Why Won’t She Stop?

July 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 


Lately parents have asked me why their children won’t stop arguing. It’s a difficult problem, and you have my sympathy.

You say, “It’s time to go upstairs to take your bath.” Perhaps you even had a talk about this earlier in an attempt to avoid an argument. But now your child has been watching television, and since you have a child who has difficulty with transitions, she tries to bargain for more time. Read more

Say Please!

August 7, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

I’m on vacation this week, so I checked back in my archives to find a blog post that I thought would be helpful.  I’ll be back live in a week.

How do you get your children’s respect?  How do you know that they respect you?  Is it that they obey?  That’s a big part of it when they are young.

When parents of young children come to me for Parent Coaching, they often ask for help with compliance.  Their children don’t “listen.”  I think that most parents have this problem at one time or another.  I know that I did.  Parents find themselves telling a child over and over to do the same thing.  Often they report, “He doesn’t do it until I yell.  I don’t want to yell all the time, but that’s the only way he’ll listen.”

I begin by talking to parents about how they tell children what to do.  We talk about the importance of getting your child’s attention, perhaps with a light touch on the shoulder.  I also advise parents to tell a child very clearly what do to. “Pick up your room” is not specific enough for many young children.  They need to hear, “Put the toys in the bin and put your clothes in the drawer.”  In fact, some need to be told only one thing at a time, but that’s for another blog.

This all goes fairly well, but some parents, especially Dads, are surprised when I advise them to say “please” and to use a firm but kind tone of voice.  I am sure that these people are telling me how they were raised.  Somehow it hurts their own sense of authority to say “please” to a child.  I hear that children should just do it.  Why do we need to be so polite to kids?

One reason is that you want them to treat you politely.  Children learn best from the behavior we demonstrate.  This produces a wince from many of us.  All parents have their moments.

Another reason is that harsh commands tend to make people (even young children) angry.  Never mind that you are the parent and you are in charge, if you rely on requests like “Get in here and pick up this room before I make you,” your children are quite capable of demonstrating that “you aren’t the boss of me.”  We’ve all been there.

The third reason is that it works.  Be clear. Ask for a specific behavior. Be calm and take the edge out of your voice.  And yes, say please.  See how it works.  And let me know.


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Photo credit:  David Woo on Flickr

Summer Time (and the living is easy?)

June 19, 2012 by · 6 Comments 

In my hometown it is officially summer.  I know, the season really starts later this week on June 21, but school got out here last Friday.   Last night the neighborhood children were out shooting baskets and hooting it up in the evening, a sure sign that they had no homework to do.

So, is the living easy?  I know that for many working parents it has been a scramble to find the coverage they need for the summer.  They are planning their time off around the times that they do not have child care or a camp for their children to go to.

For many of the “atypical kids” life does get easier in the summer when the academic demands go away.  Kids who were irritable and snappish are now a little easier to be around.  The transition to summer has happened, and many are feeling relief.  Enjoy.

Other of the “atypical kids” are more irritable because their predictable schedule has changed.  These are the kids for whom it is important for you, the parent, to introduce the summer routine.  It doesn’t need to be highly detailed.  Think about what your child needs to remain an active member of the family instead of a total couch potato.  Regular times for screens and meals will help.  Regular times that everyone gets up and out, perhaps to go to a community pool, will also help.

This requires a lot of “rolling with it” for parents as they transition into summer.  The regular summer programs don’t start until next week or even after the Fourth of July.  Like their children, parents also can become grumpy when the schedule is unpredictable.  I speak from my own experience.  So, take care of yourself by letting yourself roll with it.  If you can take some time off of work, do so, and plan to do some activities that you can enjoy with your child.  Try to expect less of yourself in terms of housekeeping, meal prep, and so forth.

Take some deep breaths and notice whether you and your children are enjoying the beginning of summer.  What do you and your family need to have some enjoyment?  It’s different in different families.  Are you having s’mores for dessert?  Watching a movie together?  Looking for bugs under logs (one of my favorites)? Baking cookies?

Try to let the living be easy.  And when it isn’t; when the adjustment to a new routine gets to you and your children and tempers flare, forgive yourself, take some breaths and start over.  Remember, your good family time may not look like anyone elses.  I would be interested to hear what you particular family likes to do to relax in the summer.

Photo credit:  Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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Roller Coaster Emotions: Some Thoughts on How to Deal With Your Child’s Roller Coaster

June 12, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

I went to a conference over the weekend that was aimed mainly at therapists who treat adults.  However, one of the presenters talked about how children learn to understand their own feelings and those of others in the course of interactions as they grow up. I found the talk was really relevant to helping parents teach children about their emotions and about emotional regulation.  Many children who have ADHD, Asperger Syndrome or other learning disabilities have difficulty with emotional modulation.  They easily go from happy and mellow to very irritable and unhappy due to a frustration that looks minor to an adult.

For instance, your child might learn that you are out of his favorite cereal.  Instead of asking what else you have, he might become quite angry.  This is likely because he doesn’t have a good “governor” on his emotional response.  This is difficult for parents, but it is also difficult for the child — he’s often on an emotional roller coaster, and it doesn’t feel good.  How can adults help?

** First of all, it is helpful for you, the parent, to keep your cool and not respond in kind.  When your child is emotionally aroused, his judgment is poor.  If you get emotionally aroused, you are likely to upset him further and make the situation worse.  Further, we adults also have poorer judgment when we get upset, so staying calm is a big help.  (I don’t say it’s easy — more about this later another time.)

** When you stay calm, you model a calm response to frustration for your child.  Children learn a great deal from their parents’ behavior.

** You might also label the emotion, “Wow, you’re pretty angry about this.”

** And you can empathize, “I’m sorry we’re out of Crunchies.”  (You’ve just told him something about your state of mind — that’s helpful to him.”

** Next you could ask your child what he would like to do about the situation.  (You’re inviting him to do some problem-solving instead of jumping in to fix it yourself.)

If all goes well, (and we know it doesn’t always) your child can move along to another breakfast choice.

Say your child does not calm down in response to your calm approach.  Suppose it’s a really bad morning, and your child berates you for not having enough Crunchies, or letting his brother eat too many Crunchies.  You could let him know how his behavior affects you, and you could set a limit.  This might go like, “I can’t help you with this when you are yelling at me.  When you can calm down and talk to me, you can let me know what you want.” You are let him know how his behavior affects your ability to think.  And you withdraw from the interaction offering the expectation that he’ll calm down and the two of you can figure out breakfast.

Staying calm helps you and your child get to a clear-headed place more quickly.  Labeling his feelings can help him learn about his internal experience and become more articulate about feelings.  Telling him how his behavior affects you informs him about how a relationship works.  These are essential building blocks for successful social interactions.


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Photo credit:  haven’t the slightest on Flickr

Juggling the Many End-of-Year Events: Some Tips

May 21, 2012 by · 12 Comments 

This is a busy time of year for families.  It seems that every activity has an end of the year event, so parents and children are hurrying to recitals, chorus and band concerts, ball games and graduations.  Hopefully, these events bring pride, joy and satisfaction.  I hope that your child is beaming from the stage, and that you are relishing the moment.

But all these extras can cause stress even for the more mature and resilient among us.  Yesterday I got home in the late afternoon after a day of activities, and I got snappish when I heard that my young adult son was coming to dinner.  Yikes, what would we eat?  My husband wisely stayed calm and told me to take a nap. That reset my system and allowed me to enjoy the serendipity of the day.  Dinner went fine.

*  First consider yourself.  You need to be resilient to help your children get through all the fun.  Notice your own perfectionism and see if you can let go of it some.  Try to get enough rest.  Try to tune into your emotions and your body during the day.  Are you tense, worrying about the event to come, having difficulty staying in the present?  Take some deep breaths and try to stay in the moment.  It is the only moment you really have any control over anyway.  If there are activities that you know are renewing for you, try to keep them despite the busy schedule.  Perhaps you meditate, walk the dog in a pleasant park, enjoy listening to music, or savor reading a mystery at bedtime.

*  For many families with quirky kids all this change of routine can be very stressful.  Here are some ways to manage the demands.  If you have a child who is easily upset by changes in routine, try to anticipate with him.  Be the planner for him.  When you get the notice about the concert or whatever,  put it on a family calendar.  Preview the day with your family, preferable the night before.  The fewer surprises the better.

*  Let go of some of your own expectations about routine.  You might eat a lot of take out for a week.  Or if you are very good at planning, you might be able to take some dinners out of the freezer that you made ahead.

*  Consider whether all of your children can manage the schedule.  You might have a child who rolls with the punches and can smoothly move from event to event.  But you might also have a child who does not do that well, or who might not enjoy his sister’s dance recital.  Can you let go of family togetherness enough to hire a sitter for the child who would be unhappy and disruptive in the recital?  You might need to divide and conquer.

*  Also consider the stresses on the performers.  Children who tend to get anxious and rigid under pressure can find the band concert or graduation worrisome.  If this is the case, let the adults in charge of the event know so that they can be reassuring.  Make sure that your child knows exactly what to do.  Lastly, consider whether it is wise to invite the extended family to this event.  Perhaps that would only put more pressure on your anxious child.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins can come for cake afterwards.

I hope that this gives you a few ideas to help ground yourself and your children in this season of celebration and transition.  Let me know on what your ideas are for coping with this time.


Click here to sign up for my newsletter, Parents’ Corner, and receive my free report on how to improve morning routine with children who have ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, or other executive function deficits:  Smoothing Out Your Morning.

Photo credit:  Focus Photography on Flickr

Talking to Teachers: Seven Steps to a Productive Meeting

May 15, 2012 by · 11 Comments 

When your child enters school a new institution enters your family.  The school influences your family life, your child’s life, and his or her sense of well-being.  Often this is a positive influence — new experiences, new friends, pride in learning.  However, for most parents there comes a time when you need to schedule a talk with the teacher.

Think of this relationship as a collaboration.  You need each other.

Here are some tips for making that talk as productive as possible.

1.  Manage your feelings. When your child has difficulty in school or you feel that the teacher has been insensitive, it can bring out the “mother bear” in you. Listen to Mother Bear and let her know that you are going to attend to the problem. You will be more persuasive if you are calm.

2.  Consider the teacher a colleague with a  set of skills and information that you need.  You know your child and the teacher knows education and your child in school. Some parents carry their feelings from their own unhappy school experience, and they are intimidated by classroom teachers. To them I say, you are the expert about your child and what happens at home.  The teacher needs you.  Other parents are condescending to teachers.  You might have more education and you might be ten years older, but this teacher has training that is specific to education.  In addition, the teacher sees your child during the school day — she or he has important information for you.

3.  Be clear about what you want to address.  Perhaps you want to tell the teacher that the spelling homework is taking an hour a night.  Or perhaps you have a question about the requirement for independent reading which is causing havoc in your household.  Perhaps you want to inform the teacher that you child is being bullied, and you are concerned from your child’s report that the teacher is insensitive to this.  Put out your concerns without blaming or accusing.

4.  Ask for input and listen.  You may learn things about the homework, the classroom, the teacher, and your child that you did not know before.  This is useful to you.

5.  Offer a solution.  Be open to the teacher’s solutions as well.  Perhaps your child could have fewer spelling words.  Perhaps you need some guidance in choosing independent reading material for your child.  Agree to give the solution a try.

6.  Arrange be in touch to share information about how the solution is going.  Regular contact by e-mail can reduce the need for future face-to-face meetings.

7.  Thank the teacher for his or her time.  Everyone likes to be appreciated.

Working in this way sets the groundwork for a respectful working relationship.  This is the most likely way to be helpful to your child.


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Photo credit:  U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

Tricky Balance

April 30, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

Lately I have had balance on my mind.  I am thinking of the difficult balance between a parent’s desire to protect a child and the child’s normal desire to be more independent.  This balance is more tricky when with an atypical child — whether due to ADD, learning disability, or Asperger Syndrome. Now add the child’s normal desire to be more independent in middle school and the significant increase in the complexity of work in middle school, and you have a situation that can become a crisis.

The challenges of sixth grade are quite significant for these children.   There is always a long and complicated research project that involves learning many new skills.  For children who have difficulty organizing time, materials and ideas, such projects can be overwhelming. Even the “typical” children are quite challenged.

For many children this situation triggers anxiety and poor coping strategies, such as denial, not asking for help, procrastination and “fibbing” about the work to be done.  Parents may find out rather late in the game that work is missing and be shocked by poor quiz grades.  Yet at this age children often bristle at the suggestion that their parents become more involved in their homework.

What is to be done?  When parents and teachers can work together respectfully and get input from the students, they can often devise systems that allow enough independence to for the students’ comfort and yet don’t leave them with so little supervision that they get way behind before they know it.  Some people refer to this as scaffolding.  You set up an arrangement in which the student has some choices but not too many.

A good learning center teacher can go over assignments with a student before she leaves school for the day so she can be sure to have the materials she needs.  Little by little she can take more responsibility for this.  For instance, she might begin to write down her own assignments and pack up her own bag, but check with the teacher before leaving school.

At home some children need their parents to go over the assignments and help them to plan their time in order to get everything done.  In time the student will be able to take responsibility for this.  This monitoring needs to be done with patience and respect.  It is important for parents to give students the benefit of the doubt when they overlook details.  Children want to succeed.  A blaming or “gotcha” attitude will lead to secrecy and deceit.  No one likes to be made to feel ashamed.

In some families the parent child relationship becomes so frayed that parents cannot be helpful in this regard.  In these situations I recommend that families who can afford it hire an organizational tutor to help teach a child the tools she needs to manage this new workload.  This protects the child from the potential shame about having her parents see her mess up and allows her to grow into independence her parents will be proud of.

Giving students more responsibility little by little means that there will be times that they miss homework assignments or get low grades on quizzes.  Unless this is a regular problem, these occurrences are learning opportunities for your child.  It could be useful to be curious about these problems and wonder how they could be avoided, but it is not useful to blame — either the student or the teachers.  Sometimes the best of students forget assignments or bomb quizzes.


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Photo Credit:  Kiawah Confectionery, Samantha Chapnick on Flickr

What About College?

April 25, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

I find that college planning is on many parents’ minds even before junior year in high school.  When parents receive diagnosis of a learning disability, ADHD or Asperger Syndrome, the meaning of doing well in school needs to be redefined.  It is no longer, “Just work harder.”  Now it means find out how your child learns, and work with the school to make sure he gets what he needs. Often the school and family situation gets very painful before proper services are in place.  The family is in a crisis, and parents ask questions like, “Will he be able to live on his own?”  “Will he go to college?”

For many students the answer is yes, but the path to college and eventual independence might be different for your child. As the pressure and the competition build among students and parents, it is helpful if parents can link with other families who are having to “think outside the box”  about this next step.  It is helpful to involve yourself with organizations that provide education and advocacy.  In New England one such organization is the Aspergers Association of New England (AANE).  In fact, in two weeks AANE is sponsoring a daylong conference entitled “Success After High School.”  Another such organization in New England is the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN).  They also provide education for students and parents on planning for transition out of high school.

Before they have actually faced the college application process, many parents and students assume that everyone applies and goes to a four year college.  In fact, there are as many ways to make this next step as there are people.  A colleague of mine learned when his son and friends were applying to college to ask “What will Sam be doing next year?”  rather than, “Where is Sam going to college?”  This avoided embarrassing the students who were not taking the “typical path.”

If your child will be taking the SAT or ACT, make sure that you help him or her obtain testing accommodations if possible.  The requirements have tightened up.  You will need to submit data from recent neuropsychological testing.  It is worthwhile, though, so that your child’s intelligence shows through rather than the ways he learns and tests differently from his typical peers.  You will also need this testing for your child to request accommodations in college.

When you are looking for schools, look for those that have strong academic supports for students with learning disabilities.  There is actually a Peterson’s guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or ADHD .  It explains about different services available in different colleges. There is a tremendous range from the schools that offer peer tutoring to anyone who asks to those with specific services for qualifying students and finally those whose whole mission is to provide higher education to students with learning disabilities.

Often I find that students who have significant learning disabilities are also less confident and more dependent on their families.  They may need to make the shift to greater independence in smaller steps.  Some start out at a community college nearby so they can live at home.  Some might live away, but stay fairly close to home.  Some start out at a school with a great amount of structure and support for students with learning disabilities, but once they get their “sea legs” for college, they can transfer to a more challenging  school with less academic support.

A useful book about this process is Learning Outside the Lines by Mooney, Cole and Hallowell.  In this book the first two authors describe their quite checkered careers in high school and first two years of college, due to their ADHD for one and LD for the other.  They met when they both transferred to Brown University as juniors.  The second half of the book gives their very practical recommendations for managing college work when you have a disability.

All through the process it is so helpful to remember that you and your child are looking for the higher education experience that is right for him or her.  The US News and World Report ratings of schools are not all that useful in this regard, though your neighbors might be quoting the rankings.  A good fit for your child will help your child develop into the independent young adult you want to see.  Good luck!


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Photo credit:  dailymatador on Flickr

What If She Fails?

April 16, 2012 by · 12 Comments 

Often I meet with parents who are very worried about their children’s achievement, usually in school, but sometimes in sports as well.  These are well-meaning parents who want the best for their children.  They want them to have the best opportunities, and they want their children to have accomplishments that they can feel proud about.

Unfortunately, parents’ anxiety about achievement can backfire on them.  This is when they might show up in my office. The pressure to achieve for the sake of achieving can take the joy out of learning.  It can obscure the individuality of the child and hide his or her passion.

I am not talking about parents who expect their children to put their best effort into homework and to study for tests and quizzes.  I am also not talking about parents who practice ball handling skills with their kids and cheer them on at the soccer game.  That is your responsibility as a parent, and it teaches your child responsibility as well.

Many of the children I see live in fairly affluent communities outside of Boston.  There is quite a bit of peer pressure among parents to do the best they can for their children.  The belief is that if children are very successful that they will be truly happy.  It is difficult to resist the pressure that parents feel at the soccer field or at the PTO.  One hears, “We signed Derek up for individual coaching so that his hockey game will improve.  He has to get up at six am on Thursday to meet before school, but he knows it’s important.”  Or one might hear, “We don’t feel that the math curriculum is adequate, so Jenny is going to extra math classes twice a week.”  These are children who are doing fine in school or in sports, but their parents feel the need to “enrich” their lives with extra classes or coaching.

A few parents I know ask, “Where is the fun in this?”  If your child truly loves baseball and has talent, by all means take her to the batting cage on the weekend.  While you are there, make sure that you have fun.  If your child does not have the aptitude for sports that require good hand-eye coordination, encourage her to try out swimming or track.  Sports are very good for exercise, learning to work with a team, and having the experience of pride in accomplishment.  It is important to keep them in perspective as one part of life, though.

Some parents who are very worried about academic achievement find that their children begin to resist the pressure to do better and better.  An anxious parent can forget to praise the B’s and A’s and focus only on the C’s.  This decreases motivation and leads to resentment.  It is important to accept your child for who he is.  If he consistently achieves below the level of his ability, you should talk to people at school.  Perhaps a learning disability is becoming a factor, and the school should do some testing.  Perhaps he was able to do the work in the early grades, but interference from Attention Deficit Disorder is getting in his way in the middle grades.  When parents explore these considerations, children feel understood.

In my experience children do well when their parents can accept them for who they are and encourage them to do their best.  Children benefit from balance in their lives.  They need to go to school and do their work, play sports if they like them, hang out with friends in unstructured setting (like your family room), hang out with you, and have time for solitary pursuits like reading or crafts.  They need room to find activities they love, like music or drama.  But they need space in their lives to just hang out.  Having faith in your child’s ability to be responsible and do well communicates good will toward her and increases her self-esteem.

I would be very interested to hear others’ opinions on this topic.  Do you feel pressure from other parents to involve your children in many activities?  Do you get very anxious when your child has difficulty in a subject?  Do you think I’m off base?  Let me know.


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Photo credit:  Slabcity Gang on Flickr

Finding Community

April 11, 2012 by · 13 Comments 

Over the weekend I attended a large family Passover seder with about fifty people in attendance.    The seder is a dinner with a liturgy that tells the story of how Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.  It got me thinking about the value of community in raising children.

Participants ranged in age from late eighties to seven years old.   The elders told a  little about the family’s origins in Poland and their travel to America, and they reminisced about seders of fifty and sixty years ago.

Two little girls shared the responsibility of reading the four questions at the beginning of the seder.  As the evening progressed everyone, including the table of teens, took turns reading from the haggadah, the  booklet that gives the order of prayers, readings, and songs.  Later we all joined in songs and the teenagers sang with great gusto and tapped on their tambourines.  At one point we all marched around the room singing “Go Down, Moses.”  These were not alienated teens, at least not at this event.

Between courses I talked to people and learned about their connections.  There were strong connections between aunts and uncles and their nieces and nephews, including  long distance visits.  An elderly couple joked that they had been “adopted” by this extended family.

There was also sadness.  All were aware that the woman who had graciously hosted  this gathering for decades was unable to now due to Alzheimer’s Disease.  Yet the next generation had prepared her recipes for us to enjoy.  Another man’s whole extended family gathered because they expected his mother’s death in a day or two.  There was a sense of knowing these losses and embracing them as part of the story of the family.  There had also been separations — one family was returning to repair a rift started over fifty years ago in the previous generation.

I might be idealizing, yet the experience got me thinking about the value of community where ever one finds it.  For some young adults in this family there were adults other than their parents to consult when they needed guidance.  There were other adults to value them when they were at odds with their parents.  As the evening wound down I observed people of the same age gathering to chat.  Perhaps they were talking about caring for aging parents;  or about the challenges of raises those spirited teens; or about their work and plans to finance college or retirement. The thing is, there were people who had similar concerns and who had known them for a long time.  The gathering expressed shared values.  Whether the young folks will take on the customs and beliefs of their elders is unknown, but they have a firm base to push off from.

Many of us exist in a variety of communities.  Some find community in a religious institution.  Others find it in the sharing while they watch their children play sports.  Some are fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where people have decided to know each other.  Some parents of special needs children find community in advocacy groups for their children.  There they find others who understand living with a challenging child and who do not judge.

In his book, A Fine Young Man, Michael Gurian concluded that a boy needs support from within and outside his family at every stage of development.  He likened this circle of support to a clan in other cultures.  I would say that all children and parents need this support.  In our current culture it is unusual to find all the support in one community.  It takes work to find and nourish communities so that they are there for you.  Where do you and your family find community?


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Photo credit:  Nonie Vogue on Flickr

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