- Are you an employee who secretly wants to be an entrepreneur?
- As a mom, do you sense that your child is not performing at their best? Or as happy as they should be?
- Is it hard for you to pay attention, remember things, organize and manage your busy life?
- Do you feel like you’re a smart, creative person who is drowning in a world of checklists, to-dos, and non-stop life maintenance?
Maybe these questions seem like an advertisement for a motivational class or success
seminar. But sometimes, they’re questions that lead individuals to seek a neuropsychological learning evaluation.
A comprehensive, high quality, neuropsychological learning evaluation can help you understand:
- How you think.
- How you learn.
- How you relate to the world.
- Your interests and talents.
- Factors that may be suppressing your performance and happiness.
The goal of this evaluation is not to “diagnose” what is “wrong” with you or your child.
But it is important to identify what issues may be keeping you from functioning your best – and being your happiest. Here’s an analogy we can all relate to:
What would you do if your car did not start in the morning? Would you “give up” – i.e., call your boss your boss and quit your job? Would you “check out” – i.e, climb into the driver’s seat, stare out the windshield, and wait for something miraculous to happen? Would you become “behavioral” – yelling and cursing, maybe hitting your car? Or, would you buckle down and work harder – i.e., push your car to work?
Everyone will respond in his or her own way, depending on temperament, motivation, how many times this has happened before, financial situation, whether a phone is available, and so on…
Of course, the ideal choice would be to call a tow truck and have your car delivered to a mechanic’s shop. There, the mechanic would begin his assessment of the problem by asking you what happened. Based on the history you give, he might continue the diagnosis process by considering your vehicle’s make/model, identifying the type of engine in the car, checking the oil, evaluating whether the engine parts are moving correctly, determining whether any parts are broken or jammed, ensuring the engine is connected to the drive rod, axle, and wheels, etc. He might even check to see if your wheels have air in them – or if the gas tank is empty!
Basically, the mechanic would take a comprehensive look at your vehicle to figure out exactly what is keeping your car from performing the way it was designed.
Similarly, a neuropsychological learning evaluation involves understanding where you are, how you got here, and where you want to go.
Like a mechanic’s shop, the diagnostic process evaluates your brain – its horsepower (IQ), output (e.g., academic achievement, behavioral symptoms, emotions), how various parts work together (e.g., attention, working memory, executive function), and if the engine connects to the rest of the car (e.g., visual, auditory, sensory processing). This is a simplistic comparison, of course, but it illustrates the value of comprehensive diagnostic assessment.
Since every human is unique, a neuropsychological evaluation is arguably much more complex than figuring out why a car won’t start… Especially when one takes into account the influences of emotional, social, and behavioral functioning, the infinite scope of interests, personality, temperament, and family dynamics – and the fact that everyone is unique!
But the overall goals of the two assessments are similar – to figure out how to optimize performance.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma about “psychological testing” that may prevent adults from pursuing a learning assessment – either for themselves, or for their kids.
Over time, this will change, of course. At some point in the future, neuropsychological learning evaluations will become mainstream. Someday, it may be as common as getting vision or hearing checked, having cavities filled, or getting blood pressure checked – just another approach to living longer, healthier, and happier lives.
Few people would disagree with the sayings, “Live life to the fullest,” or “Be the best you can be.” Wouldn’t it be nice to find out what the “fullest” or “best” really means? And then to identify and overcome any obstacles that might stand in your way?
– Dr. Katen
“Live the life you were meant to live!”
©2017 Individual Matters. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share this article with others, as well as to print or post it on other websites, so long as credit is given to the author.
So your school has recommended you get a “learning assessment” for your child… What does this mean?
Perhaps your child’s teacher or counselor has concerns about learning, behavioral, or attention problems. Or maybe testing is required as part of the admissions process for a certain school or program.
As a parent, you may be feeling unsure what to do next. After all, a quick internet search will tell you there are lots types of “learning assessments” available – and variety of people who provide them. But not all learning assessments are the same.
Here are 5 things you should know before scheduling your child for a learning assessment:
1. A learning assessment should be completed by a licensed psychologist.
A licensed psychologist is someone with a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), legal authorization to practice, and specialized experience/training in psychological testing. Typically, schools (both K-12 and college) will only accept assessments completed by individuals with these qualifications. In most cases, only a psychologist holds the requisite credentials for diagnosing clinical disorders, such as ADHD, specific learning disorders, autism, developmental delays, and intellectual disabilities.
2. Learning assessments should include a comprehensive evaluation of IQ and academic achievement.
“IQ” (intelligence quotient) testing refers to the evaluation of intellectual and cognitive abilities (i.e., verbal and non-verbal reasoning, working memory, and processing speed). Academic achievement testing measures acquired procedural knowledge, skills, and facts related to school (i.e., reading, writing, and math). A psychologist should use “gold standard” measures to evaluate these areas. We recommend the following:
- IQ: Wechsler intelligence scales (WPPSI-IV for preschool/kindergarten, WISC-V for children and teens, or WAIS-IV for late-teen and adults).
- Academic achievement: Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III).
3. Screeners are insufficient for assessing learning problems.
Screeners are behavioral checklists and/or abbreviated versions of “gold standard” measures, and there are several reasons why they are inadequate for evaluating complex learning problems. First, they are not generally accepted by schools as evidence of diagnoses or need for classroom accommodations. Second, while they may be cost effective and a good first step towards identifying possible learning challenges, when used in isolation they do not allow conclusive or differential diagnosing (i.e., teasing out other possible causes). Third, they do not support identification of strengths. Fourth, screeners can deliver false positives/negatives for children with significant weakness, advanced abilities, or both (i.e., twice-exceptional learners). Fifth, unlike “gold standard” measures used by psychologists, screeners can and often are used by professionals with a wide variety of credentials and experience.
4. Insurance does not cover learning assessments.
Learning assessments are classified as “educational” rather than “medical” services. As such, health insurance policies will not pay for them. However, policies may cover testing that is provided by a psychologist or physician and results in a diagnosis for specific clinical disorder (e.g., ADHD or anxiety). The best way to find out what your policy will cover is to call the insurance company and ask. A psychologist can provide you with detailed invoices (that include clinical billing codes) that you can submit for possible reimbursement.
5. Learning assessments should evaluate strengths – and not just “problems.”
A quality learning assessment should provide insights and guidance that help scaffold a child’s overall happiness and success – not only in school, but across life. The process should include a survey of strengths, preferences, learning styles, interests, and temperament – all of which impact learning, self-concept, personal relationships, and career choices.
What is the first step you should take?
Some psychologists offer initial consultations for new assessment clients. During this meeting, they will gather history, ask about your goals for testing, review previous testing or other relevant records, describe their philosophy about assessment, outline the process, explain costs, and discuss other options. Essentially, clients should leave this session with a clear “road map” of what to do next, and what to expect along the way. The psychologist should then be able to connect with your child’s school to ensure that the testing they provide is what the school needs.
Above all else, never stop asking questions until you feel confident you’ve chosen the right path for you and your child.
– Dr. Katen
“Live the life you were meant to live!”
©2016 Individual Matters. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share this article with others, as well as to print or post it on other websites, so long as credit is given to the author.