Re-Cornered

Upsidedown house SmadarHalperinEpshtein

Photo: Smadar Halperin-Epshtein

 

I love this photo of an upside down house in Europe for its genius and exactness, but also for how it challenges our orientation and leads almost everyone to tilt their head ‘to see it better.’ Are the corners of the ‘roof’ still peaks of gables, or do they now make the bottoms of “V”s? If you look out from these windows, will the world itself be upended? How do we define up from down, right from wrong, vision from illusion? How cemented are our views about what is and what could be? Are we willing to paint ourselves out of the corners of our mind where we’d comfortably assumed we knew all that was to know, only to realize a whole world still awaits in readiness to shake our understanding?

 

 

For The Photo Challenge

Be An Apprentice

feather

Be an apprentice

In your own life.

We are all beginners.

Novices

Of our own path.

Training

To decipher

The evolving codes

Of heart

And mind.

Students of

A universe

Where the glitter

Of conflict

Blinds the rookie

From seeing

The reality

Of

Love.

 

 

For The Daily Post

New Beginning: Habit & Opportunity

opportunity

“He still won’t read.”

The mother’s voice held disappointment and frustration. Her son struggles in school and was required by teachers to read every day over the summer, but hadn’t.

“I did read!” he protested, pouted. Hurt. “I read two whole books!”

“Only because we made you read!” She retorted and turned to me. “Every day is a new excuse. He’s too tired, the book is boring, it’s too hard, he’ll read later, he hates reading, it is stupid … He’ll do anything to avoid it.”

He stomped to the chair. Sat dejectedly. I patted his arm. “I’m glad you read two whole books,” I said. “Which ones?”

He brightened. Threw a “you see?!” look at his mom, and told me. We discussed what he liked about the stories, what he didn’t. What was hard, what wasn’t. We then went over a list of possible titles to follow.

I scheduled a time to speak with the mom. Her frustrations need venting, and she needs solutions, but we can talk about her disappointment without him needing to be present.

♦♦♦

Every child is different but the complaint is not unique. Children and parents rarely battle over things that are fun and easy. It is the stuff that’s hard, confusing, boring, tedious, or appears to be of import to one side but feels less so to the other … where lines get drawn in the sand and stubborn frustration ensues.

Parents cajole. They threaten. They withhold privileges. They might use shame as ‘motivator’ by characterizing the child as lazy or ungrateful, oppositional, immature …

Not surprisingly, these tactics rarely work to ‘motivate’ learning. Nor do they solve whatever problem underlies a child’s reluctance to read: difficulty decoding, difficulty comprehending, delays in language and learning, issues with processing and retrieval, attention issues, stress and overwhelm …

A new school year is seen as opportunity for new ways of learning, new progress, new habits. Parents expect their children to enter school with gusto after a summer’s break and to give it their all. They often expect improvement of whatever issues may have been present the year prior. They verbally and otherwise communicate their expectation that the child prove himself or herself as mature and hardworking, and overcome whatever habits held them back.

A new grade and new beginning indeed offers much new opportunity for doing things differently. However, for that to happen we cannot fall back on failed methods or less-than-helpful habits. If children knew to do better on their own, they would do so already. No child wants to fail. No child enjoys the negative attention of reproach if they can get the positive attention of pride and praise.

♦♦♦

“So what am I supposed to do?” the mother asked when we met. Exasperated.

“You did the best you could last year, and this year we’ll have to work together to do better,” I replied.

She was taken aback. She didn’t expect me to include her in the assessment of last year’s difficulties …

I did not mean blame, but I did mean accountability. Parents often do the best they know, but they are often overextended themselves, and some don’t quite follow through. They may want to follow suggestions but only do so sporadically, or expect the child to take full responsibility for remembering new tasks that they themselves forget … then feel pressed to blame or require … They may get discouraged at the first sign of difficulty (not unlike the child, maybe …) and not continue to work toward new habits when the implementation hits a bump or scheduling needs to be adjusted. They may balk at taking on more responsibility in a life that may already feel too stressful (again, not unlike the child…).

Parents deserve guidance. Shame does not work any better on adults than it does on children … Parents can use encouragement, not blame. Many can benefit from reminders and a pathway to setting new habits. It is not a weakness or poor parenting to make errors or get frustrated or not follow through. People aren’t perfect. We all need help in some areas.

♦♦♦

For this boy, now in mid-grades, and often argumentative and quite fed up with “everything being too difficult”–new habits will (hopefully) include less fighting and more working together, less demand and more playfulness, less critic and more problem solving, less rigidity and more predictability, less shaming and more understanding.

Practically speaking?

  • Setting a weekly schedule where one of the parents reads TO him every night or almost every night (on the benefits of reading check: How early? For how long? ).
  • Separating the child’s own reading for decoding and school, from the parents reading TO him for literary exposure and pleasure.
  • Taking care to not make a parent’s reading time an opportunity for ‘testing’ vocabulary or memory about the story (talking about the story is fabulous, quizzing is not).
  • For books mandatory for school (but too difficult for the child’s reading level), using audio books as accompaniment to printed/electronic book. This helps the child follow the written word and assist him with decoding and comprehension.
  • Placing reminders for reading-time and having a timer he can set to ensure he is reading long enough and can do this independently.
  • Scheduling daily reading (for school and book logs) at a time that is realistic, rather than opportunistic.
  • Providing assistance with homework and/or test preparation, so that the child is not left to manage what is too difficult on his own, and ends up too stressed and exhausted to optimally process information.
  • Incorporating narrative into the day to day and offering modeling of narrative instead of requiring the child to constantly answer questions.
  • Offering a model for making time for reading. Adults who read are more likely to have children who enjoy reading.
  • Setting the child up for success, not failure: rather than focusing on a day he didn’t read or what he isn’t doing well yet, offer praise when he does do his reading without arguing; remind the child what worked before and what he can try to do again; offer solutions, not reprimand.

♦♦♦

In this new school year, what old and less than desirable habits can your child replace with brand new opportunity?

What steps can you take to help?

If you need help to formulate a plan–it is okay to ask for it. That, too, is an opportunity.

reading-extinction-buzzfeed

from Buzzfeed.com

 

 

“Communicating Trauma” on the Virtual Book Club!

I am so very excited to have my award winning book offered on the ISSTD Virtual Book Club for eight weeks, starting April 25 (what a pretty flyer, too!! Thank you Mary Pat!)

Working with children?

Working with adults who used to be children? …

Come and join us!

Yehuda Spring 2016 Vitual Book Club

Find the Unexpected

Today, find something unexpected. Learn a fact you did not know. Claim a new piece of knowledge or practice a new skill. Watch an animal you’ve never seen before. Read a bit of trivia that surprises, gives a chuckle, raises eyebrows, tickles curiosity for more.

Today, practice the experience of wonder.

Today, remember what it was–can be like, often is–to be a child.

Rosy Maple Moth

Rosy Maple Moth

 

Bargibanti Pygmy Seahorse

Bargibanti Pygmy Seahorse

 

T-Rex Trivia

T-Rex Trivia

Hippo Trivia

Hippo Trivia

 

 

 

 

Finding the Ability in Disability

This is a wonderful talk. Inspiring, and well worth the time. Rachel Kolb does a brave, important thing in this talk. Watch it, and let your children watch it, too. Tell your colleagues. If you are a teacher–it is a must. If you work with children–watch it. You will be happy that you had.

Navigating deafness in a hearing world

It is a talk about deafness, but it is not only about deafness. It is about abilities and what we can do and what we worry we cannot and how this in of itself can limit us. It is also about the realities of difference and the many challenges that children (and families) face. It is about the barriers for communication and interaction and how they manifest throughout the domain. It is about the scope of issues that cascade from deafness (and can from other disabilities, as well).

It is about a lot of what still needs to change, and can. In 90% of families of deaf children born to hearing parents, the parents do not learn to communicate effectively (i.e. sign) with their child. Deaf children born to hearing parents are less likely to develop fluent writing skills than those born to deaf parents. It is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding. Where communication suffers, attachment suffers, and abilities suffer. Communication MATTERS.

“Never put limitations on that child,” the Speech Therapist of a then 18 months old Rachel Kolb told her mother. I like that clinician without ever having met her! Because she was right, and because she said Truth: we never do know how far a child would go, and we must give them the tools and support to get there. Not every child will reach the same goals, but we owe it to them to not impose our own limited view onto them.

As for that Speech Therapist–Oh Boy, was she right about Rachel Kolb! This young woman soars! She chooses how to use the abilities she does have, and she uses them spectacularly. This is one wonderfully unlimited woman! You’d be happy to have made the time to listen.

Listen to this talk. It may reassure you that you are on the right path if you are struggling or helping someone else who is. It may help you truly realize how not all differences in perceived ability mean differences in actual ability. It may improve your understanding of the challenges that hearing impaired persons face, and through them, the realities of other limitations. It may help your children understand the difference between accommodating and ‘indulging’, and how someone’s need for help does not mean they cannot think for themselves or should be seen as lesser than.

It is an amazing talk. Instructive, intelligent, impressive.

It WILL inspire you.

For those wondering: eighteen years of Speech Therapy is a long time. It is also not that unusual for people with severe and profound hearing loss to require that amount of time in therapy. This is not because they are slow to learn, but the act of communication is multifaceted and complex and what we take for granted is difficult to do with much reduced and distorted sound. Hearing impaired persons need help not just learn to speak and improve the clarity of their speaking, but also to speech-read (understand what a person is saying from the movement of their lips and face), to discriminate close-sounding words, to learn to rely on context, to identify new words and learn the difference between how they are written and how they are said (and heard/speech-read). They need to keep up with the realities of underlying information in language (e.g. expressions, ambiguous language, discrimination between words that sound the same to them). They work hard in Speech Therapy and they can do exceedingly well, if given the chance.

Rachel Kolb is deaf. But she is not limited. She’s been given the chance and she’s grabbed hold with two hands and then some. There were those she met in who were limited, however. Not deaf, but limited in their vision and understanding. Like the riding instructor who told her that she would never learn to ride. Or others who judge her for her voice without listening to what she has to say. It is them who have a sort of deafness, I suppose. It is them who were limiting, and in that they were limited.

Lets us not be limited. Let children grow limitless in their ability to work hard, master skills, and achieve the best they can do, not the best we think they should be able to.

Find the ability, and the sky is the limit.

Be a Light

be a light

“Can people be like light?” The question comes from a bright-eyed five-year-old (who in my view lights the room wherever she goes …).

“What do you think?” (my almost standard response to children’s questions–lets me know what they already have in mind …)

“I don’t know,” frown, scowl, “that’s why I’m asking YOU!”

(Oops, strategy backfired. Okay, I guess I deserved that)

“Why are you asking?” I am treading carefully here, asking again in a different way, but I am really interested in knowing what the question is about.

“My Nana told me I’m her light,” the girl’s young forehead creases in concentration. “She said, ‘you the light of my life!'”

“Aw … it’s a great expression! And a very sweet thing for her to say. I can totally see why.” Children of her age group often begin to notice that there are some things people say that do not quite make sense: the words don’t add up, and they realize that there has to be another meaning, something else that’s being conveyed by the words but is not the words themselves (e.g. “she has a sharp tongue” or “he has no heart” or “raining cats and dogs” …). Sometimes they can infer the meaning, sometimes they are lost or have some sense they are not sure about. I love it when they ask. “What do you think she meant?”

Girl shoots me a “there she goes again with her Speech Pathologist questions again” look, but she relents. She’s patient with me. “That she loves me?”

“Yep … and what else do you think it can mean that you are the light of her life?” I wait.

Eyebrows up, lips scrunched in thought, “… and … that she’s really happy to have me or happy to see me maybe?”

“Yes! Both. Very much so. Also that you are important to her, and that you bring her joy, and that you make her feel better by simply being you. All of that.”

The child smiles. Beams, more like.

We go on with the session. Suddenly she stops again and asks (it is very often that things percolate a while before another level of query bubbles up to the surface): “Can someone be a light for other people?”

“Do you mean for more than one person?” I want to make sure I understand.

A nod.

“Absolutely. I think you can be a light in many people’s lives.”

Pause, thought, creased forehead. Smile. “Oh, like, if you turn the light on then it is light for everyone?”

My turn to nod. My turn to smile. Super smart cookie, that one.

“Cool!” Eyes wide.  Now that she’s got it, she runs with it. “I wish … I wish I could be a light for every every EVERY ONE in the whole wide world!  A big light that goes all over around! You think I can?”

She may not know it, but I think she already is one …

 

Make Rain, Not Thunder

rainnotthunder

“ENOUGH!”

How many times have you heard this spoken loudly (word interchangeable, same intention) from a fed-up parent, caregiver or teacher to a child? How many times have you yourself said this or something similar in anger, to a child?

Frustration happens when dealing with little ones with strong opinionated minds and limited awareness for time, urgency, consequences or your priorities; it is inevitable. Children can be persistent, stubborn, wild, loud, aggravating, aggressive, irritating, exhausting. Caregivers get fed up, tired, annoyed, irritated, overwrought. They can have bad days with too much to do, too little sleep, too many children to care for, too many demands with too few hands to do them with, too many worries. Crises, emergencies, a clogged sink, a car that would not start, yet another ‘accident’ right after cleaning is finally done … Children, especially young ones, rarely know to take adult burdens and juggling into account. On the contrary, it is as though they are uncannily aware of any lag or energy slump … and if anything, are more likely to be needy, clingy, whiny, and doubly argumentative exactly when you have the least time or energy to spread around … (FYI, it is mostly not done to drive you nuts, but because children may need to reassure themselves even more when you are stressed, that you are there for them: a difficult cycle, when you have to be extra-patient when there is least patience to be found …).

Parents and caregivers are human. They make errors. They get upset. They may raise their voice, match their child one to one in volume, heel-digging, and demand. It happens, and as long as it does not happen too often, it can be repaired with comfort and apology, time to reconnect, some soothing, an opportunity to explain and understand.

In general, however, children listen better when the volume is set lower. Calm allows the brain to form connections that make meaning, while anxiety and overwhelm awaken circuits of survival while shutting higher learning down. Experienced teachers will tell you that they keep their voice low to keep the children listening: it may seem paradoxical, but in effect it works like a charm. Gentle speaking allows the intonation and cadence of your thoughts to pass through better. It allows the listener to let it in without alarm. It differentiates emotions and helps regulate a child’s understanding of nuance and intention.

A raised voice is a good tool for calling an alarm, to keep the child away from danger, to make clear what should not be done to prevent harm. For instruction, though, the raised voice spins way off the target, and misses by a long shot: the meaning of the words you wanted to convey gets lost in the tone and loudness of the sound.

We cannot force flowers to grow faster by pulling on the stalks, nor would it help if we stalked constantly, demanding them to hasten. We cannot make a plant drink more by spewing a stronger stream of water–it will only exposes roots and hit raw nerves. With children, too, we cannot force growth by raising our voice or hardening our words. We’d get a reaction, maybe, but not learning, and we’d shut down tendrils of potential besides.

“Raise your words, not your voice” Rumi said. Yes. Whenever possible, use good words, taken from and guided by the better part of yourself or the best part of yourself that you can find at that moment. Explain more, demand less: “it is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

Children, too, grow best in gentle sprinkles, rather than thunderstorms.

How do you teach integrity?

integrity

We all want the children in our lives to have integrity and a moral compass. We want them to not only know right from wrong, but to apply it. We wish for them to have empathy toward others and to choose the better path not just to avoid punishment, but because it is the right thing to do.

That’s all well and good, but how do you teach integrity? How is it related to empathy and is it even something that is learned, or something one has to be born with? Something some of us ‘have’ and others ‘not’?

Though individual sensitivity and empathy-capacity varies, and some children are born with more empathy-capacity than others, empathy is still something almost all children can learn and have develop. Children vary in the age they begin to show clear empathy, but babies and young children are naturally self-centered and egoistical. It is normal for them to view others’ feelings through their own and to judge situations according to whether they’d get a reward or keep from getting punished, rather than the inherent morality. Fairness may be easier to detect, but true morality is learned, as is the reasons for it.

A child may not eat another’s cookie not because they persuade themselves they do not want it, but because the praise for not doing so may be worth more, or the disappointment of another in them if they not abstain may feel worse than the immediate gratification of eating the cookie. Children learn to share–maybe at first not so much because they truly want to share, but because of the positive feedback and praise that they get when they do so. With good modeling and opportunities, they can be taught how others may have feelings just like their own, and that other people’s feelings matter, too (e.g. if someone ate their candy, they’d be sad, so they can understand how if they took another’s treat the other child may feel sad about it). While some toddlers show well developed empathy, oftentimes it is through the preschool and then kindergarten years, that children learn to appreciate another persons’ pain, and to understand that another person may hold a different opinion or agenda and to accept that as okay. They learn to follow rules (all the better when rules are clear, consistent, and kind), and they practice enforcing rules in their peer and imaginary play.

How do they learn that? Well, empathy and integrity are best taught through empathy and integrity. It may sound simplistic, but there are all too many examples of attempts to teach integrity through fear of punishment (“If you take candy without paying, the police will take you to jail”), or empathy through guilt-inducing and shame (“look what you did–now she’s crying! I told you to not take her teddy bear from her!”) Fear can certainly be a deterrent, but fear is not integrity, nor is guilt the same as empathy.

Teach empathy through modeling your own. Children who have sensitive caregivers who show them care, who reflect their feelings back to them, and help them put experiences into words, are more likely to develop empathy themselves and to do so sooner. Be kind, demonstrate sympathy and empathy toward others–let your child see how you help a neighbor, or feed a stray, or hold a door for someone whose arms are full. Explain to your children about disabilities and differences, and make sure that you do not display disgust or ambivalence about the same. Apologize if you hurt someone–the child, too–even if by mistake, and acknowledge the feelings that your error caused and the need (and possibility) for repair. Be respectful of others’ feelings. Be kind.

Similarly, children whose parents and caregivers live by the same rules that they demand, learn integrity as a cohesive, non-confusing concept. Confusing rules result in confused and inconsistent learning. It is rather simple (if not easy): If you don’t want your child to lie, don’t tell them to answer the phone call you don’t want to take and say “Mommy’s not home,” or “Mommy is in the shower” (when you are not). If you don’t want your child to steal, don’t bring home pens from the office … If you don’t want them to cheat, don’t justify not following the rules at other times (lying about a child’s age to get out of fare or parking at a handicap space also counts …). Don’t promise what you do not intend to keep or just to get peace and quiet for the moment (“If you give your toy to your baby sister I will buy you a toy tomorrow”). Promises that are not kept, teach a child that words are empty and that it is okay to use untruth to defer discomfort. Be honest. Even when it is difficult. ‘fess up if you lied and explain how it happened and why you’d work hard to not have it happen again. You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be a good enough role model … and to have the same patience with your child if they miss a step. Be curious rather than accusatory: a child who said an untruth to escape punishment is not “a liar”–though they may have lied. Don’t label, and let them explain what they feared would happen if they did tell the truth. You may find out something you need to learn, too: are your consequences fair? Would you have indeed flown off the handle or blamed them anyway?

Integrity begins with you. As does empathy. That includes empathy for yourself, as well. Be kind to yourself, let your child see a gentle way of relating to oneself as well as toward others. Be aware of phrases such as “I’m so fat” or “I’m such a loser” or “UGH, I’m such a moron!”–they get copied, they get internalized. Also, not only are you giving a less than kind model, but you are also bad mouthing your child’s parent … it is their mom or dad you are talking about …

Give children consistent fair rules, a good model, kind reflection, sensitive explanation, and they will learn that it feels good to be kind, and feels good to make a choice that is the right one. Even little ones can.

“I saw something amazing” a mom of a kid I work with called to tell me. “I gave Dave (age 5) a treat that he earned for cleaning up his room all week without whining, and he went to play outside on the deck. It is a two-family home and the neighbors’ children often come down to play, too. Tommy,  the neighbor’s kid, came downstairs to play. I saw Dave look at Tommy, then at his fruit-roll-up. He didn’t see me, but you could see his little brain working–clearly Tommy would want some … Dave then pulled out the whole roll-up, tore it in two, and gave half to Tommy. It was so sweet, I wanted to run out and hug him, but I also didn’t want to interfere–he was being kind because he chose to, and that was his moment, not mine. I am so proud!”

So was I.