Ever ask your student, ”How was school?” and all you get is “I dunno” or “fine”? It has been my experience that both parents and kids/teens crave a more meaningful discussion but are not always sure how to make it happen. This week, I want to share 5 ways to connect with your student of any age:
1. Change the Way You Ask: Rather than asking, “How was your day?” try phrases like “I wonder if…” or “Tell me about…” or “What was something funny that happened today?” or “When did you laugh?” or “What was hard about today?” You can also get more specific, such as “Who did you sit by at lunch?” “What was for lunch?” Or “What was the topic in history class?
2.Model How to Connect: Share details about your day first. Describe a situation at work and how you responded. Share a funny story about your boss. Share a proud moment or achievement. Describe something you learned. Share what you had for lunch and who you sat next to.
“Every good conversation starts with good listening.” – Unknown
3.Create an Open and Receptive Atmosphere. Turn off the radio. Put the phone away. Talk less. Listen more. Embrace moments of silence. Genuinely pay attention to the response your student gives. Follow up on a previous bit of information to show you really care and do remember.
4.Fine Tune Your Active and Reflective Listening Skills: Don’t problem-solve. Don’t rescue. Don’t teach. Just listen. If you’re unsure how to respond, just try reflecting back what your student shared. For example: “That sounds frustrating.” Or “Seems like you put in a lot of effort.” Or “You sound sad.”
5.Routinely Use a Theme: When your child climbs in the car, during dinner, or at bedtime, consistently use the same theme to open up a discussion. One theme I use with clients is “Petals and Thorns.” A petal is something positive while a thorn is a disappointment, struggle, or challenge. You could also use successes and challenges, hits or misses, Thumbs up/Thumbs down, or any other variation of this theme. Consistently using the same conversation starter can help prompt topics and may get your student thinking about it even before you ask!
Try these out and see how they work. Practice patience – and remember that success takes time. All good communication starts with good listening.
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.
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.
Attention issues, learning challenges, and social and emotional issues
Parents often feel lost, frustrated, and powerless when their child is struggling at school. Although motivated by love and a fundamental desire to help their child, parents may be unsure why their child is having trouble and what steps to take in figuring it out. There are many reasons a child may be struggling, and, although these may be obvious in some cases, for most children the root cause is complex and not immediately evident.
One underlying cause may be attention issues, which can result in academic problems, negative behaviors, and social difficulties. Academic performance is greatly affected by poor attention because it creates gaps in knowledge. In the classroom, new knowledge builds upon previously mastered material and, as the child progresses in school, gaps in foundational knowledge become increasingly problematic. Behavioral symptoms of attention issues can look very different for each individual child. For example, some children are disruptive, some stare out the window, and others present as engaged while, in fact, their thoughts are elsewhere. Since children in this latter group are not characteristically hyperactive and disruptive, they are at highest risk because their attention problems are least likely to be identified. In addition to academic and behavioral disruptions, attention issues can also result in social and emotional struggles. Children with ADHD are often socially immature and experience low self-esteem.
A learning challenge may also be the culprit of low academic performance. A learning disorder is suspected when academic achievement is substantially below what is normal for age, schooling, and level of intelligence. Not surprisingly, learning disorders significantly interfere with school performance and achievement. Beyond failing grades, these problems can also cause demoralization, low-self esteem, and deficits in social skills. Children may become disruptive in class or simply “check out.” Furthermore, undiagnosed learning disorders can impact students into adulthood when they feel ashamed and “stupid.” As a result, personal relationships and careers may suffer. Contrary to popular belief, learning disorders are not indicative of low intelligence and do not assure failure; some of the greatest thinkers of our time are believed to have had learning and/or attention deficits.
Social and emotional issues can also lead to academic problems. A child weighed down with sadness, anxiety, low self-esteem, and turbulent relationships is less likely to find the focus and motivation necessary to be successful on tests and assignments. Every individual expresses and deals with social and emotional issues in his own way – a reality which presents additional challenges to parents who seek to understand what is going on with their child.
Many times a child’s difficulty at school is not due to a disorder or attention problem, but instead relates to a particular learning environment or style. For instance, children who are advanced in a certain area, but who are not challenged to the upper level of their abilities, are at risk for disrupting class, losing motivation, hiding their talents to fit in with peers, and developing an unhealthy view of why they are different. Sometimes a child simply has a different style of learning. For example, a visual-spatial thinker (someone who conceptualizes in images, and who sees “the whole” rather than organizing information into “silos”) learns most effectively when they understand the big picture first and can utilize their non-verbal abstract learning skills. Visual-spatial students also typically have “light bulb” moments when they grasp a concept all at once rather than in a step-by-step manner. Recognizing and capitalizing upon individual strengths and learning styles are essential for maximizing academic achievement and personal growth throughout one’s life.
When attempting to understand the cause of a student’s struggles at school, a good first step is psycho-educational testing. Essentially, psycho-educational testing removes a great deal of guess work by distinguishing between “can’ts” (inabilities) from “won’ts” (behavioral choices), and by giving parents solid answers and direction. Results of testing reveal how an individual thinks and learns, information which can be used to offer recommendations based on cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral functioning, as well as individual strengths and interests. Once parents clearly and comprehensively understand their child’s struggles, they can focus on promoting strengths, developing skills, seeking supportive learning accommodations, and collaborating with educators. Ultimately, the goal of psycho-educational testing is to maximize the child’s potential and lay the foundation for personal and professional success.
– Dr. Katen