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.
Self-advocacy is a highly useful skill. For this conversation, advocacy refers specifically to a student’s ability to speak up in order to get a need met or a problem solved at school. (I am not referring to expressing ideas or imposing viewpoints on others. This is a different skill set and a different type of advocacy).
“When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen.” – Stephen Covey
So… how exactly do we help students develop effective strategies for representing themselves and gaining access to what they need?
Step one: Create a safe space for the student to speak up and share thoughts, needs, and desires. Students will make requests for help when they feel supported, heard, and safe.
Step two: Help the student identify and clarify what specifically is needed.
Step three: Explicitly teach self-advocacy skills, such as by exploring different formats for speaking up, what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. You might roleplay conversations, identify specific opportunities or times of day, or help compose emails. Effective self-advocacy comes in many forms – and the form chosen must suit the advocator!
Step four: Process through any barriers. This may involve simply validating how difficult it can be, identifying shame triggers, or using concrete solution-focused problem solving/brainstorming.
Step five: Reinforce and celebrate even the smallest of victories. For example, maybe the student didn’t speak up today and ask that question in class, but they thought about it!
Step six: If student continues to avoid speaking up, dig a little deeper and circle back through steps 1-5. What is really preventing them from communicating their needs and wants?
Try out these tips… see what works… and have fun! 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.
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.
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!
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 Series on Executive Functioning
We’re excited to present our new Individual Matters: Learning About Learning Podcast & Video Series!
Is your child struggling in school? Is she “refusing” to complete chores at home? Is homework an epic battle every night? Does your child complete the homework but forget to turn it in? Does your child’s desk, bag, and room look like they were hit by a tornado? Are their emotions intense and unpredictable? Do you find yourself referring to them as “lazy”? Perhaps the culprit is executive dysfunction.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll focus on executive functioning (EF), including what it is, how weaknesses in EF manifest at home and school, and how to help your student. These are combined into our 5 R Solutions for Everyday Living (also available at our Individual Matters: Learning About Learning Podcast & Video Series).
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.
“Shame cannot survive being spoken… and met with empathy.” – Brené Brown
Individual Matters is pleased to bring the Experience Dyslexia® Workshop to Central Kentucky and beyond.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the term “dyslexia.” You probably know it refers to a type of “reading disability” that makes decoding and understanding text difficult, results in poor spelling, and is often associated with left/right confusion.
But you may be surprised to learn that you already know someone with dyslexia. In fact, you are probably surrounded by them! Research suggests that the disability is very common. As many as 15% of the population experiences some form of dyslexia, yet only 1 in 10 are ever diagnosed.
If you are an educator, these statistics may not be surprising. Perhaps you witness the struggles of dyslexia in your classroom every day. Its effects include a wide range of learning-related symptoms, as well as one or more of the following behavioral symptoms:
- Low Self-Esteem
- Family Problems
But regardless how familiar you are with dyslexia, it can be hard to relate to the personal struggles of those who live with the disability. And when we don’t understand another person’s behaviors, we tend to make assumptions about the reasons for them.
When dyslexia is undiagnosed, or its effects are not well understood, those with the disability may be labeled as lazy, oppositional, immature, or dumb. Their childhoods are often characterized by continual and frequent failures, as well as by nonstop criticism from teachers and parents, and teasing from classmates. Not surprisingly, the silent shame of this burden inhibits learning, destroys self-esteem, and can lead to depression and other mental health problems that continue well into adulthood. Even when students have been identified with dyslexia, it may be difficult for parents or teachers to empathize with their struggles.
Fortunately, the International Dyslexia Association has created the Experience Dyslexia® Workshop. Now people without the disability can begin to understand what it’s like to have it.
Empathy and understanding is vital for compassionate teaching and parenting. Understanding what dyslexia feels like helps us to avoid making assumptions, recognize learning problems for what they are, refer for appropriate treatment and interventions, and help children with dyslexia and other learning problems find success. With empathy, we can begin to scaffold individuals in overcoming the challenges of dyslexia – as well as capitalizing upon its many upsides.
At Individual Matters, we are pleased to facilitate the Experience Dyslexia® Workshop – as well as others that focus on learning, teaching, and parenting. These experiences are available throughout Central Kentucky and beyond. They are appropriate for teachers, parents, or anyone else who works with dyslexic individuals and/or wants to understand impacts of living with the disability.
To learn more, or to schedule a workshop with Individual Matters, email us or call (859) 260-1914.