What if She Grows up Like Auntie Agnes?

December 10, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

costumeMany of us have a “black sheep” in the family. Sometimes that person has a mental illness and sometimes not.  It might be someone who caused you or your parents great unhappiness in your childhood.  At any rate, you know someone fairly close to you who caused havoc in your life.  That relative provides a model of what you do not want in your child and a model of what you fear. Read more

Helping Your Rigid, Anxious Child with Gift Giving and Receiving

December 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

openinggiftsIs gift-giving stressful at your house?  Do you try to find things that your child would like, hoping to surprise her, but then learn that it was not what she had in mind at all?  Gift giving for children who are inflexible in their thinking can be a disappointing exercise in miscommunication.   It takes some careful communication ahead of time to have a happy gift-receiving experience. If you want to surprise you child with a gift, you probably should let go of that.  Children on the spectrum simply don’t do well with surprise.  (I apologize to those who celebrate Hanukkah that I thought of this too late for you.) Read more

Still Time for Summer Fun, But It’s Running Out!

August 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

fatherandsonIt’s almost the middle of August, and in my part of the country school will start in three weeks.  I know that in many areas school is already underway, and you have my sympathy (or congratulations, depending on how your summer has gone).  Here in the Northeast we are having perfect summer weather.  It’s a good time to think about what you wanted to do his summer and what you can still fit in.

I know that it’s also time to prepare for the school year—shopping for clothes and supplies and anticipating the demands of school with your children, especially with your special needs children.  I’ll cover that last in my newsletter, Parents’ Corner, next week.  Right now let’s think about fitting in the best of summer fun.

Does your family have particular summer outings that you all anticipate every year?  You probably have to consider what kinds and how much fun (stimulation) your children can enjoy.  Check in with the kids to find out what they thought they’d get to do this summer.  Have a discussion about what’s realistic in the family budget and what isn’t.  Consider what’s realistic for your kids to enjoy as well.  Here are some that have been big in my family and others that I know.

  1. A trip to a favorite ice cream shop.
  2. A day at an amusement park.
  3. A day (or many) at the beach.
  4. A camping trip.
  5. Lobster (or fried clams) on the shore (I’m in New England, after all—plan to cover this one this weekend).
  6. Camping in the back yard.
  7. A trip to the mountains.
  8. Here in New England a trip to Storyland and Clarks Trading Post in the White Mountains.
  9. Canoeing or kayaking on a local lake, river or bay.
  10. Miniature golf.
  11. An afternoon on a local bike trail.

I like the fact that so many of the pleasures of summer cost so little. What are your family favorites?  Let me know.  And plan some relaxed summertime with your kids before we all get back into the rush and crush of the school year.


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Photo Credit: Lisa Jacobs on Flickr

Getting Through the Dog Days of Summer

August 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

dogWe’re at least halfway through summer, more than half in many parts of the country.  For many families I know it is a daily challenge to keep their children engaged in activities other than electronics.  If your child is not signed up for a camp for the whole summer, you and your child need to work out how to spend time.  Earlier this week I posted a link on my Facebook page to a study that showed that children with autism spectrum or  ADHD tend to spend more time playing video games than other children.  If you are one of those parents, know that you are in good company.

Here are some strategies that families I know have found helpful.

  1. Make a schedule that you can use most days.  Kids are more cooperative when they know what to expect.  Get your child’s suggestions for what should be on the schedule.  Be sure to include video games or whatever electronic past time your child enjoys.
  2. Plan some activities that get you and your children out of the house.  This could be as simple as going to a local park to kick a ball around, a trip to the (air conditioned) public library, or it could be a trip to a science museum.  Getting out of the house for part of the day offers a change of scene and guarantees that your child won’t be using electronics for that time.
  3. Arrange play dates.  In fact, see whether you can swap off with another parent.  Your child comes here one day and mine goes to your place another day.
  4. Have some new games or materials at home that you can pull out  when it’s a long rainy day or a play date falls through.  Novelty can generate a lot of interest.
  5. Rent movies that you would like to watch with your child.  I know this involves a screen, but family movie watching can be a pleasant activity.

That’s all that I have in my bag of tricks today. I know these aren’t rocket science.  Sometimes we just need a reminder to get out of our routine.  What else have you found to help your children pass the summer with enjoyment and without excessive reliance on electronics?


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Photo Credit:  Sandor Volenszky on Flickr

Getting By With Your Family in a Crazy World

April 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

springtimeI knew soon after I heard about the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that I wanted to post a blog about helping parents help their children cope with it.  Then I began to cope, and that took much of my energy until this afternoon. Many of you know that I live and work just outside of Boston.  The marathon route goes right through my home town and often we join the thousands of other onlookers cheering the runners on from the sidelines.  This year we were walking our dog in the arboretum in another part of Boston on Monday afternoon.  We heard many sirens, but we imagined that this is just life in the city.  Not until we got home and found a message on the phone from our son did we realize that something was amiss.  He wanted to know that we were all right.  Happily, we all were all right.

There is something about having a senseless act of violence and mayhem in your own neighborhood that is more unsettling than having it far away.  The marathon is a delightful rite of Spring and celebration of people’s health and ability to surmount tremendous obstacles.  Every year there are moving stories in the news about the remarkable “ordinary” people who train to run after they have recovered from cancer or in honor of a loved one.  They run alongside (well, far behind) the elite runners who come from all over the world.  When you go to cheer the runners along the route or at the finish line you are only a few feet away from them.  I thought to myself that if I still had a teenager at home, I would have no hesitation in letting him or her take the train into Boston to watch from the finish line.  It’s a community event.

That has changed for now.  Someone or ones reminded us that we are never totally safe.  We will regain our sense of safety because we need it in order to exist, but for now, Boston and it surrounding towns are shocked and mourning.

How do we help our children cope with this terrible event?

  1. First, limit media exposure.  I grant that this advice is a little late, but it is still important.  The scenes of bloody wounded people and caregivers are frightening.  And the repetition of the details inflicts another trauma.
  2. Tailor your explanation to your children’s age. One can tell children that an explosion took place and that people were hurt, but they do not need the literally gory details. For younger children you might be able to keep the event from them, and I would support that.  If you cannot, keep the details spare.
  3. Emphasize the true and moving stories of the many people who helped the wounded and got them to our fine local hospitals.  There’s a Mr. Rogers quote going around on Facebook that I like very much.  He says that when he was young and a disaster happened, his mother told him to look for the helpers, because they are always there.  The helpers in Boston were heroic on Monday.
  4. Take care of yourself.  As they say when you are preparing for takeoff in an airplane, put your own oxygen mask on first before you help your children.
  5. Limit your own exposure to the media.  Decide when you’ll tune in to get an update (preferably after you children go to bed).  Some people find it easier to listen to the radio because they don’t get the repeated video of the bloody aftermath.
  6. Get your rest.  You might find that it is hard to sleep because an event like this can make you and your children more anxious in general.  But you are much better able to manage your anxiety if you are rested.  If you can manage your anxiety, you will be less likely to communicate unnecessary upset to your children.
  7. Find some special time with your children.  Time together doing something pleasant reaffirms that you are all together looking after one another.  It is reassuring to young and old.
  8. Having said that it is also helpful to children to maintain their regular schedule.
  9. Older children will want to talk about why such things happen, the big existential questions that come up with disasters.  Engage with them. It’s a great opportunity to have a talk about your world views and values.
  10. If a spiritual or religious practice is part of your family life, use it at this time.  There are many vigils and prayer services happening throughout the area.

May we all live in peace and safety.  But when we cannot, may we support each other and offer comfort.


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Photo credit:  Scyllarides on Flickr

Tis the Season

November 27, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

Last week was about gratitude or being thankful.  Now we move on to the season of giving (or getting?).  All over the world parents are trying to help their children stay in the spirit of the holiday, whatever holiday you celebrate. Hanukah has been influenced by the gift giving of Christmas, and African-Americans have Kwanza.  I must confess that I don’t know what Moslems do at this time of year, but I am sure that their children are influenced by the mighty media blitz that encourages us to commercialize these holidays.

So, what do you want your children to understand about the holidays?  Many of us would like children to think about the giving as much as the getting.  Young children are naturally self-centered, so they are very interested in the getting part.  It takes effort on parents’ part to communicate that there is value in giving.

This morning I found a brief mention of a piece of research that indicates that toddlers feel happy when they can give something to someone else.  The researchers found that the children were more happy when they gave away one of their own crackers than when they were given a cracker to give away.

I know that a piece of laboratory research is hard to generalize to the real world, but the basic idea is appealing to me.  If we can give our children opportunities to give something that they feel some ownership over, they get more satisfaction.  This is the part that takes planning.  I think it is important to take the time to involve children in planning their gift giving.

Some children have allowance that they can take to a store to buy something for a family member.  Even if the gift is very small it has meaning for the child.  I remember being told that my grandfather needed Scotch tape for Christmas, and I was able to buy that when I was very young.  I think that I must have felt good about it, because I can still remember him being pleased with the Scotch tape.

Some parents and children are good at crafts, and there are lots of ways that children can make useful items for gifts.  If you lack ideas, just start searching the internet for suggestions.  Getting to make something definitely adds to the sense of ownership.

Engage your children in planning their gift giving early so that you have time to involve them in the purchasing or making.  They will still be very concerned about what they will receive, but they will also experience the pleasure of giving a gift truly from themselves.


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Photo credit:  Gunna on Flickr

Can You Make Gratitude Go Viral in Your Family?

November 20, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

It may seem trite to write about gratitude this week on the eve of Thanksgiving, but I want to raise it as more than a holiday-related exercise.  An article in The Boston Globe this past Sunday described research findings that coincide with my own naïve observations about human nature.

The author, David Desteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University, describes his research that shows that people who feel grateful for assistance they just received are more likely to be generous to someone else in need—thus spreading the gratitude and generosity and gratitude and generosity.   It could go viral!

Here’s a quote:

Such occurrences of indirect reciprocity — the extending of help to new people — is known to kick cooperation in a group into high gear. In the face of individual or societal tragedies, then, any phenomenon that can enhance such indiscriminate paying-it-forward stands as a key to resilience.

DeSteno is interested in helping people recover from natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, but my interest is in helping family members become more cooperative and generous with each other.

When parents come to me for help with children who are uncooperative, I often tell them to start by thanking their child profusely whenever he or she does something right, whether asked for or not.  This could be, “Thank you for getting down to breakfast on time!”  Or it might be, “Thank you for starting your homework when I asked.”  Even, “Thank you for playing nicely with your brother.”  The last one might require you to think to offer thanks before the interaction goes sour.

Often after a week or two of this simple intervention parents report to me that their children are already more compliant and cooperative.  It doesn’t solve everything, but it really gets the wheels turning in the right direction.  I think of gratitude as keeping the oil changed in your car.  Everything just works better together that way.

Some experts have warned against over-praising children.  I think that the problem comes when parents praise for no apparent reason.  I’m not saying that it’s wrong to tell your children what a great kid he is or that you love him to bits.  But praise that is directly related to a behavior that just happened really teaches your child how to behave in the way you want.  It doesn’t lead to a swelled head—just a child who knows what you expect and how to earn your gratitude.  Then he or she feels more generous.  And on it goes.

So, consider starting this viral cycle in your family, and let me know how it goes.  I’d love to know.


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Photo credit:  Michigan Municipal League on Flickr

Why Does He Do That? Could a Learning Disability Be Involved?

November 13, 2012 by · 5 Comments 

In talking to a colleague today about a family we both work with I was reminded again about how confusing it can be to have a child with significant learning disabilities and how helpful it can be to parents to work with a clinician who gets the whole picture.

Say your child has a weakness in processing nonverbal information. You might even have a test report that tells you that.  But what does that mean in real life?  For one thing it can mean that this child does not understand sarcasm because he isn’t sensitive to tone of voice.  If you only hear the words, sarcastic comments sound mean.

For instance,

Child:  “Are you going to pick me up after school?”

Parent: (joking) “No, I’m going to Europe instead.”  (meaning, “Of course I’ll be there.”)

Child:  (wailing) “What?  How will I get to my lesson?”

Parent:  Sigh….

It is very helpful once parents and children understand this problem.  I know children who now ask trusted adults, “Are you being sarcastic?”  when they think they’ve heard something out of character.

A different type of problem arises when a child processes verbal information very slowly.  This can look like inattention or even disrespect if you get really annoyed by having your child tune out when you’re talking to her.  Once you understand her learning style, you can purposely keep your verbal instructions and explanations brief.  Actually, it is always helpful for parents to be brief, in my experience, but especially so in this situation.

Then there is the child with ADHD.  This and other types of learning disabilities can be confusing because they have an uneven effect on children’s behavior.  Parents see a child who does not sit still long enough to do homework carefully and yet can play video games intently for long periods of time.  Parents will say, “He could do it if he’d try.”  Parents might also see uneven work in school.  In some subjects where the child has more natural interest and talent, grades are good and the work is not too hard.  But in another subject there are daily battles about work.  It is truly confusing.  People with ADHD are drawn to novel information, and that is what a video game serves up over and over.  Doing the same type of math problem twenty times is pretty dull to someone with ADHD.

I tell parents that kids with learning disabilities do well when the planets align—when they are interested, the task doesn’t challenge them in their weakness, they are well-rested, and so forth.

Parents and children in these situations have my sympathy because often it is evident that the children have average or above intelligence, but their performance is puzzling.  If you are wondering why your child acts they way he does, consider contacting a professional who understands cognitive as well as emotional difficulties.  The cognitive problems nearly always lead to emotional upsets, but this can be managed with good education at home and at school.


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Photo credit:  Elizabeth S. on Flickr

Pets are the Best Medicine!

November 6, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

This week I have been thinking about the benefits of owning a pet, a dog for me.  Ironically, I’ve been more aware because our dog has been sick.  This morning I was able to bring him home from the veterinary hospital where he had been for two days to treat pancreatitis.  Our family was sad and disturbed that our dear little friend was in such pain.  My husband and I slept poorly.  It reminded us of having a sick child back in the day.  Friends and extended family offered sympathy and encouragement.  Having him home, snoring on the living room floor, has restored some order to our home.  But he’s a dog, right? Why the emotional fuss?

Many times in my work I have found that children who are upset by problems in school or at home are comforted by their pets.  I am sure that many of you have seen this in your families.  There is something about a dog’s steady, patient attention that is consoling and calming.  (I’ll talk about dogs because I’m allergic to cats and that has severely limited my contact with them.  I understand from feline lovers among my friends that cats offer similar benefits.)

If you have a young dog who likes to play, playing with the dog offers a great break from homework or other stressful activity.  I find that just sitting on the floor to pet my dog, gives me a good cognitive break from work.  It refreshes my brain. Playing with a dog can get a couch potato child outside to throw a ball.

Recently I even saw a report of a study that shows that dogs in the classroom can help children learn to read!  A study done at the University of California, Davis showed that children who got to read aloud to therapy dogs in their classroom for ten weeks improved 12% more than their counterparts who did not have the same opportunity.  A dog is an attentive listener who does not criticize.  This is what many children need for them to practice reading and become more fluent.  Another report tells of a five year old program at the New York City Public Library in which dog and trainer teams visit branch libraries monthly.  Children can choose a book to read aloud to the dog, and children and adults are seeing similar benefits to the young readers.  This is definitely something to try at home if you child resists her daily reading assignment!

A report last summer in the Huffington Post reported research that children who grow up from infancy with a dog or cat in the house are actually more healthy—fewer colds and ear infections.  The post goes on to cite other research that shows that children and adults who have dogs have higher self-esteem, and they are less prone to depression.

I close with a salute to the four footed friends who enrich our lives.  I imagine that you also have good stories about how a dog or cat has offered you solace or given you a cause to smile when you needed it.  Give that animal a pat for me.  I’m going to take a break with Max.


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Hurricane Day Off

October 31, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

I have had a day off due to Hurricane Sandy, and for me it hasn’t been much of an inconvenience.  As I write in the evening, we still have power, and there is only a little water in our basement.  I am quite grateful.

I know that for others the day has been more trying, especially if you have lost power and you have young children at home.  Times like these take us back to earlier times when we didn’t have the electronic entertainments that we have today.

Late this afternoon I heard a loud bang, and then we lost our internet, phone and television service.  My husband and I were surprised at how much we felt disconnected.  No phone or e-mail?  In addition, my cell phone would not complete calls.  I looked out the window and saw the cause:  a tree that had stood in front of a neighbor’s house was now leaning on it, and it had taken wires with it.

I went across the street to check on them—like us, they had power, but no internet.  So, we sat and had a cup of tea and caught up on news.  This was a treat brought to us by Sandy.  Without her mischief, I would not have had this pleasant chat.  Not only that—as we chatted, her teenage kids carved their pumpkins.  I imagine that they were going to carve them sometime soon, but now with no internet, they sat in the same room with us and joined the conversation.  True, they still texted some, but I imagine that they were more available than they would have been if the internet had been working.

So, if you and your family are safe, I hope that you have been able to find some enjoyment in the sudden lack of technology and forced family togetherness.  I know that for people who thrive on routine—like many children—today might have been a challenge.  But if you can get out the legos, or a jigsaw puzzle, or even a deck of cards, there could be fun in going back to the “good old days.”

I would be interested to hear how some families passed the time today and for many—tomorrow as well.


Photo credit:  Michael Glasgow on Flickr

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