5 Tips To Advocating Successfully for Your Child in School

Navigating the school system can be a tricky process, especially if your child has a disability. It can be challenging to avoid being ‘that parent,’ who may be combative and overinvolved, or that parent who is naïve to the special education system. Very quickly the discussion can go to the question of an IEP vs. 504 Plan. What’s the difference? Each plan has its place, and they can get tricky.

Here are five tips to advocate successfully for your child when working with your school system. To ensure your child’s needs are being met, know that you are an equal participant in the decision-making team, and that there is space for your child to assert his or her academic needs.

1) Do your homework.

Be informed regarding your child’s rights. It is imperative to have the knowledge of the federal and state education laws in order to make the best and most informed decisions for your child. It is easy to get lost in the ‘lingo’ and the technical jargon, so familiarize yourself with the differences between an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) vs a 504 Plan  and the associated terms. This knowledge can inform the questions you ask. For example, “is my child receiving one-on-one time with the school psychologist or are they meeting in a small social skills group?”

IEP vs. 504 – what’s the difference?

An IEP, by definition, is a plan that details the supports and specialized instruction/special education services a school will provide to meet the needs of a child with a disability.

Children and teens with 504 Plans do not require specialized instruction, but rather specific accommodations (e.g.: seat in front of classroom, shorten assignments/work periods, allow test to be taken untimed with specified short breaks, provide fidget objects to meet sensory needs (squishy ball, putting, worry beads), provide daily/weekly progress checklist, etc.)

IEP vs. 504 – does my child need one?

If your child or teen struggles with one (or more) of the following areas, he/she may qualify for services:

  • Learning differences
  • ADHD / Difficulties with Executive Functioning Skills (organization, planning, memory, sustained attention)
  • Social / Emotional challenges (anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, social skill deficits)
  • Autism, Developmental Delays or Physical Disabilities
  • Hearing, visual, speech or language impairment
  • Gifted / High IQ

2) Prepare for your meetings.

Keep all your documents and paperwork in an organized folder, including medical records, any formalized testing or evaluations, letters or recommendations from outside professionals (e.g., therapists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, neuropsychologists). Brainstorm a list of questions and points you would like to cover in the meeting. Administrators give you a short window of time to meet (thirty minutes to one hour), so you want to ensure you leave pleased with the meeting’s discussion.

3) Your input is valuable.

Remember that you, as the parent, know your child best. Do not succumb to the pressures of the school staff to make decisions. With that being said, it is important to be open-minded and flexible in finding the best solutions. But ultimately, you know your child’s needs and if certain interventions will suit his or her needs. Object when necessary and be an involved member of the decision-making team.

4) Be assertive and address your needs for support.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and asking questions about your child’s accommodations, services, or legal facts, as they arise. You, as the parent, are entitled to call a ‘recess’ in an IEP meeting if you need something doesn’t feel right. Keep in mind that is okay to request another meeting to re-convene, if you do not feel comfortable making a decision in the heat of the moment during a meeting. Furthermore, it is permissible for parents to bring your spouse or an outside professional (child therapist, etc.) to a meeting. It is imperative to ensure that your needs are being met and you feel supported.

5) Talk to your child and normalize their disability.

Check in with your child. Inquire if the accommodations/supports are being executed and if his or her needs are being met. You can ask “was there anything that could have helped you with that [difficult situation/problem] better?”

And most importantly, provide a safe space to talk to your child about their disability. Children oftentimes internalize their challenges and do not have the language to express sadness or frustration regarding their differences. Model positive emotional expression by saying “everyone needs help with something!” Encourage your child to ask for help, bond with their team of staff, and self-advocate when you are unable to speak for them.

 

If you think your child might need additional assistance from your school system, please check out our therapists at North Shore Family Services. We work with a number of clients in this situation, and we can help.

 

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Relationship Stress: Connecting With Your Teen

What happened to the sweet innocent child that wanted your attention all the time? They couldn’t wait to tell you about their day! Teenage years can be a difficult time for you and your teen and make relationships stressful! They will push limits, may seem moody, and can be the Kings and Queens of one word answers.  Connecting and building healthy boundaries can be challenging, but not impossible. Creating healthy boundaries and a healthy relationship can help your teen gain independence, feel safe, and make good decisions. Boundaries can be important for parents to have a sense of control, let them know they are cared for, while giving the teen their own autonomy.  How to deal with stress in your relationship and connect with your teen? There are factors to keep in mind while connecting with your teenager and keeping healthy boundaries.

Connect and Empathize

Spend time with your child to connect with him or her. Find an activity that you both enjoy and keep asking until they accept the invitation. Teens may be hesitant, but this one-on-one interaction is important for maintaining healthy relationships.  Make it a time for positive conversations, not a time for addressing concerns or problems. Creating an environment for open communication will help build mutual trust and respect. Set aside time with no electronics or distractions and be present with each other. Listen before responding and respond instead of reacting. Resist the urge to fix things and just be there to listen and validate.

Many times parents shrug off their teen’s stress as no big deal and don’t take them seriously. Remember how it was to be a teen. Think about your own barriers you had to telling your parents about personal things. Empathize how complicated life can be and validate their feelings. Stay away from saying, “I know how you feel”, imply that their feelings don’t matter, or that they will just change.  Acknowledge their feelings and needs and actively listen before sharing your own thoughts.

Natural Consequences

Problem solving is an important life skill that requires practice. If your teen is bailed out of every mistake, they miss out on the opportunity to practice. Let your teen face natural consequences as a result of their actions. Sometimes the natural consequences of their action are more of a learning moment then taking away the electronics. This will also help deter any power struggles that might come about when assigning consequences and make the relationship less stressful for both.

You are still the Parent

As we know, teens consistently push the boundaries that are set. This is the normal process of striving to be independent and there are still rules that need to be consistently applied. However, boundaries and rules can change in time or as trust and independence increases. Remember that you are the parent and they still need you. Even in the hardest days of crying and screaming, they will need to know you love them unconditionally and to feel your support and approval. Boundaries allow for structure and safety and remind the teen that they have your unconditional love. Try not to yell or scream, especially in front of their friends. Use set consequences infrequently and use rewards instead.  Figure out consequences and incentives together before any incidents happen. This way, they have a part in the discussion and have a “buy-in” to respecting the boundaries.  Teens look up to their parents. Research shows that parents have great influence on adolescent choices, including risk-taking choices like smoking or drug use.

Respect each other

Respect is another important factor in any relationship. Teens will more likely respect others when they feel they are respected. Even though teens may be dramatic and act silly, it is important to take their concerns seriously. Don’t belittle or dismiss them when they share a problem that seems trivial to you. Validate their feelings and let them know that you get it. You won’t always agree with them, but hold your compassion and respect for them as you disagree. Get to know your teen’s friends while not putting a negative label on them. Respect your teen’s privacy yet keep an eye on what is going on. Acknowledge your teen’s strengths and build them on. Let them know what you need from them, instead of what you don’t want your teen to do.

The Don’ts

We are all human with emotions that might take us to places we didn’t want to go. We want to show teens that emotional management is possible and can be done with healthy coping skills. We don’t want to show them disrespect by letting our emotions get the best of us. It is normal to get angry and frustrated and when this happens, respond instead of reacting and try not to yell and scream, especially in front of their friends. Setting up consequences is important, but don’t rely on just consequences. Use rewards and build on their strengths.  When you feel your emotions getting high, walk away. Model how to manage high emotions in a healthy way.

 

Stress in your relationship with your teen can be stressful at times! Teens can be moody, dramatic, and sometimes make poor choices, but they are just striving for independence, self-awareness, and figuring out how to navigate life. They need direction, support, and boundaries to feel safe and find the ability to make sound decisions. Listen, learn, and connect with your teen and build the relationship by listening and validating, not just trying to solve their problems. Have positive interactions with them, not just the negative interactions. Remember, it takes 5 positive interactions to balance out every negative interaction.

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When I Don’t Like My Child- A Letter to Mamas

Tears streaming down her face, she looked up at me pleadingly ‘I don’t like my child- help me. I am terrible’.

Hey Mamas- let’s talk. Real talk. Let’s talk about the moments no one prepared you for, the moments when you no longer recognize yourself, the moments you think ‘I have failed- I don’t like my child’.

Everyone’s story is different; some are full of tears for the first few weeks of infanthood, others feel the burden set in later. There are those who seem to parent effortlessly without failing, without fear, but I’d like to remind you, and encourage you that life and your child-, they are both full of different seasons and stages.

Do you remember when you first got married? No amount of books could prepare you for physically living with this particular person; the amount of dirty laundry left on the bathroom floor, the dishes left in the sink. Some fall into the pattern of cohabitation easily, others find it harder- but the truth is that it is an adjustment for all, and it gets easier.

The day you brought home your first puppy. He was scared. You were scared. After a few days of puppy bliss, you began to face the reality that your puppy missed his mother; he hated to be alone, his teeth hurt, he wasn’t house broken, and he peed everywhere. Now look at him, standing guard and keeping your family safe.

Then come the babies. The perfect little bundles of joy that were wished for, longed for, prayed for. The sweet angel adorned with love, kisses and the perfectly fitting name upon her arrival. Fast forward to sleep regression, sleep training and the IV of coffee in your arm. Was this what you signed up for?

Oh wait, this little person calls you “Mama!”. He dances when you come through the door. Long forgotten are the sleepless nights of infanthood. We are now into the ‘terrible twos’ the ‘I-do-it-myself-threes’ and here you are, a puddle of tears on the bathroom floor. No matter, pour yourself a glass, call a friend, dry your tears, and remind yourself tomorrow is another day.

Kindergarten; new friends, new rules, no nap. Crying for Mommy. (For help on separation anxiety, click here)

You get through it. You stand back and give your son a hug so tight you can still feel it when you close your eyes. Battle of the wills; who is this child? I don’t recognize him. I don’t like him. But you love him. And before you know it, its middle school, high school and college.

Mama, parenthood is hard. Every time you master a new stage, your child is on to the next one. Some days its lunch money, and other days you pat yourself on the back for packing lunches the night before! Infanthood is hard, but it does not last long. Pre-school may be full of tantrums, but it doesn’t last long.  (For help on taming tantrums, click here). You love your job, but somedays are harder than others. You love your children, but some days, you are lacking in the liking them department.

Please know that you are not alone; please call a friend and let them tell you their own horror stories until tears of laughter stream down your cheeks. Please reach out to the brand-new mama struggling with diaper rash, bottles and sleeping. If you are struggling day after day, and would like professional help, please check out the knowledgeable therapists at North Shore Family Services, and their blogs.

You can’t be a pro all the time; you are allowed to have days that feel too hard. But at the end of the day, remember to tell your children ‘I love you’. Today, this week, this season is hard- but I promise it won’t last forever.

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5 Ways to Help Your ADHD Child Tackle Boredom

Has your child ever come up to you complaining about being bored? Boredom is a common theme for children, yet ADHD boredom can happen more frequently due to hyperactivity and inability to maintain focus. ADHD boredom is not a symptom of ADHD. The ADHD brain fires off faster than another child’s brain making it easier to fall into inattention and distractibility. This is when ADHD boredom can set in. Impulsively acting-out and using attention-seeking behaviors is your child with ADHD way of expressing their boredom. When these behaviors take over it does not mean your child is bad; they just need help tackling the boredom.

Here are five ways you can help your child with ADHD tackle boredom.

Provide structure by scheduling after school and weekend activities

A child with ADHD thrives on structure and being busy with things to do. Scheduling afterschool and weekend activities can help them tackle their go-to of being bored.

Encourage your child to be proactive

A lot of time your child with ADHD gets bored and cannot think of all the things they can or like to do. It is never a bad idea to plan in advance with your child. Make a list together of what steps they can make at home and school of things they can do when they get bored. Having a visual list of free time activities for the home will help your child feel independent and proactive in times when their brain tells them they are bored.

Don’t drop everything to rescue them from boredom

Being a parent is stressful enough, try not to take on your child’s boredom. Giving your child choices can help them feel empowered and focus their attention to overcome their boredom. If you are doing something, the child can assist in doing ask them to help or direct them an activity you know is one their activity list to do until you are free to give your child your full attention. Remember it may take your child some time to come up with something or pick from the choices you offer them so try your best to not jump in with ideas of what they can do but instead choices for them to process and figure it out on their own.

Set Strict guidelines for Screen Time

Setting healthy limits with children around screen time is difficult and more so with a child with ADHD. It is essential screen time is not the go to choice to give your child with ADHD when they are expressing boredom. Be proactive and help your child make good decisions about technology.

Allow your child to be a part of the planning process

Find one day a week or a scheduled time every day to sit down with your child. During this time map out plans for the week or day, create to-do lists to help them know what has to get done in a day, and have a family calendar as a visual reminder to help with promoting about activities coming up.

 

Remember children with ADHD thrive off of excitement and stimulation. It is difficult for them to fill their free time because they struggle with executive functioning skills. Help support your child find ways to stay busy and locate things to do when they are experiencing ADHD boredom.

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But It’s Just Weed! Teen Drug Use Today

Smoking trends are changing at a rapid pace, especially among the teen population. Even though smoking and teen drug use looks a little different these days, the risks are still there. I often work with teens who seem to think these new devices are better than smoking an actual cigarette, but is that true? “It doesn’t smell, it tastes good and smells good, it’s better for you, it’s electronic so it doesn’t go to your lungs.” Those are some of the phrases I often hear. To take this e-cigarette trend a step further, they are now being filled with marijuana. What does all of this mean? Here’s some information that may be helpful in terms of understanding “vape talk,” and knowing how to talk to your teen about this phenomenon.

Vape Talk

E-cigarettes

E-cigarettes are also often referred to as “vapes,” “vape pens,” “hookahs,” “e-cigs,” and “Juuls.” They are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine and other additives through inhaling. There are now increased reports that teens are vaping marijuana through these devices as well. Vaping THC oil (THC is the chemical in marijuana that gives the mind-altering effects) is odorless, which is very different from smoking marijuana through a joint, pipe, or blunt.

Juuls

“Juuling” came from the Juul electronic cigarette company. Juuls look just like a USB flash drive, and there’s cartridges called pods that go into them that contain liquid nicotine. Since 2015, these have become the most popular way to vape. They can be charged like a phone or laptop, and teens are now switching out the liquid nicotine for liquid marijuana. They are often so small that they fit in the palm of your hand, so kids often hold them in their sleeves, tuck it in their backpacks, and take “bathroom breaks” at school during classes.

Liquid Juice

This refers to the liquid nicotine that can come in a variety of flavors (some of the flavors literally sound like ice cream flavors – bubble gum, chocolate, vanilla, and more!). There’s actually over 500 flavors available!

What We Know

  1. There’s been an upward trend of vaping for ages 12-17 since 2011.
  2. According to the US surgeon general, there has been a 900% increase in e-cigarette use by high school students from 2001-2015, and the numbers are continuing to rise.
  3. Nicotine is addictive and bad for your health. The earlier kids start using, the harder it is to stop.
  4. The brain is continually developing and maturing during the adolescent years, and nicotine negatively alters that development.
  5. Cravings occur almost immediately when nicotine reaches the brain and gets the pleasure and reward centers very excited, which can result in addiction.
  6. When teen drug use involves vaping marijuana, there tends to be a higher consumption of THC, especially for inexperienced smokers, so the “high” is intensified.
  7. According to the Centers for Disease Control, marijuana use interferes with brain development and can cause slower learning, short-term memory loss, and lung damage.
  8. There are aerosol components, more than forty-two chemicals reported to be found in the vaping products, which is the piece that is reported to be most harmful.
  9. Even though federal regulations make it illegal for kids under the age of 18 to be able to purchase e-cigarettes, they can be purchased online, which makes it easier for under-aged kids to get these products.
  10. Second hand smoke from vaping exists.

What We Don’t Know

  1. We still do not know the long term health effects of e-cigarettes, but there is an increase in research studies being conducted. To read about some of the recent studies that are available regarding the current trends of teen drug use and vaping, you can go the American Medical Association’s website to access online journals.
  2. When using THC in e-cigarettes, it is unknown as to how much THC is being consumed.
  3. Much of the research available on the cognitive effects of marijuana tend to focus on heavy users, so it is still unclear as to whether or not there is long-term brain damage, and if there’s a level of usage that is considered to be safe.
  4. Many people say that e-cigarettes are a safer way to smoke, and that it even helps people stop smoking cigarettes. Again, there is not enough information available to confirm or deny this, but from what’s currently available, it is said to be that they aren’t as harmful, but still harmful.

Tips for Parents

  1. Educate yourself and do the research to know and understand what information is available about vaping. Hopefully this blog will be a great start and guide you in the right direction. For more information, you can access the website mentioned above by the American Medical Association, or go to the Surgeon General’s website.
  2. Learn about the side effects of marijuana since there has been an increase in vaping THC oil in vape pens. If you suspect that your teen is using marijuana and also recognizing some of the common side effects in your teen, it may be time to have a talk.
  3. When talking to your teen about teen drug use and vaping, avoid lecturing and work towards an open dialogue where you are patient and ready to listen without criticism. Keep the lines of communication open and work towards talking “with” your teen and not “at” your teen.
  4. If you are unsure on whether or not your teen is vaping, approach them with curiosity. “What’s your take on vaping?” or “Do a lot of kids at your school vape?” or “How are teens even getting vape pens being underage?”
  5. If you are the type of parent who feels that there needs to be set rules and consequences around vaping, let them know that it is their choice, but that there will be consequences for their choices.

 

If you are concerned that your teen may be struggling with addiction, reach out for help. You can start with contacting your child’s pediatrician, or go directly to an addiction specialist. You can also contact SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).​

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5 Strategies to Taming the Toddler Temper Tantrum

A toddler temper tantrum can be downright frustrating, and all you want is the kicking-and-screaming to stop. Toddler temper tantrums are a regular part of child development. They usually happen between the ages of 1 to 3 as a way of expressing they are frustrated or upset because their language skills are still being developed. Toddler temper tantrums are a way of learning independence, what is appropriate behavior, and learning they are not going to get everything they want. As parents, this can be tough to handle in our busy lives. At North Shore Family Services our therapists can work assisting parents with these issues. For immediate help, here are five strategies to start taming the a toddler temper tantrum and getting some peace in your home.

Keep Your Cool

Your actions are the best teacher to your toddler about behavior. Responding in a calm and stern matter will help. When you react out of anger or frustration could complicate the tantrum and redirecting the behavior. Your job is to teach your kid how to calm down and have some self-control An excellent way to help them is in creating a calm down box which can help them practice calming down in moments of frustration while you can receive some quiet time.

Give Positive Attention

Try paying less attention to the misbehaviors (sometimes it is okay to ignore the misbehavior or tantrum) and pay attention to the positive behavior. Praising and emphasizing positive behaviors may reduce a toddler temper tantrum or misbehavior. Praise can come in several forms such as a high-five, thank-you, telling your child and others you are proud of your child, smiles, and hugs. There may be some behaviors which are harder for your kid to learn with praise alone. Rewards or incentives for the harder behaviors also help give positive attention. Make sure the rewards and incentives fit the behavior. For example, let’s say there is a special small treat given after school or daycare. Now they only receive it after hanging up their coat or taking off their shoes once getting home. Other examples of rewards can be a sticker, extra TV time, play a game, an additional book at bedtime, special time with a parent or a trip to the park or for a special treat.

Give Choices

Giving a child some control over little things in their day can help reduce temper tantrums. Offer minor choices such as “Do you want orange juice or apple juice?”. “Do you want to brush your teeth before or after taking a bath?”. This way you are setting up them to have some control. Offering choices also teaches them it is not okay to say “no” when choices are given. Choices is also a great way to divert your child’s attention during a temper tantrum and on to something more productive.

Know Your Kid’s Limits

Even as adults, we have our limits, especially when we are tired and hungry. The same goes for your child. If you know they did not eat lunch, then do not tell them they cannot have a snack before they do something you are asking them to do. Another example, if you know your child is tired do not run one more errand before heading home. A child being hungry or tired increases the chance of a temper tantrum when asked to do other things before these basic needs are met.

Be Specific and Consistent

A toddler temper tantrum may come from a multitude of reasons which are making your child upset. Which sometimes means one way of handling it may be different than the last one. Try your best to remember your child has a short attention span and cannot be rationalized with. Stay calm, stern, and consistent with how you handle the misbehavior. Give them brief yet direct instructions such as “wait your turn” or “once you are done screaming I will talk to you.” Once you have set the stage for what is expected, do not give in to your child. If you give in it may lead to continued behavior as they get older.

 

If safety is ever a concern where a kid may become a danger of hurting themselves or others during the tantrum they should be taken to a safe place where they can calm down. This may be a specific space designated for time-outs or hold the child firmly for several minutes while they calm down. This also applies when the tantrum is in public. Never give in or be lenient when safety is a concern. Safety is when consistency is vital. Otherwise, kids will learn the negative behavior is okay and can be used to get what they want.

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Video Game Addiction

Video games are commonly used as entertainment throughout the world.  When played properly, with moderation, there is little chance that video game use will turn into video game addiction or cause adverse health effects.  That said, it is noteworthy that the prevalence of video games and extreme usage can lead to negative consequences.

This notion has led to considerable research into the topic on whether video game usage should be considered a disorder, like gambling disorder, or an addiction consistent with alcoholism or drug overuse.  Whereas the definition of excessive use has not yet been established, it is important to recognize that excessive video game usage can have just as many negative effects as drug or alcohol addiction  if left unregulated, and in some cases, untreated.

Some Background

Video game addiction is uncommon. Studies show that among users of video games, addiction ranges from a low of 0.6% to a high of 6.0%.  Stated in another way, anywhere from 94 to 99 percent of video game users do not become addicted or develop severe side effects. The message here is that there can be an addiction to gaming, however, it is not common and should not be over-diagnosed.  The studies make it clear that simply spending lots of time playing video games is not evidence of addiction.

Is it a Video Game Addiction?

So, how can video game addiction be determined? The American Psychological Association (APA) is proposing that a person receive the diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder, if at least five of the following nine characteristics apply to that person:

  1. Preoccupation: Spends lots of time thinking about games, even when not playing them.
  2. Withdrawal: Feels restless when unable to play games.
  3. Tolerance:  Needs to play more, or play more powerful games, to get the same excitement as before.
  4. Reduce:  Feels he or she should play less but is unable to do so.
  5. Give up other activities:  Reduces participation in other recreational activities.
  6. A person has had continued overuse of Internet games even with the knowledge of how much they impact a person’s life.
  7. The person lied to others about his or her Internet game usage.
  8. The person uses Internet games to relieve anxiety or guilt–it’s a way to escape.
  9. The person has lost or put at risk and opportunity or relationship because of Internet games.

It is important to restate that Internet Gaming Disorder is not an “official” disorder.  With the ubiquity and high use of video games, the APA is encouraging further research on the topic.

Impact of Video Game Addiction

Just like other activities that are overused, video games can have harmful effects, including:

  1. Increased risk of ADHD due to the highly interactive nature of video games.
  2. Learning disabilities that result from slowed responses versus the intensity of video games.
  3. Increased risk of light-induced seizures from video games.
  4. Musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities from sitting for prolonged periods of time or from only using the upper body (extremity muscles).
  5. Increased weight gain as a result of not exercising.
  6. Lowered metabolism.
  7. Aggressive thoughts and behaviors especially present in children who excessively play video games when they are under 10 years old.
  8. Spending reduced time with family, peers, etc., resulting in poor social interaction skills.

Not all researchers agree that video gaming is a harmful or addictive activity. Many believe that video games expand the imagination, give children the opportunity to work collaboratively, and sharpen cognitive skills. If a person spends most of their time playing video games at the expense of schoolwork, physical exercise, family events, or social activities, the benefits of gaming seem less certain.

What Can You Do?

What should a person do if they feel that they are overusing video games? Since video gaming overuse is a recently recognized problem clinicians are developing best practices for treating it. The good news is that going cold turkey on video games is much gentler on your body than trying to drop drugs or alcohol without a doctor’s help. You may be irritable, and you’ll certainly have trouble avoiding your game of choice, but you’re not going to spend days feeling physically ill. Seeking out a healthier source of activity—like exercise—can help the individual to get through the toughest period.

 

If you have questions or concerns about video game usage, please view our articles or contact our staff at North Shore Family Services via phone: 847-668-4295, x700, or email: info@northshorefamilyservices.com.

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The Custody Agreement: 4 Tips to Make Co-Parenting Easier

Where am I sleeping tonight? Whose picking me up from practice? You’re ruining my life! Do these sound familiar to you? If you are a parent in the middle of a custody agreement or divorce, chances are you have heard these statements before. As a therapist, I have guided parents through this difficult time and made it a priority to focus on the kids’ needs first.

 

Kids Needs

Although it may be a very emotional and stressful time for a parent, children have described feeling scared, confused, sad, angry, and guilty when their parents tell them that they are getting a divorce. Developmentally, kids are not able to process the information the same as adults. At the beginning, it is important to remember to eliminate any negative feelings towards the other parent when talking to your children. Children are a product of both parents and have described feeling personally attacked when parents talk bad about one another. The goal during this time is to make the difficult transition as smooth as possible and cause the least amount of harm to your child. Below are 4 tips to make co-parenting easier during both custody agreements and the divorce.

 

Open and Honest Communication

When you tell your children that you are getting a divorce, it is important to have open and honest communication with them. Questions about why it is happening and statements about trying again are common phrases that are used. As parents, sit down prior to talking with your children and discuss a plan about how you will answer the “why” question and what the conversation will look like. You want to present a united front and show support of one another (even if feelings are not mutual). Again this time is about putting your child first. It is important not to lie and rather phrase the truth in a kid friendly way. For example, if you are getting a divorce based on years of arguing, you may find yourself telling the children that “Mom and Dad struggled with communication.”

 

Validate Emotions

Although your first instinct might be to tell your children “I know how hard this is for you,” this phrase can often make children more upset. In the moment, you can’t understand how your child is exactly feeling in that specific situation. In order to validate their emotions and promote more open communication of emotion, parents can use a different phrase when discussing the divorce. Instead of saying “I know,” you can say, “I can’t imagine how you are feeling” or “Can you tell me the emotions you are feeling?” Children will feel more validated, supported, and connected to their parents when these phrases are used.

 

Educate

Children don’t always understand all the “adult words” when it comes to a custody agreement or divorce. There are several questions about where they are sleeping or how many days they will be with their parents. Remember to educate them on terms that you use rather than assuming they know. As parents, you have the opportunity to define custody agreement or divorce agreement for them rather than them assuming or hearing from their peers or TV shows. Be specific and provide details so they can concretely think about what is to come. If children are younger (2-6 yrs old), use stuffed animals or toys to describe what is happening).

 

Calendars and Visuals

Reducing any anxiety is key to ensure that your child’s needs come first. There is a lot of “unknown” when children are going through a custody agreement or a divorce. They communicate their fears and worries, but don’t know how to get rid of them. Calendars and visuals are a great way to reduce stress and anxiety about the confusion and provide them with more control. I have recommended having a family app for both the parents and children to see. Our Family Wizard is one that I have recommended in the past and have seen successfully used. Google calendars or phone calendars can work as well. If children are younger (2-6 yrs old), use a visual calendar in their room and have a symbol for Mom or Dad. These will not only be successful tools for co-parenting, but also provide your child with peace.

 

Now, you can move forward and have a confident approach to answering and responding to these questions. Remember the kids do come first and their needs are the most important to address. If you need more guidance, our team of therapists are all trained to be a support during this process.

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Taste of Chicago for Teens – How to Have Fun and Be Safe

With summer in full swing, Chicagoans have emerged from a long winter of hibernation to kickoff off the start of festival season. It’s time again for the Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza. With the end of the school year, you are likely seeing more of your teen, which can be a transition for everybody at home. Some teens need a little help in planning their fun. Others race out the door before you know it. Either way, it’s important for parents to talk with their teens about keeping things safe and fun at this summer.

Having fun is healthy

Summertime serves as the perfect venue for teens to spend time socializing with friends. There are several mental health benefits to having an active social life. Research states that interacting with others boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression. One sure way of improving a person’s mood is to work on building social connections. Summer excursions can facilitate such efforts. For additional screen-free summer activities and suggestions, take a look at this blog post that my colleagues wrote.

Offer to drive

Parents can support their teen’s attempts to be social through extending transportation support. Volunteering your time in this way offers an added bonus as well. Assisting with transportation extends you the opportunity to work on your relationship with your teen this summer. Consider matching their excitement and actively listening as they share anecdotes from their day’s adventures. Furthermore, you to get know their friends better and encourages safe transportation. Implementing both of these suggestions into your summer routine can foster trust in the parent-teen relationship.

Keeping things safe and sound

Allowing your teen to venture into the city during the summer months does require some level of trust from Mom and Dad. Setting a few guidelines can make the experience far easier to navigate for both parent and teen. Before your son or daughter heads out, be clear on your expectations for their curfew. If they need it, assist your teen with navigating public-transit. Next, ask your son or daughter to share their friend’s contact information with you in case of emergency. Encourage them to use the buddy system in light of the expected crowds. Additionally, ask your teen to check-in via text or with a phone call throughout the event and suggest their friend group come up with a predetermined meeting point should they get separated from one another. Lastly, talk about how to handle drinking/smoking encounters. Let your teen know that they can reach out to you should they need an excuse to get out of a situation that makes them uncomfortable.

 

Living close to the city offers a litany of possibilities for summertime entertainment. By prepping your teen to have fun and keep things safe at Lollapalooza and The Taste of Chicago this summer, you’re setting them up for positive experiences. Being social and exploring different events this summer can build up your teen’s sense of self, boost self-confidence, improve their mood, and has the potential to build trust within your relationship with them.

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The Calm Down Box: Helping Kids Self-Regulate and Capture the Quiet Moments

Our child only wants to play on my phone. My daughter can’t play by herself. Our kids say they are bored. My son can’t entertain himself. I want my child to go play outside but he only wants the iPad. Do these sound familiar to you? As a therapist my inbox and voicemail are flooded with them daily. Recently I’ve been introducing The Calm Down Box to families and it has been very successful.

The Calm Down Box

So, what can be done you ask? Plenty! A few years back I was introduced to The Calm Down Box. In its original form, The Calm Down Box was created to help children with sensory needs learn to self-regulate. Over time, The Calm Down Box has taken on many creative names and identities such as The Quiet Time Box, Quiet Corner Kit, Solo Activities Box, Road Trip Kit, Time Out Box, etc. So, what’s the point of this magical box? Self-regulation, quiet play, independent play, sensory break and non-screen activities.

What to Put in a Calm Down Box

Here are some of my favorite items to put into a Calm Down Box. Remember, all boxes can be modified for specific needs:

–Coloring pages and crayons- quiet and soothing activity

–Fidget cubes/stress balls/playdough/ kinetic sand- keeps hands busy

–Favorite book- quiet activity

–Race cars and other small toys – independent play

–Crunchy snacks- great for sensory needs and blood sugar regulation

–Legos- great for sensory and creative play

–Bubbles- calming activity

–Puff balls and pipe cleaners- great for creative play and sensory breaks

–Small stuffed animals/squishies- soothing and comforting

–Feeling chart- self-regulation tool

 

Below are additional resources, and tips for creating your own kit:

6 ways to make a calm down jar

–What to put in a calm down kit for kids

–Sensory cheat sheets

How to Implement The Calm Down Box

Again, Calm Down Kits can be used for a variety of needs, however the main idea is to gather several calming/soothing items into one place and prompt your child to use the kit in order to learn self-regulation, engage in independent play and non-screen time activities.

Pro tip: Encourage children to use their box for 10-30 minutes each day; make it a family event by declaring quiet play and setting a timer. The more they use the box when calm, the more they will gravitate towards it in moments of dysregulation.

Creating Your Own Calm Down Box

Here is what you need:

–Box- think old shoebox, treasure chest, etc.

–Markers, colored paper, stickers, etc. for decorating

–A list of items to include

Pro tip: Allow your child to decorate the box, this will encourage ownership and pride. In addition, engage your child in finding items from around the house that they would like to include. The more the child is involved, the more likely they will be to utilize the box.

Once you have all your items, it’s time to get busy! Decorate your box, fill it with items, and practice family quiet time! Remember, it’s never too late to teach your child self-regulation, independent play, or the importance of down time, and now you have your box full of tools to do just that!

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