Dr. Dan Peters lists fun things kids can do to bring them back into the mind frame of reading, writing, learning, being curious, critically thinking, engaging in dialogue and just plain moving the body. In “5 Back-to-School Brain Boosters” on HUFFINGTON POST.
Posts by drdanadmin5:
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently wrote a book called Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be about our American epidemic of college anxiety. In it, he discusses the chronic worry that has ascended the shoulders of our kids while trying to get into a topnotch school and the way school elitism has usurped the actual meaning and experience of collegiate life for many young people today.
College anxiety did not exist when I was in school—or at least I don’t remember it. I knew it was a family value that education was important. My grandparents were immigrants and my parents the first in their families to go to college. I remember becoming aware of my GPA in middle school when there was “honor roll” for those with 3.3 and higher. I remember shooting for that goal so I could get my name on the gold paper. I also remember not being in any honors classes, though most of my friends were, and not worrying about or even considering the impact of that on my future college choices. I remember looking at some colleges, wanting to go to some more than others, then choosing one. The college process was just part of growing up and not more stressful or pronounced than other developmental phases.
Now? I have clients in 2nd grade telling me they are going to Stanford or UC Berkeley. I listen to high school students who have GPAs of 4.2-4.6 tell me how stressed, anxious, and depressed they are and weary of their future. I talk to parents daily about their worries that their child is not going to get into a “good” school.
Since when did getting into a good school equate to getting into only the UC, IVY League, or trendy brand names schools? Who started this fear? It seems to be the effect of a slow and insidiously building phenomenon that pushes the ability to do better than perfect (4.0 used to be the best), the false value of increased college tuition (my first UC quarter was $419), and the societal (largely upper middle class) belief that one can always do better and if you don’t you will get left behind. These three factors should not be forefront in the reasoning for our youth to attend the schools of their choice.
Instead, it is important for our kids to focus on the process of living instead of the suggestion that outcome is all. That means focusing on learning and doing well in school, engaging in extra-curricular activities like sports, the performing arts, Boy and Girl Scouts, robotics, and giving back to the community through volunteer experiences, to name a few. Our kids should not be worrying about which college they are going to go to. When the time comes, they can start looking into what areas of the country they may want to live, the type of college—liberal arts or science based—they may want to attend, and which field of study they may choose (if they even know).
Modern college gives our children a general education alongside the opportunity to grow up and experience independence and explore other perspectives. College gives youth the opportunity to form their own opinions, possibly different from their parents, and meet friends who may be friends for life. College—regardless of where they go—gives our kids experience, education, and opportunity. It sets the stage for what comes next. It may be the best experience of your child’s life, it may be “okay,” or it may not be a good fit. Your child’s college experience will not define them; it will be part of their on-going development.
Unfortunately, parents can be huge contributors to college anxiety. The main tip for moms and dads wanting to support their children in a healthy, productive way is to try not to worry and chill out (as kids say)! Model a non-alarmist thinking style. If you are worried about your child, they will worry about themselves. Don’t make this the biggest decision of their life that will determine their life’s path. Many people go to several colleges, change their mind, and change their path. Others like where they will go. College is just another step and milestone on life’s path.
My oldest daughter is currently a freshman. She and her friends check their grades daily on School Loop. They are constantly focused on their GPA. I am not sure they even know why except everyone talks about it. “What did you get on the test?” and “What is your GPA?” are commonly heard. Her mother and I spend a lot of time helping her to put her grades in perspective and not overly focus on them. We remind her there are lots of options and places for her and we will start looking into them in a few years. We keep her focused—or try to—on the present, not three years down the road.
There are over 5000 colleges and universities in the United States and that means there is a place, or several, for your child. Try to enjoy your child’s present instead of worrying about their future. They are growing up fast and will be gone soon. Embrace the mantra “It will all work out….,” because it did for us, and it will for them, regardless of the logo emblazoned across their school sweatshirt.
This article originally appeared on Psychology Today.
Twice-exceptional (2e) students are both gifted in one or more areas of intellect, academic, performing arts, visual arts, and/or leadership ability, AND also have a disability like ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder, or autistic spectrum disorder.
2e kids fall through the cracks since they are able to compensate, due to their advanced cognitive abilities, to perform at an ever-sliding acceptable statistic of “grade level.” Since these kids perform at expected levels, they are not seen as having a problem, don’t receive intervention, and don’t get referred for comprehensive assessment for special education eligibility. Even though they have a proven disability.
Learn more about this problem and what you can do in my new piece on Huffington Post: Smart-Shaming: Sorry But Your Child Is Too Bright To Qualify for Help.
Students with real and legitimate diagnoses for learning disabilities (like ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, sensory processing disorders, or autistic spectrum disorder) won’t qualify for additional help at school if they are meeting minimum grade level requirements. This means that bright and gifted kids may never receive treatment for their disorder. Read more in Dr. Dan Peters’ new piece “Smart-Shaming: Sorry But Your Child Is Too Bright To Qualify for Help” on HUFFINGTON POST.
Many children with learning and processing challenges find the process of taking tests hard. Particularly long tests with lots of work and words can create massive worry and anxiety. Read more in Dr. Dan Peters’ article “Managing Test Anxiety in Today’s High Stakes Testing Era” on HUFFINGTON POST.
When it comes to helping our children learn and develop academically, socially, and emotionally, we want them to feel confident about who they are. At Summit Center, we use a strengths-based approach for assessments, counseling, and treatment versus a more traditional pathologizing model.
If we look at the medical model of disease as a metaphor we can see that it is grounded in finding pathology, and getting rid of that pathogen to regain physical or mental health. This model is also used when learning problems are diagnosed. Students experiencing problems in school are referred to Study Success Teams (SSTs) and private practitioners to determine if they have a “learning disability” or “learning disorder.” In essence, the guiding question is often “What is wrong with this child?” But does this approach work and is it helpful?
The field of psychology and education has been evolving. The positive psychology movement has started to ask “what is healthy,” “what is working,” and “what are a child’s strengths” as central—and often more important than what is wrong or what disorder or illness does a child have. There has also been a movement to focus on learning “differences” rather than disabilities and disorders. While I do think it is important to understand where someone is struggling and why, decades of experience in the mental health and education fields have convinced me that most people “get better” when they understand their strength and weakness profile with a focus on “what is right” with them versus “what is wrong.”
A typical example of a learning issue is when a child has challenges with writing. This can be due to problems maneuvering the pencil, spelling, punctuation, and syntax, or delays getting their ideas on to paper. The traditional approach would be to have the child practice writing, neatly, and to get tutoring and occupational therapy. While I believe this approach can be helpful and needed to some degree, it is best when complimented by using a child’s strength profile and incorporating accommodation. Many of these kids find significant improvement in their writing ability and expression when we teach and allow keyboarding and voice to text software instead of paper to pencil. A specialist in the field once told me, “Instead of teaching these kids to be writers, teach them to be authors.” In fact, I have found many challenged writers to be masterful at creating Powerpoint presentations, giving oral reports, and other project-based assignments. Focusing on the strengths that many have as storytellers allows them to show what they know and produce quality work without spotlighting their deficiencies in potentially harmful ways.
A strengths-based approach can also even be used in the home. Ask yourself what your child is good at and lead with this answer rather than what they need to work on and improve on. We had a recent example in our household related to chores. We have a chore chart with three main chores that we rotate with our three children. The goal is to expose the kids to different jobs and responsibilities to contribute to the household. Over time, it became apparent that each child preferred one chore to another and was more motivated to do it (without complaining) when they had choice. One liked the animals, the other the dishes, and the other the trash. We decided to go with their preference, which was driven by their interest in the task, rather than focus on what they “should” do. As a result, our house runs more efficiently (and with far less complaining). They still have responsibility and they own their jobs.
Leading with strengths is important for all children, and particularly for twice-exceptional (2e) students—those who are gifted and have learning, processing, emotional, or developmental challenges like ADHD, Asperger’s or Autistic Spectrum, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and sensory processing issues—to name a few. In these cases, a child has advanced thinking and reasoning and is often challenged in areas that prevent successful academic performance and/or negotiating the daily responsibilities of being a student and/or the social world. 2e kids often underperform and therefore start to feel “dumb” or “bad” due to feedback they get from adults and children, or by mere comparison to others. The key is to identify a student’s strength, such as knowledge of science, ability to lead, or speaking ability and emphasize these areas so the student gets positive feedback, is seen as competent, and thus, feels confident and valued, rather than just focusing on the frustration of what is not working well.
A client of mine once said, “I finally figured out public school. They find out what you aren’t good at and make you do it over and over again.” Her experience is all too common but if we learn to focus on what’s right with a person rather than what’s wrong we will make leaps forward in creating thriving people and flexible environments in which everyone can bring their talents to bear and positively contribute to their classroom, family, future employer, and community.
This article first appeared on PsychologyToday.com.
Dr. Dan’s newest post for PSYCHOLOGY TODAY “A Strength-Based Approach Helps Children” encourages parents and educators to ask “What’s Right” instead of “What’s Wrong”; read the post to learn more about one of Summit Center’s important philosophies for working with children and families.
This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post.
“I am not sure what has changed. Things were fine last year and now he wakes up with a stomachache and says he doesn’t want to go to school. It takes me forever to get him out the door. We are often late. He ends up screaming at me and telling me I am the worst parent ever! I end up yelling at him and almost have to pull him out of the car. He leaves upset and I feel upset, worried, and angry. Why is this happening!?”
If it sounds like I was in your car this morning, that is because this situation is very common with children — both with those I work and those I parent. On the outside, a child’s life can seem so simple — they go to school, play, and have most things done for them. However, on the inside, a child’s life can be very complex. This complexity can result in a range of thoughts and feelings that go from “School is hard”… “I don’t want to go to school”…”I hate school”…”I am not going to school”, to “I wish I was never born” and “I wish I was dead.” The latter statements are more alarming to parents for sure, yet all suggest something is going on.
It is easier to take the daily getting to school struggles (and frustration) in stride when your child’s behavior consists of avoidance, rather then pure refusal and/or panic. However, it is very difficult to reason with a child who is in refusal mode and even more difficult to reason with a child who is in panic mode. If your child is refusing to go to school or having anxiety or panic attacks in the morning, something is definitely going on. But what can it be?
School avoidance, refusal, and anxiety can be due to several factors. These include:
• Social issues – no friends; being teased; being bullied
• Learning or processing issues – hard to pay attention; hard to read or write; can’t finish work on time; can’t keep up with the work; hard to hear or see
• Worry and anxiety – worry about being looked or laughed at; worrying about doing poorly on a test; worried about getting bad grades; worried about being called on in class
While any of the above alone can result with school avoidance, refusal, or anxiety, often a child experiences several of these issues at once.
So what can a parent do?
The first thing to do is consider that your child’s behavior is communicating that something is wrong. They usually not just trying to be difficult and ruin your morning, as they are clearly not having a good morning either. The next thing to do is to try to figure out what is going on. Try talking with them to see if they will give you any information. Next, talk to your child’s teacher. Are they seeing anything unusual? Is your child engaged in learning and other kids, or checked out and wanders around alone?
While exploring above, it is also important to look at our own parenting behavior. Not that you are causing the problems, but our behavior can certainly make things better or worse. For example, a child is avoidant in the morning may do less well when a parent talks about them being okay, asks what is wrong, and gives too much attention to the trepidation. They may do better with firm, short communication that states they need to brush their teeth because we are leaving in 15 minutes. They then may need ushering to the car. This does not fix the underlying problem (which you are still trying to figure out) but may make the morning routine and drama shortened.
It is important to remember that we all (all of us of all ages) avoid what we are afraid of or worried about. Thus, your child is successfully avoiding a fear by avoiding going to school. It is frustrating, but normal if they are worried or scared. It is also important to remember that overcoming worry and fear involves dealing with it. Avoiding it makes the fear stronger. The key is to get your child to school while ALSO figuring out what is going on that is upsetting to them.
Things to do:
• Ask you child what is happening at school
• Check in with your child’s teacher to see what they are observing
• Ask for a school meeting
• Try different strategies in the morning to improve the avoidance routine
• Be nurturing but firm about the steps needed to get to school
• Seek counseling if the above doesn’t help
• Consider a more formal comprehensive evaluation of your child’s thinking, learning, emotions, and behavior to better understand why your child is struggling
It is important that we remember that children want to succeed and feel good. When they are avoiding or refusing to go to school (their job), it means something isn’t right for them and it is our job as parents and educators to figure it out.