Focus on the Joy, Not the Struggle

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Jennifer Blankenship, of North Star Family Guidance, wrote today’s blog about how to keep the joy during the back-to-school transition:

It’s back to school time, and that means lots of videos of excited parents cheering for the school bus and memes of moms in pajamas with wine. But for families with children who struggle at school, the fall means the end to a relatively relaxing time without the stress of anxiety in the mornings, homework battles in the evening, and calls from the teachers during the day. You don’t have to wonder if this is the day that your child gets kicked out of preschool, of if your child has finally done enough to be expelled, or if there will be an angry child with a mountain of homework to wade through this evening (that you may or may not just end up doing yourself).

There is a lot of information out there for how to help with anxiety, keep your kids organized, and improve their emotional management skills (and I can help in these areas if you need it). But this blog isn’t about that. This blog is to remind you that even if you have an emotionally intense, behaviorally difficult child with poor emotional insight, you can and should still enjoy their childhood. Your child still deserves to experience all the joy and wonder that goes along with being a kid.

This is what I want you to hold on to: Your child is amazing, just as he is. Your child is absolutely delightful, just a she is. And I can promise you, he is doing the best he can. She is doing the best she can.

Even if the school year is made up of huge battles and small victories. Even if your child takes longer than you like to get ready in the morning. Even if you have the same conversation Every. Single. Day. Even if your child is getting “clipped down,” or “on red,” or getting dumb little sad faces on their daily progress reports.

You deserve to enjoy your child, even when the teacher is not particularly enjoying your child. Childhood is still short. You want to squeeze as much joy out of it as possible. So how do you do that?

Watch your child when she is really engaged in something that interests her. Really watch her. See her facial expressions, and intense concentration, and love of learning something new or doing her favorite thing. Watch your child when he is playing or having fun. See the smiles and hear the giggles. Get on your child’s level, sit on the floor and really tune in when she wants to tell you something. Give her your full attention, and notice her mannerisms and style of talking. All of these things make your child unique and precious.

Do those things on a regular basis, and especially when you are feeling overwhelmed with the struggles. Tune back into the delightfulness of your child.

Also remember these things:

You are your child’s Safe Place: If you get called in to the principal’s office, connect with your child first. Make eye contact. Smile even. Let him know you are on his side, even if what he did was clearly wrong. You don’t have to be angry or act angry just because the principal is angry. You have permission to parent your child differently. This does not mean that there aren’t consequences for the behavior. It just means that you can work it out together.

Be an ally, not an enemy: If your child is facing a mountain of homework, you have a choice. You can yell repeatedly to get working on it, or you can sit at the table beside him and offer some help-maybe even start by validating the feelings of overwhelm. If your child is really struggling with something, you can create a system with a bunch of rewards that he may never earn and consequences that he surely will, or you can sit down and have a problem-solving conversation about it. Kids have really creative ideas. Let’s trust that they know what is most helpful for them.

Allow room for grace: Have some grace for your child. If your child has intense emotions, struggles with anxiety, or ADHD, or social skills deficits, or learning deficits, they need a little extra grace. Whether diagnosed formally or not, if your child is having difficulty, have some grace. This grace should extend to teachers and administrators as well. Bonus points if you can even extend some grace to yourself. We are all just doing the best we can.

If your child’s struggles are becoming too much to manage, interfering with his or her success, or sucking the joy out of your family, please reach out today. I offer free consultations to talk about what might be helpful and to determine if we would be a good fit to work together.

About the Author

Jennifer Blankenship is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and Board-Certified Behavior Analyst with 20 years of experience working with children and families. Her private practice is located in Chagrin Falls, and focuses on children displaying off-track and difficult behaviors. Specialty areas also include twice exceptional students, children with Autism, and families living with anxiety related to food allergies. You can learn more about her practice at northstarfamilyguidance.com, email her at jennifer@northstarfamilyguidance.com, or call 724-813-2065.

Assistive Technology: Review IEPs Prior to Back-To-School

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s post has been written by Rebecca Guenther, MA, CCC-SLP, Amanda Stohrer, MS, OTR/L, ATP, and Laurene Sweet, PT, ATP, MEd, DPT from LeafBridge.

As we gather school supplies and prepare our students for the upcoming school year, it is important to review and understand your student’s IEP. Assistive Technology is an area commonly misunderstood or underrepresented on the IEP. Consideration of assistive technology needs is required by IDEA and is based on the unique educational needs of the student. In this blog, we review the meaning of assistive technology devices, team members involved in assistive technology services, and how to obtain an assistive technology evaluation/assessment.

What is AT and how can it help?

According to Section 300.5 of IDEA, assistive technology (AT) device means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. In simpler terms, an AT device levels the playing field to help a student with a disability function at the same or higher level. Some examples of assistive technology devices for education include Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, digital books with text to speech, adapted writing devices, a wheelchair, a switch accessible computer or tablet, and modifications for low vision just to name a few.

Where is AT listed in the IEP?

In section 2 of the IEP, there is a box probing the question “Does the child need assistive technology devices and/or services?” This should initiate a team discussion for justifying why a student would or would not benefit from AT devices and/or services. Parents, as a part of the IEP team, should be involved in conversations and decision making surrounding assistive technology. Through an Assistive Technology Evaluation, the team explores possible AT solutions in any number of areas such as reading, self-care, writing, computer access, learning, and math. If AT devices and services are warranted, each device or service should be specified under section 7 of the IEP.

What are Assistive Technology Services?

According to Section 300.6 of IDEA, assistive technology (AT) service means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. The term includes the evaluation of need, acquiring equipment, customizing and maintaining the equipment, coordinating with the IEP team, as well as training for the student and any other members of the student’s intervention team. Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT), developed by focus groups and validated through research, indicates that “assistive technology assessments are conducted by a team with collective knowledge and skills”. Potential AT team members include parents, students, physical, occupational, and speech & language pathologists; intervention specialists; nurses; psychologists; vision specialists; and behavior specialists, just to name a few. No single specialist can be the expert across all areas of AT. Extensive resources are available on the QIAT website, including specific information about AT and the IEP process: https://qiat.org/indicators.html Due to the ever-changing standards and availability of assistive technology, it may also be beneficial to include a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) as a part of the IEP team. RESNA stands for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America. You can identify a RESNA certified ATP in your area using the “Find a Certified AT Professional Tool” at https://www.resna.org/. You may also order a copy of RESNA standards for Assistive Technology on the RESNA website: https://www.resna.org/at-standards .

How do I request an AT assessment?

Referral to initiate the AT process typically comes from concern by an educational professional and/or a parent or team discussion about a student’s needs. The concern typically surrounds area of the student’s educational program in which he/she is unable to participate due to his/her disability. The following is a good resource from OCALI with information about initiating the AT process: https://www.ocali.org/up_doc/AT_Resource_Guide_5.pdf . It is helpful for parents to submit requests in writing, clearly stating the request and the reason for the request. The following resource from the Georgia Project for Assistive Technology includes legal mandates for Assistive Technology: http://www.gpat.org/Georgia-Project-for-Assistive-Technology/Pages/Legal-Mandates-for-Assistive-Technology.aspx .

Summary

IDEA 2004 requires that the IEP team consider the assistive technology needs of every child with a disability. Consideration for AT supports should be a thorough evaluation process completed by a team of professionals in order to asses AT needs across all content areas. Look for our next blog to learn more about assistive technology for reading.

About the Authors

Rebecca Guenther, M.A, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist with 14 years of school based, home and outpatient experience with a primary focus on children with complex disorders including cerebral palsy, autism, and rare genetic conditions. Rebecca has a passion for developing and implementing functional communication systems using a combination of both low and high technology augmentative/alternative communication systems. Rebecca is a leader in her field and has provided hands on training and professional in-services to her peers regarding Augmentative/Alternative Communication. Rebecca remains current in this ever-changing assistive technology field by attending professional conferences such as the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference and Closing the Gap. Rebecca is proficient in programming multiple AAC devices from frequently used vendors such as Saltillo, Prentke Romich Company, Tobii-Dynavox, Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display communication books, and multiple tablet applications. Rebecca serves as the Speech and Language Pathology Manager for the pediatric department at LeafBridge of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Cleveland. As manager, she coordinates speech therapy programming, leads Camp LeafBridge for Extended School Year summer programming and she coordinates feeding therapy services provided at LeafBridge. Rebecca travels the state of Ohio to conduct Assistive Technology Evaluations and Independent Educational Evaluations.

Amanda Stohrer, MS, OTR/L, ATP is an Occupational Therapist with extensive experience in providing care for children with complex disabilities. Amanda serves as the Occupational Therapy Manager for the pediatric department at LeafBridge of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Cleveland. As manager, Amanda coordinates occupational therapy programming for school-based services, outpatient therapies, fieldwork experiences, a functional skills program, upper extremity serial casting, and the LeafBridge Steps to Independence program for intensive intervention. Amanda is a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional and is highly skilled with transdisciplinary assessment for seating and mobility in collaboration with the assistive technology team at LeafBridge. Amanda earned a BS in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences in 2008 and then a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in 2009 through Western Michigan University. Amanda has significant training in sensory integration, NDT, functional electrical stimulation, orthopedics, interventions for children with complex learning needs, and Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI.) As an adjunct faculty member for the COTA program at Cuyahoga Community College, Amanda facilitates the lab and lecture series for the course entitled "Techniques in Developmental Disabilities.” Amanda holds the Perkins-Roman CVI Range© Endorsement which demonstrates expertise in administering the CVI Range Assessment for Children with Cortical Visual Impairment. In addition, she earned Micro credentials in CVI Basics and the CVI Range. Amanda travels the state of Ohio to conduct Assistive Technology and Independent Educational Evaluations.

Laurene Sweet, PT, ATP, MEd, DPT is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional with 25 years of experience in outpatient clinics, schools, hospitals, an autism specialty program, and the Day Program for alternative school placements at UCP. She is the Manager of Specialized Services for LeafBridge. Laurene’s expertise in developing holistic programming for children with complex and co-existing disabilities emerged through cross training with other disciplines, continuing education, and direct experience. In 2007, she earned a master’s degree in Special Education with concentrations in Autism and Assistive Technology and advanced coursework in Functional Behavior Assessment. In 2014, Laurene published peer-reviewed clinical research in the Pediatric Physical therapy Journal. She manages the serial casting program at UCP to improve range of motion for children with ankle and foot deformities. Laurene coordinates UCP’s Day Program for children with complex learning needs and Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). She holds the Perkins-Roman CVI Range© Endorsement which demonstrates expertise in administering the CVI Range Assessment for Children with Cortical Visual Impairment. In addition, Laurene earned Micro credentials in CVI Basics and the CVI Range. Laurene is a mother of a student with a Specific Learning Disability. She adopted two teenagers from foster care and is well-versed in Trauma Informed Care. Laurene travels the state of Ohio to conduct Assistive Technology and Independent Educational Evaluations.

Key Strategies for Helping Your Child with Speech and Language Challenges

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s post was written by Melissa Baker, owner and speech-language pathologist of Chagrin Valley Speech Therapy Services:

As a parent of a child with a communication disorder, you may be feeling that there is more you can be doing to help them improve their speech and language skills at home. You know that you spend the most time with your child and would like guidance as to how to help them make more progress and reach their maximum potential. As the school year is just beginning, you may be looking to your child’s school speech-language pathologist to provide guidance. After working in both public and private schools as a speech-language pathologist, I know the struggle of having a large caseload and not having the time to provide my students and families with as many ideas and strategies for working on their speech and language targets outside of their school day as I would have liked. However, when parents specifically requested help, I was more than happy to send home specific suggestions and homework that targeted their child’s goals. I would encourage you to contact your child’s speech-language pathologist at the start of the school year and ask for specific recommendations regarding how to help them at home. Most speech-language pathologists appreciate parents that will work with their child outside of the school setting as they know this will help them progress much faster. I’m also hopeful that this article will arm you with tools and strategies that you can start using now.

We know that speech-language pathologists have limited time with your child and generalizing their skills into the natural environment is so important. As their parent, you’re the person who spends the most time with them and this makes you an ideal teacher. I’d like to start with strategies for children with language-based challenges and will follow it with strategies for children with speech sound/articulation challenges.

Limit Screen Time

For children with language impairments, there are many ways that you can expand and encourage language development during everyday activities. One of the biggest ways you can help your child is to encourage less screen time. According to Healthline.com, researchers from the National Institutes of Health just completed a study on 11,000 9-and 10-year-olds in the United States and found that children who used screens for more than two hours a day got lower scores on thinking and language tests. Excessive amounts of screen time can also lead to other health concerns like obesity, disrupted sleep, and depression. For younger and elementary-aged children, it’s recommended that if they are using tablets or phones, that you are sitting with them and interacting with it as well. Some apps such as My PlayHome and Toca Boca apps are great for modeling vocabulary and language concepts. As your child is playing these apps, you can talk about what is happening, ask open-ended questions, label vocabulary, give and follow directions, etc.

Read to Your Child

My second recommendation to build language skills it to read to your child. Reading daily to your child helps to build their vocabulary, comprehension, concentration, and enhances creativity and imagination. A tip would be to find wordless books and talk about the pictures, guess what might happen next, and build a new story each time you read it. Lastly, narrate what you are doing as much as possible. Remember to use sentences that are 1-2 words longer than what your child is currently producing. For example, if your child is saying “doggy run”, you can model, “Yes, the dog is running”. For more ideas for using this strategy during a variety of daily activities, please see this handout from Super Duper Publications: https://www.superduperinc.com/handouts/pdf/227_LangExpExt.pdf

Target Speech Sounds

For children with speech sound/articulation challenges, there are many ways that parents can help at home. If you know the sounds your child is having difficulty producing, find books in the library that target these sounds. When reading these books to your child, sit facing them and have them watch your mouth as you produce the sound. Try to overenunciate the sound so that they are hearing it and seeing it. For a list of books that target each speech sound, please visit the following website: https://sopecreeklibrary.typepad.com/lupu/books-to-practice-speech-sounds.html You can also practice the target sounds/words from the book in the bathroom mirror. Your child will enjoy the time with you, and you can be silly by making funny faces too!

Practice Speech Everywhere

Practice their target sound while in the car, waiting at the doctor’s office, out for a walk in the neighborhood, or while grocery shopping. Find words with the target sound as you are driving, or label items on the grocery store shelves. Look around the house and see if you can find items that have the targeted sound. Even practicing just 5-10 minutes each day can make a huge impact on developing the motor plan needed to make the sound more automatic. If you make practicing part of your daily routine it becomes a habit. For example, brush your teeth, practice your words, read a book, and go to bed. You can find words, phrases, sentences, and reading passages for each sound at the following website: https://www.home-speech-home.com/speech-therapy-word-lists.html. For children who need pictures, you can go to Google images and find pictures with the targeted sound. There is a website for sharing teacher created materials called www.teacherspayteachers.com. This website has many free and low-cost articulation and language materials that you can use at home as well.

Speech/Language Assessment

If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, it’s always best to consult an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist for a thorough assessment. You can find a list of providers in your state by going to https://www.asha.org/profind/. I hope the ideas and strategies supplied in this article empower you to help your child’s communication skills soar. Please contact me at chagrinvalleyspeech@gmail.com with any questions. Have a great start to the school year!

About the Author

Melissa Baker is the owner and speech-language pathologist at Chagrin Valley Speech Therapy Services, LLC (Link). She has been practicing pediatric speech pathology for over twenty years. At the beginning of her career, she worked in the public schools helping children with complex communication disorders. For nearly fourteen years, she was the Speech Therapy Department Supervisor at Monarch Center for Autism (link) in Shaker Heights, Ohio. In October 2016, Melissa opened my private pediatric speech therapy practice in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She serves children ages 3-22 with speech, language, and augmentative communication needs. She specializes in working with children with autism, but also has a passion for helping children with articulation and language disorders. Melissa provides speech and language assessments and treatment, social skills groups, camps, parent trainings, and Independent Educational Evaluations (IEE) (link). She is currently accepting private pay clients and can be reached at 440-972-3670 or chagrinvalleyspeech@gmail.com. You can learn more about her services by visiting www.chagrinvalleyspeech.com.

Executive Function… Can It Just Function?

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s guest blogger is Haley Dunn, owner and counselor at Bella Vita Counseling.

Does your child forget to bring their homework home? Or maybe the homework made it home, but the science book came home instead of the history book. Do they easily lose track of time? Do they have a bunch of papers shoved in their backpack, but they swear they know where everything is and ‘it’s organized’?

If you answered, ‘Yep, sounds like my kid.’ Then they might have executive functioning issues. But what really is executive function?

The brainy stuff:

  • Working memory: Our working memory helps us hold on to information and use it.

  • Impulse control (self-regulation): Our impulse control helps us think before we act; helps us with emotional regulation.

  • Flexible thinking: Flexible thinking helps us ‘shift gears’ and think about things in different ways.

What does that mean to you as a parent of a student with executive functioning issues?

Executive functioning skills do not develop linearly, so it can be difficult to figure out when it is typical versus an issue affecting their daily functioning. Some concerns you may have noticed in your student:

  • An inability to pay attention

  • Losing track of time or getting hyper-focused on an activity

  • Regulating emotions- BIG emotions and reactions

  • Initiating tasks or getting easily distracted by other tasks

  • Overall organization and planning

If your child is experiencing some of these symptoms there are ways to help support and better develop their skills at home.

How can I help my student?

Visual schedules are one way to help manage time and expectations. They allow students to see all the necessary tasks for the morning, what to place in their backpacks or the schedule for after school. Visual schedules are a great way to prompt students, keep them on task and hopefully reduce frustration for the student and the parent. For ideas click here.

Other great ways to help your student organize and stay on task are: using a backpack with multiple compartments, timers (especially visual), or organizational apps on the phone (such as Evernote), etc. There are many way to help develop executive functioning skills and there are different suggestions depending on the skill you are looking to help them improve. For a full list of ideas click here.

Is this typical? How do I sort that out?

It is important to note that some executive functioning skills may be developmentally appropriate, such as, a teen who has trouble managing their time or remembering their homework or adolescent that is very emotional. If your child is having persistent trouble in these areas and it is affecting school and home life then it might be more than just their age or development.

Well, does this mean my child has ADHD?

Maybe, but executive functioning impairments can cross into many different learning issues and mental health areas, so it is important to speak with a professional about your concerns. School psychologists can help you get started on the necessary supports your child will need at school, such as an IEP or 504. Look to professionals, like a mental health counselor or psychologist, outside of school to help with identifying symptoms, to work on skill building and symptom maintenance.

About the Author

Haley Dunn is a licensed professional counselor and is the owner of Bella Vita Counseling in Beachwood, Ohio. She is passionate about helping teens with learning differences, ADHD and autism find individual success at home and school. You can learn more about Haley by visiting her Psychology Today page: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/haley-dunn-beachwood-oh/460836

School Refusal: Just a phase? Or is it Anxiety?

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s post is written by Katie D’Fantis of Inner Harmony Counseling:

Does this sound like a typical school-day morning with your teen?

  • Getting your teen out of bed and to school on time is a chore.

  • There’s so much arguing on school-day mornings that you often give up or feel like giving up.

  • You’ve lost track of how many days of school they’ve missed or how many times you’ve called them in late.

  • Your teens distress and refusal to go to school has caused you to be late for work most days.

As a counselor who works with older teens 16 years and up, I’ve seen the difficult effects school refusal can have on the teen and their parents.

Possible Causes of School Refusal

Sometimes school refusal is in an attempt by the teen to avoid something unpleasant. Maybe a test they didn’t study for or a class they’d prefer to miss. Sometimes school refusal is a temporary issue such as when school starts back up after summer or winter break. It’s common for worries to flare up then but once the teen gets back into a routine, the worry usually decreases.

Sometimes school refusal isn’t just full school days missed but multiple days tardy, leaving school early, or numerous trips to the nurse. It’s important to note that anxiety in kids and teens typically manifests in somatic symptoms, such as a stomachache or a headache. It’s important to make an appointment with your teens pediatrician to be sure there isn’t an underlying medical issue that needs attention.

When tardiness, leaving class, or school refusal become an ongoing issue, this may point to the presence of a diagnosable disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder.

Let me start by saying that this article is not intended to help you diagnose your teen. In our “WebMD world” today, it’s important to remember that diagnosing should be left to a licensed professional who administers a diagnostic assessment in person. The purpose of this article is simply to help you gain a basic understanding what generalized anxiety may look like.

So what does generalized anxiety disorder look like in teens?

Teens who are struggling with anxiety may have difficulty concentrating, experience muscle tension, may often feel irritable or on edge, fatigued, or may have difficulty falling or staying asleep. When I talk to teens who have missed multiple days of school, they often share that they feel completely overwhelmed by the piles of work that need to be made up. And the fact that they may already be flunking the class doesn’t help to motivate them; it simply creates an even more pronounced feeling of helplessness. You or I may think “Well, what’s the problem? Just take it one assignment at a time!”, but anxiety doesn’t work that way. Anxiety only allows the teen to see the enormous, daunting pile of work in front of them in its entirety and not the smaller, more manageable parts.

Your teen needs coping skills and strategies to manage the feeling of being overwhelmed, help with that feeling of helplessness, and support for all the ways anxiety affects other aspects of their life. Do them (and yourself!) a favor and talk to them about their willingness to work with a therapist. Email or text them the link to www.psychologytoday.com. Tell them to type their zip code in the “Find a Therapist” search option, scroll through the pictures and bios of the clinicians in their area until they find someone who works with teens with anxiety and who seems like they’d be a good fit. And if your teen doesn’t jive with the first counselor they meet, don’t make them go back. Help them find a counselor that they feel comfortable with and who seems genuine and trusting so they can start moving towards a life where school isn’t plagued with anxiety and you can begin to feel hopeful for smooth and steady school-day mornings with your teen.

About the Author

Katie D'Fantis is an LPC, an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) clinician, and the owner of Inner Harmony Counseling in Brecksville, Ohio. She works with older teens and adults and specializes in helping those who struggle with anxiety, depression, PTSD, grief/loss, self-esteem, codependency, relationship and communication issues. For more information about Katie’s practice, visit https://www.ihcounselingohio.com/, call 440-630-0126, email katie@ihcounselingohio.com, or find Inner Harmony Counseling on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ihcounseling.

What Does Anxiety Look Like in Kids? Well, a Lot Like Anger.

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today, Georgie Gray, social worker and owner of Georgie Gray Counseling, will provide us insight into anxiety in young children:

We all know what anxiety is... right? It’s one of those concepts that seems straightforward until we try to define it. We might say it is worry or stress, and that is true. But what does it really mean, and what does it look like in day to day life?

Maybe for you it’s dreading an important meeting at work or feeling the constant pressure of making your paycheck cover your expenses. These thoughts and feelings might color the background of your daily life, dulling everything else, and making you short-tempered and irritable.

This is exactly what happens when kids feel anxious. Anxiety, stress, and worry come from different sources for kids but the result is the same: anxious kids have less room for the good stuff of life because dealing with stress takes so much energy.

So, what does anxiety look like in kids? It looks like a tantrum about how you didn’t say, “good morning” the right way. It looks like rigid rules about how to correctly pack one’s backpack before school. It looks like bedtime battles, quick tempers, and tears. In other words, anxiety in kids often comes out as irritability and anger (very much like adults).

The difference is, adults are better able to name what is happening (“I’m so stressed about money”) and take steps to cope, like making a budget, venting to a friend, or exercising, for example. Kids just don’t have the insight and experience (yet) to feel help themselves feel better.

There are several things parents can do to help:

Behavior is Communication

Understand that children’s behaviors are their way of expressing themselves (not just their words). Anger and tantrums are your child’s ways of saying, “Things feel terrible inside me right now.” Try not to get caught up in your own worries (like: “My kid is manipulating me”). Let go of the idea of figuring out why your child is behaving the way he is, at least for the moment. Focus instead on the goals of helping your child feel better right now, and supporting him in learning new skills for feeling better in the future.

Problem-Solve

Problem-solve with your child about the things he seems to struggle with most. For example: “It seems like packing your backpack stresses you out. Is there anything we can figure out together to make that easier?” Collaborate on solutions. Offer your support and guidance. If your child feels that you are on his team, he may be able to offload some of his stress, and his behavior may improve. Together try to come up with strategies for coping with anger the next time your child is upset. For example, taking slow, deep breaths; squeezing a stress ball; listening to music; or running, jumping or dancing to use up nervous energy.

Talk about It

Invite your child to talk about what is on his mind. Avoid putting your child on the spot or asking too many questions. Instead, just spend time near your child, doing things you both enjoy. Talking about emotions makes people—kids and adults—feel vulnerable, so take care to honor the signals your child is giving about his comfort level. Set yourself up as a good listener, not a good advice-giver. You’ll get much further that way. Side-by-side activities often work best for conversations like these, such as riding bikes together or driving in the car; things feel less intense when there is no chance for eye contact, and when the talk feels more spontaneous.

Show Support

Use your body language and attention to convey that your child is enough, just as he is. This is a powerful message, and the more we send it to our kids the better they will feel. When kids believe that their parents love them, warts and all, they feel less afraid to try new things, and to make mistakes (often what kids worry about most). Send your child a “you’ve got this” look, or touch his shoulder to let him know you’re there, you support him, even with all his big and hard-to-understand feelings.

Empathize

Most important of all: try to have empathy when times are tough. Try to see your child’s tantrums, irrational behavior, tears, and drama through a new lens, the lens of anxiety. Though you may never know exactly what feelings are underneath your child’s behavior, empathy goes a long way toward making things better. After all, when you’re frantically trying to get out the door in the morning for that dreaded work meeting, doesn’t a kind word feel better than somebody sternly saying, “it’s not that big a deal, pull yourself together!”? I know it does for me.

About the Author

Georgie Gray, MSSA, LISW-S, is a therapist in private practice with over 20 years’ experience working with children and families. She works primarily with families with children ages 10 and under, and specializes in anxiety, depression, peaceful parenting, attachment, and trauma. Georgie’s work is home-based, not office-based, because of the unique opportunities that provides for understanding families’ issues and needs. You can contact Georgie by phone (216-225-3859) or e-mail (GeorgieGrayCounseling@gmail.com). For more information about her practice, visit her website: www.georgiegraycounseling.com

5 Tips to Help to Help Ease Back-to-School Anxiety

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s post was written by Allison West Kaskey of West Counseling and Consulting:

Returning to school after summer break can cause increased anxiety for children. Transitions can be especially difficult for children with anxiety, autism spectrum disorders and ADD/ADHD. This can be a stressful time for the child, parents, and the entire family. It is normal to feel anxious during times of change and transition. However, if anxiety is interfering with your child’s ability to return to school or to perform his or her daily activities, here are a few tips on how to ease the back to school anxiety:

Encourage your child to share their fears

Ask him or her to be specific and allow them to be the expert and problem solve. For example, “If _________happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation” or “What has worked in the past, when you felt this way.”

Create a routine

Ease your child back into a school routine by waking up, eating, and going to bed at regular times, and gradually limiting screen time on devices. Continue everyday activities as normal. To involve your child ask him or her to help plan school lunches for the week and pack their backpack in advance together. If your child would like, have them pick out their outfit for the first day or the week.

Develop a plan and reward system

Discuss the schedule for the week ahead and allow your child to plan an activity and/or reward that they will look forward to each day or each week. For example, allow your child to pick out a snack every day after school, choose a game to play, or t.v. show to watch each evening. Then at the end of the week, allow your child to plan an outing of their choice, for example going for ice cream, to the zoo or to see a movie.

Teach and practice coping skills

Here are coping skills to use when your child is feeling nervous, such as journaling, artwork, or using methods such as How to Do Calm Breathing, Developing and Using Cognitive Coping Cards or Creating a Worry Box (see links below).

Remember: Easing anxiety is a process

It takes time to adjust to a new schedule. Be patient. It is normal for children to have trouble for a week or two after a break or the start of school. Each day can bring new challenges. This is especially true for older students, who are navigating new classes, different teachers and schedules.

When to seek professional help

There are some warning signs that your child may need some extra help. Here are a few: If after a few weeks you see your child is still struggling, not wanting to go to school, finding it difficult to perform normal activities, feeling increasingly anxious at nighttime seek help from a professional.

Links:

  • https://www.anxietybc.com/

  • https://www.npr.org/

  • https://nspt4kids.com/

About the Author

Allison West Kaskey is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Educational Specialist. She has over 20 years of experience in the helping profession. She has worked in a variety of counseling and higher education settings with a wide range of roles. Her specialization is in working with clients with disabilities, specifically clients on the autism spectrum. She is the owner, counselor and consultant at West Counseling and Consulting in Richfield. She provides individual, couples and family counseling and consulting. For more information about Allison’s practice, call (216) 532-3168 or visit her website at: https://www.westcounselingandconsulting.com/