5 Tips to Improve Communication with Your Child’s Teacher

It’s that time of year when parents are wondering how their child is doing at school and teachers are working hard getting to know the children in their class.

Getting communication between home and school off to a good start is an important step to ensure that parents and teachers are working together on behalf of the child. Here are some tips for parents on how you can support positive communication with your child’s teacher.

  1. Ask the teacher what method of communication is preferred and then use it. Some teachers prefer emails while others are using texting apps or web-based programs that organize classroom information and messages. Be sure to clarify what method your child’s teacher prefers and then learn how to use that method effectively. Ask for instructions from the teacher or school office if necessary. If your child has potential emergency situations (for example, allergic reactions) make sure that school staff, you, and other involved adults are clear on what method will be used in case of such an emergency. Setting systems up from the beginning reduces stress later.
  2. Frame communication in a positive manner. Use positive language that focuses on the child’s needs instead of language that demands responses from the teacher. No one appreciates being scolded or told how to perform their job. Making requests for accommodations, follow through, or problem solving can be first presented by stating what you notice your child is struggling with and offering ideas of how this has been addressed successfully in the past. Remember that parents and teachers are part of the same team for the child. The goal is to have a cooperative relationship, not an adversarial one.
  3. Teachers don’t know how involved you want to be unless you tell them. If you want the teacher to initiate communication about specific aspects of your child’s behavior, be sure to provide that information specifically. For example, if you are working on organizational skills at home and want to know each time your child fails to turn in an assignment, clearly (and politely!) make that request of the teacher. In some instances, a teacher doesn’t communicate an issue with parents because they simply aren’t aware that the parent wants to know. Some parents are more involved than others.
  4. Triage your communication. Every piece of information is not as critical as the next. Take some time to think about how critical your communication is before you hit “send” on the next email or text. Re-read your message and be sure that you have communicated in an objective and positive manner, not reacting emotionally or hastily in the heat of a moment. Be respectful of the teacher’s time and be professional in your communication – modeling what you would like to receive from the teacher.
  5. Let the teacher know YOU are an active team member for your child’s success. Finish conversations with the teacher by asking “What can I do as the parent in this situation?” or “Is there anything I can do at home to help this situation?”

Communication around a child’s needs can get heated and emotional, and understandably so. It’s important that we all stay objective and focused on what matters most – solving problems and supporting our children’s success. Starting off on the right foot will ensure you, your child and your teacher all have the best shot at a successful school year.

When Is Clinic Based Treatment Appropriate?

I’ve talked about the difference between school based and clinic based therapies before. While many children qualify for and receive school based therapy, some children benefit from therapy that is beyond the scope of what is provided in the school setting. As a parent, it can be confusing as to whether a child should get school therapy, clinic therapy, or both.

While school therapy is a vital part of a comprehensive program for supporting participation in the academic setting, school based therapy does not (and should not) address all the needs for every child. The addition of speech, occupational, and physical therapy into a child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is dependent on whether there is a specific need related to impairments that are impacting the child’s ability to participate and benefit from the educational setting.

These services will be provided within the context of school and from a practice model using an educational frame of reference.  Clinic based services are appropriate when the child’s needs go beyond the limits of school performance and impact the child’s participation in home and community settings.

Parents pursue clinic based services for a variety of reasons:

  • The child’s developmental issues impact all aspects of life, beyond school participation
  • The child has specific medical concerns that benefit from a medical frame of reference
  • The parent notices the child is struggling at school but is not eligible for school related services
  • The child is attending a private school and does not access public school services for therapies
  • The child is homeschooled and parent doesn’t want to involve the public school system
  • The child is under the age of 5, not enrolled in kindergarten, and/or not eligible for an early childhood program through the public school system
  • The parent is seeking help with family based issues such as family routines, expectations, or relationships
  • The child is successful at school but struggling with participation at home or in the community
  • The parent is seeking a second opinion for collaboration or advocacy within the school setting
  • The child would benefit from specific groups or task-focused activities outside of the school setting

Clinic based therapists are able to address the whole child within the context of family, home, and community without the limitations of law imposed on school based therapists. While a clinic evaluation can be helpful in advocating for school related services, clinic therapists cannot make recommendations specific to a school setting without being actively involved in that setting (ie: observations in the classroom, participation in planning meetings).

Nevertheless, clinic based services can provide insight to a child’s needs through a different lens, providing assistance to all those who are invested a child’s success. If you’d like to learn more about the services STEPS can offer in our clinic-based environment, get it touch today.

Avoid the Struggles and Navigate Homework Successfully

Getting back into the school routine means back into the routine of getting homework done. For some of us, it means back into struggles, fights, and meltdowns.

Here are some ways to help reduce the stress and make getting homework done more successfully.

  1. Make it part of a routine. If you don’t already have an after school and school night routine, now is the time to put one in place. All of us benefit from structure to our lives and kids do especially well when they know exactly what to expect. Some of our kids not only benefit from but really NEED that routine to function well. When you create your routine, keep these points in mind:
    • Be realistic with your expectations
    • Fit your own needs (and those of the whole family) into the routine
    • Involve your child in planning the routine when appropriate
    • Build in breaks for your child
    • Use visuals to support the routine (visual timers and/or picture schedules, written checklists)
  2. Think outside the box. Homework doesn’t have to be done at the dining room table. Consider your child’s needs and preferences to choose a place or a variety of places to do homework. Offer a variety of seating options (chair, couch, floor, beanbag chair, swing, or ball-chair) that meet your child’s needs.
    • Even better, put some play in the homework routine! Practice math facts while jumping on the trampoline, run an obstacle course writing spelling words at different stops, or do a treasure hunt to find definitions for vocabulary practice.
  3. Focus on what your child really needs to learn. If your child is struggling with task focus, make sure that you are accommodating and teaching how to extend focus. If you are trying to build independence and self-direction in learning, use checklists for your child to refer to. If your child is easily frustrated with mistakes, take the time to teach resilience and persistence. Sometimes completing the homework isn’t as important as the skills gained from the effort of trying.

If your child balks at doing homework and you find yourself engaged in power struggles most evenings, ask yourself “What does my child need to succeed?” Providing your child with the right support makes all the difference.

What’s more, understanding your child’s needs and responding in kind will help you structure homework so it is the “just right challenge” that motivates your child while challenging just enough to be successful without the frustration.

Building Relationships and Cooperation in the Classroom

One of the biggest concerns I hear from parents and teachers alike is non-compliance in the classroom. Children can get angry and frustrated, avoiding specific tasks or all tasks as a result. Teachers are understandably confused and overwhelmed, unsure of how to motivate a child to learn or gain their participation in the classroom.

Over the years, I’ve helped problem-solve more of these types of situations than I can count, and I’ve found that much can be improved with some approachable and thoughtful changes.  When teacher make an effort to modify their interactions to be more empathic while adopting the perspective of “children do well if they can” (Ross Greene, PhD), the situation typically begins to resolve itself.

To focus on teaching skills while making children feel accepted, try some of these easy-to-implement strategies in your classroom:

  1. Establish your classroom as a safe and welcoming space. Greet students when they enter, thank them for coming to school and for learning with you, wish them well when they leave for the day. Make every student feel like they are wanted and belong in your classroom.
  2. Create a community in your classroom. Have the students be part of identifying the rules and expectations for behaviors. Post “class values” where all can see and remind students regularly of those values. Point out when students behave in ways that demonstrate those positive values. Encourage students to support fellow students, support the classroom as a whole, and support you as a teacher.
  3. Remember that children do well if they can, not if they want to. Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child, emphasizes that children who are not successful fail because of a “lagging skill,” and it is up to us to determine what skill needs to be taught in order to right the ship. Simply changing your mindset to start asking “what skill does this child need to succeed?” will help you interact in a more empathic way.
  4. Focus on teaching a skill when you respond to a child. The child in your classroom who is always interrupting needs to learn the skill of waiting. Responding to an interruption with a punishment or “you need to wait your turn” in a frustrated tone does nothing to teach the skill. Responding with “I see you have something important to say but it is Sarah’s turn right now. When Sarah is done, you can raise your hand for your turn” is more likely to help the child understand waiting and turn taking.
  5. Seek to soothe a child and help with self-regulation BEFORE you address the non-compliance with a task. Failure to shift direction and address an emotional outburst will only lead to a power struggle and increased emotional reactivity. For more emotionally intense children, have a plan in place to respond to outbursts. Better still, learn how to read the child’s signals that an escalation is likely and respond proactively by adjusting the task or offering calming activities.

As an OT, my role is to support students and teachers so that they can fulfill their occupational roles, having success in their activities in the school environment. Helping teachers to understand the individual needs of each student is a vital part of that role.

It’s always a challenge to find ways to implement changes that support every student while not overwhelming the teacher with demands. I hope that these tips inspire you to think about your daily interactions with all your students. If you are interested in learning more, I suggest these resources:

  • Lives in The Balance  – Ross Greene, PhD’s website full of resources and readings.
  • Bloom Your Room – a site from Lynne Kenney, PsyD specifically focused on classroom success.
  • How To Talk So Kids Can Learn at Home and in School by Faber and Mazlish – a must-read for every teacher and parent struggling with children who want to succeed if they can.
  • And of course, STEPS for Kids offers workshops and consultation services to support students. Contact us today for more information.

Strategies to Help Calm an Anxious Child

Helping Anxious Kids

According to the Child Mind Institute, anxiety is the most common emotional problem in children. It can manifest as common fears of the dark, separation issues, problems with social interaction, or persistent worries that interrupt daily activities and sleep.

While some anxious kids are cautious and shy, others have tantrums and emotional meltdowns. Some children withdraw while others develop elaborate rituals to help them feel in control of the world of around them. Anxiety can be an underlying factor in symptoms of sensory processing disorder, with children developing anxiety related to aversive sensory experiences.

Conversely, anxiety can trigger increased symptoms of sensory processing issues, such as intense sensitivity to tactile or auditory input in the presence of anxiety related to school attendance, test taking, social activities or other stressors. Understanding that anxiety may be influencing a child’s behavior is the first step toward finding resolution for a challenging behavior.

Addressing anxiety is often the key to helping children feel secure and confident so they can successfully navigate participation in everyday activities. At STEPS for Kids we recognize how even a little anxiety can have a big impact. Providing the right support and a caring environment can make all the difference in reducing a child’s anxiety.

Quick Strategies to Help Calm an Anxious Child

There are many ways to help a child relax when feeling nervous. Here are some of our favorites that we recommend to parents.

  • Redirect with cognitive tasks or humor: Ask the child to perform a cognitive task like naming animals, doing simple math, or telling jokes
  • Redirect with a task: ask the child for help with a simple chore or activity, involve them in physical activity like jogging in place or doing an obstacle course
  • Breath Activities: Belly breathing with cues like “Smell the flower, blow out the candle” or Breathe a Star by breathing in then out as you follow the outline of a star with your finger for five full breaths
  • Provide hugs, comfort, and a calming space depending on the child’s individual preference
  • Offer empathy by recognizing the feelings and expressing understanding without judging or criticizing the child’s emotional state

Reduce Anxiety and Avoid the Meltdown

Our goal is always to help children learn the skills they need to reduce anxiety through improved task performance, increased self-awareness, and independence in self-advocacy. We help parents to understand their child’s perspective and to practice empathy for their child’s experiences and needs. By focusing on skills, we recognize that all children are capable of new learning that reduces or eliminate meltdowns.

Teaching proactively is more effective than punishments for “bad behavior” that many parents use in an attempt to manage meltdowns. Keep in mind that children in the midst of a meltdown at the peak of the anxiety curve – no learning occurs due to the intensity of the emotional experience. Teaching when the child is calm is the most effective way to influence behaviors.

To learn more about anxiety in children and for more ideas for calming, read this post or contact us today for more information.

 

Anxious Kids

Helping your Child with Anxiety

Does your child get worked up easily? Does she stay awake worrying about things that may or may not happen? Does he stress over everyday interactions? It can be difficult to see your child struggle in this way, but there are a wealth of resources available to help you help them cope.

Here are a few of my favorite blogs, articles and references with great ideas and tools for helping your child through their most anxious moments:

I love the website gozen.com for a great introduction to anxiety in children, and I always recommend it in my course. It’s a great resource for parents and professionals, an entire program to help with anxiety and OCD in kids. Here is a great post GoZen shared on Huffington Post.

I really like this page at Coping Skills for Kids. There are so many good ideas for calming strategies!

This site at The Chaos and the Clutter is very helpful – an anti-anxiety kit for kids, and they even explain how bet to use it.

Click on “Youth” at this site from AnxietyBC for pages created just for your kids; I encourage you to review their pages directly with your child, too.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth understanding of the anxiety your child is feeling, this article from Parents is very informative.

If you’re concerned about your child’s anxiety, hopefully these resources will give you a few ideas and tools to begin to help them. For more custom input, get in touch with STEPS for Kids today.

Tantrum or Meltdown? How to tell, and what to do.

One of the most frequently asked questions we get about child behavior is whether a child is engaging in a tantrum or having a “meltdown.” Do you know the difference, or the unique response each one requires?

Most people view tantrums as behavior that a young child engages in to get what they want, to manipulate the situation, or to otherwise gain attention from adults. These are behavioral outbursts to avoid bedtime, get an extra dessert or delay finishing homework.

On the other hand, the word “meltdown” has come to refer to behavior that is characteristically out of control, highly emotional, and often prompted by external factors such as sensory information (loud sounds, overwhelming environment, etc). A child on the spectrum might experience a meltdown after hearing a loud siren or experiencing a negative texture, for example.

How we define these behaviors reflects our perspective toward these behaviors. At STEPS for Kids we emphasize an empathic approach to understanding the child and teaching the necessary skills to reduce BOTH tantrums and meltdowns.

Here are some quick tips to understanding and managing these most challenging behaviors. Download the PDF version here.

Tantrum or Meltdown How To Tell

Creative Outdoor Play – In the Community

As exciting as your own backyard can be, every now and then we need to be a bit more creative about our child’s outdoor play time. We did some digging to find the best local options for inventive ways to get outside and give your child great ways to play and grow.

Kids enjoying camp at Kendall County’s Natural Beginnings

Kendall County Forest Preserve offers a nature based preschool. Natural Beginnings Early Childhood program meets at Hoover Forest Preserve in Yorkville and serves children from 3 – 6 years of age. Over the course of nine months, children explore the world around them through various nature-based themes. Click the link to find out more about this unique program for youngsters.

Interested in connecting with animals? Therapeutic horseback riding is a great way to get your child outdoors and support developmental skills. Our community has several options available, including:

The Yorkville Park District offers a wide variety of Summer Camps for school-aged children. From Pre-K Adventures Camp, where little ones enjoy games, crafts and play along different themes each week, to fishing, tennis, soccer and more for active kids, discover local options to break up the long summer break.

If you’re not sure where to start with building play into your summer, our therapy services can help children play and explore the great outdoors! Contact STEPS today for a free evaluation and more information on our Social Skills Groups.

Help Your Child Enjoy Outdoor Play

We recently posted about how great playing outside is for your child’s development. Ideally, kids would be outside playing for three hours every day! But that can be a difficult task, especially if your child had sensory processing issues or other needs.

For some children the wind is too much to bear, or the sunlight is too bright. For some, the noise is too loud to enjoy the outdoors. Others struggle with knowing how to play, or lack social skills for positive group play.

To help these children benefit from outdoor play, try these strategies that address the various ways kids struggle:

  • Have your child wear a hat with a brim or sunglasses
  • Use noise cancelling headphones; wear earmuffs or a headband over the ears
  • Let your child choose the clothing for outdoors, including long sleeves or a jacket even when it’s warm outside. Better to be comfy and happy than fashionable!
  • Make outdoor play a part of your child’s daily routine. Prepare your child with social stories or books that talk about what to expect when outdoors.
  • Make a plan for what you will do together outdoors. Have your child help choose outdoor activities for the day.
  • Start slow, and build time gradually. It doesn’t have to be three hours all at once. Allow the time to add up over the course of the day. Even 10 minutes at a time is better than no time at all!
  • Model outdoor play by playing with your child and facilitating social interactions with other children.
  • Be available to support as needed based on your child’s skill level, while stepping back to provide your child space for practicing skills on their own.
  • Make outdoor time a time to build relationships. Have a picnic, read a book, explore your neighborhood, meet new friends. Enjoy each other as well as the outdoors!

There’s so much fun to be had outside! With a little extra attention, you and your child can create enjoyable outdoor play experiences that both support their development and make great good-weather memories.

Want to be sure your child has the skills and support they need to enjoy summer? Contact STEPS today for an evaluation, or consider joining our Social Skills Groups.

Kids benefit from 3 hours of outdoor play

Summer is here! Kids need to play hard to develop skills and grow strong physically, mentally, and emotionally. Now is the perfect time to take the play outdoors, where kids can get the movement, sensory experiences, and social interactions to support development in a positive and healthy way.

Angela Hanscom, occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook Camps, suggests that all children should be playing outside for 3 hours a day. Ms. Hanscom recently authored the book Balanced adn Barefoot, spelling out exactly how and why development benefits from this time.

She recommends that this time to play be unrestricted, with limited parental involvement (depending on the child’s age and abilities). Benefits of outdoor play include physical strengthening, motor coordination and balance, problem solving, creativity, self-regulation and emotional expression, and social interaction.

I’ve compiled some of Ms. Hanscom’s tips for how to work this outside time into your child’s day.

  • Identify the fears or concerns that cause us to limit a child’s outdoor time. Confront those fears by teaching the child the skills needed, such as how to watch for traffic, or providing tools such as walkie-talkies for communication.
  • Consider hosting other children for a half or full day, instead of just an hour or two. Children need time to develop friendships and explore play schemes!
  • Provide children with “loose parts” for play outside. Things like kitchenware, buckets, trays, boxes, or other “junkyard finds” that can be used, explored, and repurposed in play.
  • Allow for age appropriate risk taking in play, which facilitates increased self-awareness, body awareness, problem solving, and creativity in children. A scraped knee isn’t a bad thing!
  • Encourage outdoor play from a very young age. Babies and toddlers need sensory experiences like sitting on the grass, hearing a variety of sounds, and responding to visual input.
    • By the age of 8 or 9, typical children are ready to be off on their own in the neighborhood. Decrease supervision as children gain skills to foster independence and confidence.

Want to know more, or curious where your child should be in outdoor play development? Contact STEPS today for an evaluation or conversation, and consider joining our Social Skills Groups.

You can read Angela Hanscom’s book Balanced and Barefoot, too. Learn more here.