Thanks to Chesapeake Bay Academy for hosting Dr. Katz on the Hampton Roads show.
I am honored to be a guest expert on ImpactADHD. Check out my tips for getting a good start on the school year.
September is here and that means one thing: it’s time to go back to school. The summer has passed. Many students and families are energized and ready to get back to the books. But some families start the year with caution. Maybe because the previous school year didn’t end as well as hoped for, or maybe because it ended well enough, but getting there was difficult.
If you have some trepidation because your child struggles with academics, don’t wait too long to take steps NOW to ensure the best year possible. It is much better to have realistic expectations about school, than to set expectations that cause frustration and upset when they are (inevitably) unmet.
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using positive and negative consequences
Are you having trouble get- ting your kids to do what you want them to do? The key is to “manage” their behavior. When managing behavior, you figure out what it is you would like to see happen and then make a plan for accomplishing the goal. On the other hand, reacting to behavior usually results in hard feelings for both the parents and the children.
One very useful tool is the contract. Parents and children sit down together and decide what behaviors need to be changed or maintained. They also consider the con- sequences—positive and negative. This is a negotiation, as in business contracting, and the process results in high levels of motivation for children as well as parents.
It is usually best for the parents and children to pick just one or two behaviors they want to change. They should be concerns or problems that happen frequently, even daily. In this way, the child is able to see that his behavior actually does bring about the consequence. Similarly the consequence works best if it is something that can be earned on a daily basis also.
It is important to be specific about the behavior. Rather than wanting the child to be “respectful,” it is much better to ask that the child says “please” and “thank you.” Ask that tidying up the bedroom be done every night or every other night, rather than once a week.
Decreasing or eliminating certain behaviors can be accomplished by contract if they involve such things as teasing, cursing, or interrupting. Remember, however, that you can’t eliminate behaviors that occur normally, such as squabbling between siblings. However, if the kids are getting into loud arguments on an average of 10 times a day, the goal of the contract might be to decrease the arguments to five times a day.
Furthermore, the best way to engage the child in the contract is for the reward to be something that they really want. In a general way, consequences and rewards are often specific to the child’s age. Young children often want to have a special 15-minute period of undivided attention from a busy parent. Teenagers, on the other hand, may prefer time on the computer or with their friends.
It is important for parents, too, to be held accountable for certain behaviors. For example, parents can work on decreasing their yelling or making sure that they follow-through with their promises. This demonstrates to the children that everyone is working at improving themselves, and it also makes contracting a more enjoyable experience. Similarly, there can be a consequence for the parents if they do not follow though at enforcing the contract.
Every contract should be written down in a formal manner. The following is an example of a contract between John and his parents: John will do his homework every school night, and his parents will check it when he is done. If he has no homework, he will read for half an hour. John will be able to use electronics until bedtime each night after his homework or reading is done.
If his homework is finished before dinner, either his father or mother will also play a game with him for half an hour. If John’s parents fail to play with him after he has earned the time, they will owe him his choice of double the game time on the next evening or a trip to the dollar store. After all is written down, each person signs the paper, and it should be posted in a prominent spot in the home.
Contracting is a very simple parenting tool, but it accomplishes quite a bit. First of all, the expectation is made clear that John will do his homework each night, and the contract states what will happen if there is no homework. It also makes using electronics contingent on doing homework. John also gets a bonus if his homework is done before dinner. This encourages him not to put his homework off. The part about the parents’ role shows John that the contract is fun and that he will get something if his parents don’t keep up their end.
Managing behavior this way allows the family to spend the evening enjoying each other’s company, rather than spending time discussing what hasn’t been done.
Download the pdf TF 2014 April Managing Behavior using positive and negative as originally published in Tidewater Family, April 2014
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What Video Games Teach
recognizing the benefits of gaming
Many parents I see in my practice are concerned about their children’s video game playing. A re- cent study found that 91percent of children between the ages of 2 and 17 play video games, and another study found that upwards of 99 percent of teenage boys and 94 percent of teenage girls play the games.
Many people believe that video games have a negative impact on children; however, a paper in the January 2014 issue of American Psychologist argues that a more balanced perspective is needed. In “The Benefits of Playing Video Games,” researchers write that it is important to understand the potential benefits of game playing if we want to really understand how they affect the development of children and teen.
We know that play in general is valuable for children’s development. It provides an important arena where kids can practice being adults. They get to take on different personas, express feelings, and work out conflicts that they may be experiencing in real life. During play, children deal with themes such as power and dominance, aggression, nurturance, anxiety, pain, loss, growth, and joy. We need to recognize that video games give children and adolescents the same opportunities.
The researchers reviewed studies that have been conducted on the benefits of video game playing, looking at four main areas: motivation (e.g., resilience in the face of failure), emotional (e.g., mood management), social (e.g., pro-social behavior), and cognitive (e.g., attention). I would like to share findings in a couple of these areas.
Video games seem to help teach children an effective motivational style. In video games kids work toward meaningful goals, learn to persevere even when faced with many failures, and experience positive feelings when they complete challenging tasks. These are certainly attributes we want our children to learn. How does video gaming do this?
One of the concepts the article discusses has to do with a child’s beliefs about himself. It is known that children who are praised for their traits come to believe that their intelligence is fixed. When they face failure, they do not believe that there is much that they can do about it. Instead of saying to a child, “Wow, you are smart!” it is best to praise their effort, “Wow, you worked hard at that!” Children who are given that kind of feedback come to believe that their abilities can be developed and improved with effort and time.
Research suggests that video games give children and teens positive feedback that is based on their efforts. The games provide players concrete, immediate feedback about the specific efforts that they make. The best video games are particularly good at this because they keep kids in their “sweet spot.” This is the place where a balance exists between challenge and frustration, providing enough success and accomplishment that the child stays engaged. The game is continuously teaching the kids that they have the ability to positively be in charge of their lives.
Studies have also shown that gaming may be one of the most efficient means by which children and youth generate positive feelings. If a child is in a down mood, playing a video game can help them get into a better mood. Gaming also seems to help children learn to deal with negative emotions. For example, although gaming often results in short- term frustration and anxiety, gaming also
provides children plenty of opportunities to practice controlling or modulating their emotions in order to reach their goals in the game. If they don’t learn to control their frustration when playing, they won’t do well in the game.
Over time, as children get through one challenge and on to the next, they learn to control the frustration and anxiety that is bound to occur. The hope is that these same skills learned while gaming will transfer into “real” life. As of yet, research has not been designed that can clearly study whether this transfer takes place.
These are just some of the points made in this interesting paper. I appreciate how the researchers are studying video gaming and the positive ways in which games can affect children and adolescents. As I think about my work with families, I will be sure to reinforce the good lessons that game playing can have. I can see how a child who has poor frustration tolerance might be motivated to work on that skill, knowing it is important if they want to get better at gaming. At the same time, I can reassure parents that gaming itself can give the child needed practice in this area and build self-confidence along the way.
Download the pdf What Video Games Teach recognizing the benefits of gaming as originally published in Tidewater Family, March 2014
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When Children Lie
understanding the motivation is key
One of the most frequent concerns expressed by parents about their children is lying. When children lie, it may indeed be serious, but not for the reasons that you may think.
For most parents, honesty is considered an essential character trait, so they become quite concerned when their child lies. On the other hand, lying is not an unusual occurrence in childhood. Lying itself is not a sign of moral weakness or poor character. At some time or another, children will lie. It may be about whether they cleaned their room, did their home- work, or went to sleep on time. For the most part, these lies are fairly innocuous, especially if we deal with the lie as simply a misbehavior for which a consequence is appropriate. I will often suggest to families that a consequence be given for the original misdeed and another consequence for the lying.
Generally, children want to please their parents. If a child is not doing well, then we need to assume that there is some obstacle in her way. Therefore, if a child is lying more than occasionally, it is important that we look beyond the lie itself, to try and understand what the problem must be. Children lie sometimes as a way of getting out of a difficult situation in which they find themselves. However, if we angrily focus on the lying, we will miss the point entirely. Children do not know why they lied; they understand less about their behavior than we do. What we need to do is to try to find out what the child must have been thinking or feeling, to believe that lying was the best thing to do.
Often, children will lie to avoid punishment and to save face, such as when they lie about getting into trouble at school. This may seem to be a simple truth, but the fact of the matter is, for many children, having to face their parents with their troubles
or failings is too demoralizing to endure. How can they tell their parents that they have failed once again in school, with their peers, or with life altogether? In the same way, children may lie so they do not disappoint parents whose expectations for good behavior may be too high or unrealistic for the child’s age. Children may also feel forced to lie if they sense that their parent’s sense of self-worth is wrapped up in the child’s achievements.
When we think about children lying, we should also take a look at the culture we may have created. We may have inadvertently created an atmosphere for lying when we deny our own inner experiences and feelings, whether pleasurable or painful. For example, men frequently put up a front, denying that they have problems, are upset about something, or that they have feelings altogether. Similarly as a culture, we do not always encourage people to re- ally experience or share their feelings. For example, how often do we tell our children to stop whining about something, or that they shouldn’t be bothered by the teasing of other children? Shouldn’t they be upset? And, when children really are upset, do we allow them to express their feelings, or do we expect them to “be mature, act grown up” and get over it?
Sometimes we don’t want to know how our children are feeling. For example, it is not unusual to hear a parent being angry at a child for “talking back” when in fact the child knows no other way of expressing their frustration, anger, or unhappiness. Maybe the child is legitimately upset. Perhaps the adult really wasn’t listening to the child, or maybe the adult treated the child unfairly. But, by getting angry at the child, the parent sends the message that he doesn’t want to hear what the child has to say and that he would rather have the child lie than to tell the truth.
We work on understanding all of these possibilities in therapy with children and families. For example, if children lie about homework, it might be easy to figure out that they are frustrated with the work and are trying to avoid disappointing their parents and themselves at how “stupid” they must be.
If therapy focuses too quickly on the act of lying itself, trying to put a stop to it, then the message is missed. Rather, the time is better spent exploring what was going on in the child’s mind. What was his perception of the situation, what had he thought about it, and how did he feel? As the parents come to better understand their child’s inner life, they can then better understand what situations may cause their child to consider lying. With this knowledge, they can take steps to help their child deal with frustration, to help the child solve the problem, and to help the child develop better coping skills overall.
Next time you catch your child lying, as I’m sure you sometime will, take a moment first to talk gently to your child about what happened. What was your child thinking, what was she feeling, and what did she think was going to happen? You may still need to give a consequence for the lying, but both you and your child will be closer for having taken the time to communicate and to understand the motivation behind the act of lying
Download the pdf When Children Lie understanding the motivation is key as originally published in Tidewater Family, February 2014
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Working with Schools
determining if extra help is needed
It’s January and the school year is almost halfway over. For many students, it is now time to re-energize for the push to the end of the year. In some families, parents may have growing concerns about their children’s progress. Teachers who worried about a student’s performance before the holidays may have been hoping that things will be back on track in the new year. If you are concerned about your child, do not wait too long to take action. The end of the school year will be coming up, and this is the time of the year to see what will help.
Difficulties in school could involve specific problems with reading, writing, or mathematics. Sometimes academics seem okay, but the child is having trouble with organization, focusing, completing work, and/or behavior. There are other concerns a parent might have, such as how their children get along with others or maybe difficulties with speech and language. Whatever your concern, you should know that the school is responsible for your child in all areas of their functioning. You should expect that the school wants to help. In fact, the school is required by law to seek out children who may need help.
If your child has been struggling in school, you probably have already had a number of conversations with the teacher. If your child is struggling at this time of the year, the next step to take is to request a meeting with the school that includes the teacher and other school personnel. Sometimes the school will suggest a Student Support Team meeting. This is not a “formal” meeting in the sense that the school is bound by any educational regulations. It may be a good first step. though, if at the meeting the school agrees to try some specific interventions to help. The interventions should be ones that are implemented at school, rather than “ideas” for you to try at home. Be sure to schedule a follow-up meeting in three to four weeks’ time to review the results of the interventions. If your child is doing well at that time, thank the school and encourage them to keep up the good work.
If you still do not believe your child is doing well, then it is time to seek a comprehensive evaluation through a more formal path. The formal path begins with a request for a meeting to consider your child for special educational services. This is usually called a Child Study Team meeting. Do not be concerned that you are committing yourself to placing your child in special education. As a parent, you always have the right to agree or not to agree to services from the school. The request is the legal step needed to start the process of obtaining a comprehensive evaluation to consider your concerns and to determine the following: how your child is doing in the school environment, whether your child is achieving to his ability, and what factors may be interfering with your child’s progress or functioning in school. One more note: schools sometimes say that they cannot do anything if the student is making good grades; however, this is not an accurate interpretation of the educational regulations, so don’t let this stop you.
I believe that schools and teachers want the best for each student. There are times, though, when they do not understand a particular child and his or her learning needs. As a parent, you need to know that there are steps you can take to ensure your child does well. The process can be daunting and maybe even overwhelming at times, but if you educate yourself about your rights at school, you can be successful. Each school district has a Parent Resource Center, whose job is to help parents understand how to work through the system. Call them if you have questions and to request a copy of the regulations as they apply to seeking evaluations. If you feel that you are not able to make any headway with the school, you can seek the services of an educational advocate or mental health professional who is familiar with working with the schools. In any case, this is the time of year to make a difference if your child is struggling.
Download the pdf Working with Schools determining if extra help is needed as originally published in Tidewater Family, January 2014
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encouraging a positive mindset in your child
Every day our children face adversity. How they recover is often a result of their mindset. The truth is that every child wants to do well. As teachers, parents, or other adults who touch the lives of children, it is our job to help them find their islands of competence—what they do well.
I recently had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Robert Brooks at the CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) international conference. Dr. Brooks has written many books about resilience in children, and he was a wonderful, inspirational speaker.
Resilience is the capacity to recover from adversity. It is a very fundamental ability that we must always seek to de- velop in children. Everyone will have to face disappointment and adversity during life, whether it is the disappointment of not getting chosen for a lead in the school play, making it onto the school baseball team, or facing a major illness or the loss of a family member. Some individuals, too, must face the adversity of physical disabilities, learning disabilities, or emotional difficulties.
People who are resilient have a positive mindset, which includes the beliefs that we have about ourselves and that guides our behaviors and interactions with others. One can have a positive mindset or a negative mindset.
Too many children—and adults alike—have a negative mindset. They do not see themselves as capable individuals. They may think that they are not smart, or they may think no one likes them. They see themselves as ineffective and incapable—so when things get tough, they give up.
Children who are resilient have a positive mindset, and that positive mindset is the direct result of having adults in their lives who believe in them. Children come to understand that they are good from the adults around them, and, as a result, they develop a desire to learn and be successful. They can tap into their inner drive to be effective and learn to be responsible for themselves.
If your child brings home a bad grade, for example, berating him, blaming him, or lecturing him about what he should be doing differently does not teach him to be resilient. Rather, you should convey to your child that you know how much he wants to do well and that you are there to help him figure out what went wrong and how to make it better. You believe that he did his best, and you believe that he can face the challenge and learn something from it.
This is another feature of a positive mindset: to believe that mistakes are expected and accepted; that mistakes are experiences from which to learn, rather than a cause to feel humiliated. A child who experiences humiliation from adults learns to avoid challenges. However, parents who understand that making mistakes is a part of life develop their child’s positive mindset and capacity for resilience. Such children do not blame others when they are faced with a challenge; they believe that they can solve problems and make decisions. This promotes their sense of personal control, self-discipline, and ownership.
A child who knows that adults believe in her also learns that other people can be of support and help to her. Rather than thinking that she must solve problems on her own and feeling terrible when it does not work out, she is willing to seek the assistance of friends and adults. She has a good understanding of her own strengths and weaknesses, an acceptance of herself as a person, and the comfort of knowing that others are there for her when she needs help.
Finally, to develop a positive mindset and the capacity for resilience, we need to have opportunities to be contributing members of our community. We need to experience the good feelings that come with sharing and helping others and making a positive difference to others.
It is up to us to provide children an environment in which they can make a positive contribution and have the op- portunity to develop skills and not live in fear of humiliation. As parents, we should always convey to our children that we believe in them, we know how capable they are, and how important they are to us.
Download the pdf Teaching Resilience encouraging a positive mindset in your child as originally published in Tidewater Family, November 2013.
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Dealing with fear is a common issue for everyone. As children go through different periods in their cognitive, emotional, and social development, they may experience new or different anxieties and fears. For children ages 8-10, a common fear is going to different parts of the house by themselves at night. This seems to have become particularly prevalent in some of the children I see, especially as we move toward winter and days become shorter.
The sudden anxiety and need to have someone accompany your child as she moves around the house can cause stress in the family—especially if you’ve spent a long day at work or are in the middle of cooking dinner or helping a sibling with homework.
It is important to keep in mind that fears are a natural part of your child’s development. It is a way of practicing to be an adult. Your job as a parent is to provide an understanding ear as you help your child figure out how to deal with her fears while conveying your confidence in her ability to be successful. You can help your child learn and practice coping skills, lessons that lasts a lifetime.
Telling your child not to be afraid or giving a logical explanation why she is wrong to be afraid could make the feeling worse. Not only will she still be afraid, but now she is disappointing you, too. She may become even more upset, trying to convince you that there really is something to be afraid of. There is no benefit to reasoning with a distraught child. When emotion takes over, logic goes out the door. Do whatever you need to do to calm your child—even if it means walking with her down the long, dark hall.
We want to teach our children that they can manage their anxiety by moving through it, by learning ways to stay calm and dealing with their fear. The best time to start a conversation with your child about her fears is when she is calm. Convey to her that you understand her fear. You can share stories from your life about when you have been afraid and have overcome it. Explain that it is natural to experience anxiety. Convey your faith in her: that you know in the future, maybe not now, but soon, she will get past this fear. Tell her that anxiety comes and goes, and it is not something that will harm her. Let your child know how much stronger she will be when she learns to manage her anxiety.
Here are a few ideas that can help your child through her fears:
• Take her anxiety seriously and help your child think through her fear. You might ask your child to draw what it is that she is afraid of because seeing it on paper can make it easier to talk about.
• Ask your child to answer these questions: “What am I worried about? Why does it worry me? What if it happens? What will I do if it does happen?” This will help your child realize that what she is afraid of is more a product of her mind and, in reality, not likely to be really true. Nothing has happened to her in the past when she has gone to this part of the house, and the likelihood of something happening to her now is quite low. And if something were to happen, you can help her make a plan to handle it.
• Teach your child some self-calming techniques for when she does face anxiety- provoking situations and practice them together. For example, she can take five deep breaths, sing a happy song, focus on what she needs to do, or repeat to herself that she knows she is OK. Let her know that even while doing these things, she may be anxious again in the future. But the next time she has this or any other fear, she has tools to help her get through it.
With practice using these kinds of techniques, your child will find that dealing with her fears becomes easier and easier. She will be more apt to do the things she wants to do and her self confidence and self esteem will become stronger.
Download the original article that appeared in Tidewater Family, November 2013 Fighting Fears growing self esteem
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Listen to Attention Talk Radio March 20 8 pm – I’m the featured guest!
I’ll be talking about three common approaches used to address behavior from a clinical perspective. It includes conventional behavior management, positive behavioral intervention and support, and collective problem solving. We’ll also talk about coaching approaches to behavior management and brain stimulation from a coaching perspective by focusing on what stimulates the brain as a means to unlock the keys to motivational success. If you are looking for information on motivation, behavioral change, and different ways to address these issues, don’t miss this insightful program.
Attention Talk Radio is the leading site for self-help Internet radio shows focusing on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD), including managing symptoms of attention deficit disorder, adults with ADD, or adults who have children with ADHD. Attention Talk Radio, hosted by attention coach Jeff Copper, is designed to help adults and children (particularly those diagnosed with or impacted by attention deficit disorder or its symptoms) in life or business who are stuck, overwhelmed, or frustrated. It will help adults and children get unstuck and moving forward by helping to open their minds and pay attention to what works.
I am the featured expert this week at ImpactADHD.com, read my tips about getting kids to pick up their stuff. Post any questions you have on their website and I’ll be sure to answer.
Impact ADHD is a great resource for parents of kids with ADHD —–> http://impactadhd.com/resources/hall-of-experts/