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Part 1 was a discussion of ways you can help your child and yourself deal with anxiety. Stress and anxiety are expected in situations like our current confinement. You need to have things in place to held deal with them. Don’t just wait until they boil over.
In Part 2, the importance of organizing time and activities was highlighted. I realize when you’re stressed it’s hard to get organized but please do it for your child(ren). I’ve seen that even knowledgeable, highly skilled parents of kids with self-regulation challenges are forgetting/avoiding this.
Don’t let your children just binge on the same thing for hours on end. That’s not doing them any favors. It can keep them occupied but, you have to think about what life’s going to be like at the end of this school closure. Your children are going back to school routines and schedules. It’ll be a massive shock to them if they go from free-flow, do-what-interests-you to set schedules. If you want to truly help your child, set up a schedule. It doesn’t have to be elaborate but it should involve a variety of activities, some they love and some that are just okay.
Don’t just wing it. Use a visual schedule. Remember that a lot of children have difficulty with working memory. That means they can’t hold a lot of information in their memories at the same time. By making a visual schedule, they can check back to make sure they’re on track. It lets them be more independent – you don’t have to be reminding over and over.
Here are some things you need to do when making a schedule:
5. Decide on the order of activities with your child. Show your child pictures for all the activities they’re going to do. Let them decide the order of things but make sure they do one fun or easy activity followed by something a little more challenging followed by another easy one.
6. Decide how long to do each activity. Use this table to help you figure out how long each section of your schedule should be.
7. Follow the schedule. Follow the schedule – making sure your child does an activity for just the number of minutes you decided on. But, if your child is getting bogged down or feeling a little too frustrated, tell them what you’re seeing – “It looks like that’s a little too hard/frustrating/long for right now. We can change our mind. How about we finish/change that and do the next thing?” This will help your child put a name to their feelings at that moment. Also, you’ve helped them learn about flexibility – you can change things even though it’s on the schedule.
Please please please get your schedules going.
Let me know how it’s working (or not) for you. Just email at firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll get back to you quickly – I’m in lockdown too!!
In Part 1, we talked about how to reduce stress in the whole family. Stress and anxiety are to be expected in our extraordinary situation right now.
There were a couple of key points made in Part 1. One was that it’s not the time to be a perfect parent. Don’t expect yourself to be in top parenting form. Do the best you can for both you and your child(ren). In other words, ease up!
The second thing is that all the suggestions I made are not to be simply imposed on your child. A parent commented that they could try scheduling times to check on virus updates but their child would keep checking anyway. Whatever you want to work on has to be done as a family. You need to sit down with your child(ren) and explain what the issue is – “Checking all the time on the virus can make all of us a little nervous.” Then ask for their thoughts on how to deal with it – “What can we do to help ourselves?” Don’t just tell them what to do. Help them understand the problem and then ask for their help in dealing with it. Make suggestions and then, as a group, decide what to do. It doesn’t matter what you decide. The goal is to set a rule that’s agreed on by everyone. As a group, decide how often you’ll check on things. Try to make it a group activity so you check in together. Then you can be available to help calm any worries.
Recognize your child’s difficulty with planning and organizing.
Help them plan out their days so there’s some predictability. Make a list of things your child enjoys. Include some they can do on their own as well as some where they need adult input. Indoor activities can include homework as well as crafts, coloring, enjoying their collections, board/card games, computer/video games, drawing, reading, or watching videos. Outdoor activities are generally limited to what can be done on a balcony or in the garden/yard. That means you can still set up obstacle courses, bowling, or scavenger hunts.
Show your child the activities available for that day (you decide) and let them select what they do and when. Make a visual plan like the examples.
The first example (to the left)is for older children. There’s some emphasis on homework but it’s slipped between physical activities and those your child enjoys a lot.
Always use written words on your schedules. Add pictures if your child isn’t a strong reader. Visual schedules make it easier to remember. There’ll be fewer disagreements about what happens next. If it’d be helpful, put time limits for each activity. That way, they won’t over-focus on just one thing. Schedules can be hand-drawn or you can find pictures on the internet. It just takes minutes and will make life simpler and calmer for everyone.
When you make up the schedule with your child, include times to focus and times to ease up. Think of it as breathing in (focusing) and breathing out (relaxing). Follow a relaxing activity with one that takes more thinking and concentration. Follow relaxing and favorite activities with ones that require more problem solving. Read more about rhythm in schedules here.
To the right is an example for younger children and those who don’t have homework to do.
Add activities that’ll prompt your child to help around the house. They can help make lunch, sort laundry, sweep the floor, exercise the dog or cat, load/unload the dishwasher.
Another important area for planning is keeping contact with friends and family. With children out of school, they lose contact with other children they usually see everyday. Don’t forget grandparents and extended family members. Use video calling if possible (Skype, FaceTime, Messenger, for example). That way they can see the other person. Set your child up for success. Help them figure out before the call what they want to tell the other person. If your child is preverbal or low verbal, help them show what they’re doing that day. If they tend to freeze when online, make a short video beforehand so they can show it during their call. Help your child anticipate some of the questions that’ll be asked. Make up lists of these questions (“What did you do today?”) and comments (“Boy, that looks difficult/delicious.”). Then put together some responses with your child. Typical small talk topics include weather, sports, movies, family, school, and food. Practice asking and answering questions about these topics. It’ll make it so much easier.
Get your child to organize and plan activities with you every day. Plan a variety of things so they don’t get stuck on just one or two. The more you organize life, the more engaged your child will be. And the less likely they’ll be to become stressed.
There are lots of resources on the internet that will give you ideas for
activities. I’ve listed some below.
Also, check out Canadian Child Magazine and AuKids Magazine for more ideas. Explore the possibilities at Little Puddins and DLTK-Kids. Search on the internet for kids’ activities during school closure for more ideas.
Rhymes and songs for preschoolers and early elementary-age (Primary through Year 2) children
Mama Lisa’s World International Music and Culture Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes – action songs, hand-clapping, marching
Kiddles Kids’ Action Songs
Elementary School Music Early Childhood Songs and Rhymes
Fingerplays, Action Poems, Nursery Rhymes, and Songs
Action Songs: Children’s Music that Calls for Movement, Participation and Dance
Action, Participation, Movement Songs for Kids
Crafts and activities
Crafts involving cartoon and animé characters
Recipes with step-by-step pictures
Lego with step-by-step pictures (have to enter keyword describing the object or the number of the set)
Fun paper airplanes
Children who have difficulty with self-regulation and executive functions usually find breaks from routine challenging.
All the things that make up their daily rhythm are changed. They’re at home and not at school with their teachers and friends. Children can become overwhelmed by these changes. The routines they usually rely on are gone or changed. Stress abounds!
In addition to that, the uncertainty of our current pandemic is stressful to parents too. This means that it’s not the time to be a perfect parent. Don’t expect yourself to be in top parenting form. These are unusual times. Do the best you can for both you and your child(ren).
When you and your child are stressed, self-regulation will be at a low point. It’s harder to plan and organize but that’s what’s needed. Thinking flexibly is more difficult too when you’re stressed. This is what I hope to be able to help you with.
Here are some things you can do.
We know the calmer adults are the calmer children are. Check out Calm Adults, Calm Children for a discussion of what your emotions mean to children.
One way to help remain calm is to get lots of exercise. Here are some resources you can try for in-home exercise:
Search online for “free exercise for kids” to find more.
Don’t forget your children can go out in the yard/garden for free play so long as they stay a good distance from others. Free time to run and play are critical to children’s ability to cope, remain calm and to eat and sleep better.
Be sure to make time for calming and enjoyable sensory activities. Take the time to relax with Turtle Breathing. Here are some simple instructions to guide you and your child:
Do some yoga – try Cosmic Kids Yoga or search for “free yoga for kids”. Yoga helps combine Turtle Breathing with slow focused movement. It gives such a good break from worries.
You and your child need some quiet time with things you enjoy. It might be warm baths, flashing lights, sounds of nature, spinning fans … all those sensory experiences they enjoy. Quiet time with favorite books can also restore a sense of calm.
Give you and your child breaks from the news. Make a rule that you’ll check only two or three times a day. Let yourself look at the news for only a certain number of minutes. A lot of the information we’re receiving can just add to your stress level. It’s usually best to limit it.
Schedule exercise, yoga, and calming activities. The goal is to catch you and your child before stress mounts up too much.
Do things that you and your child enjoy. If your child is a fan of certain YouTube channels, videos, or whatever, schedule in time to indulge. There’s nothing like a favorite activity or topic to sharpen your mind.
Keep bedtimes as close to normal as possible. Make sure you and your child get lots of rest. It’s one of the best defenses against stress.
Also, if you or your child aren’t feeling well, don’t push for self-regulation. Just ease off and try again when you’re feeling better.
Make sure you and your child eat regularly. Try your best to have a balance of protein, fruit, and vegetables. At times like these when stress levels may be up, sweets and carbohydrates are the go-to foods. Do your best to sneak in other foods that fuel real energy and better moods.
Check out our article What’s a tummy got to do with self-regulation? for more information.
The first part of cognitive self-regulation was helping children be systematic and focus their attention. The next step is to help them figure out and focus on just the most important information. They learn to pay attention to only those things that are relevant to what they’re doing.
Throughout, we continue to expect children to work systematically and use strategies that are helpful to them.
Start off by teaching children to match. They have to keep the one thing in mind while they search for another one the same – the one that matches. This is a good way to help them understand the thing they’re matching is most important right now.
Then they learn to listen to instructions and say the key words over to themselves while they do the activity. For example, they repeat “Find a dog with long ears.” while searching for it.
Believe it or not, we teach children how to ignore things. This is part of becoming more resilient – “I can stay on track if I can ignore things that aren’t important right now”. Ask them if the thing distracting them is “important right now”. If the answer is ’no’, prompt them to ignore it. Notice that we use the phrase “important right now”. That’s because things change from moment to moment but, right now, that’s not important to us.
This process works on all executive functions:
We know there are important dynamics in seating arrangements. The chair at the head of the table is the ‘power’ seat. That position is usually reserved for the most powerful, senior, or revered person. Sitting beside your husband’s ex-wife’s new husband is one to avoid – don’t ask!
With students, though, there are other important considerations. We know that different seating arrangements can influence the climate of the classroom, relationships among the students and teacher, and learning in general.
For students with difficulty self-regulating, these considerations are particularly important. What do you do with a child who’s likely to disrupt other students? I’ve known teachers who put those kids at that back of the class. But that’s isolating to the student … and all the other students know why they’re sitting by themselves. Some children are seated up front near the teacher to reduce distractions. That also can cause social isolation – not something we want for the student. You can just hear other children remarking, “Bobby has to sit there cuz he makes too much noise or can’t sit still or …” It can all be pretty negative in terms of how other students view them and how they view themselves.
Considerations for seating arrangements are usually based on how students are viewed by the teachers (as potentially acting out or drifting off) and how that student might impact others. There are other things to consider, however. For example: What’s best for the academic learning of all students in the class? What’s best for learning appropriate behavior? What is tolerable for the students?
Academic learning is generally more effective when students are seated side-by-side in rows facing toward the teacher*. This seating arrangement keeps focus on the teacher and gives a greater sense of order to the classroom**.
Learning appropriate behavior is enhanced by grouping students together as buddies or in small groups. This means placing a child with self-regulation or learning challenges with students who have strong social and leadership skills. Small groups and learning buddies can help students learn cooperation as well as exposing them to good models. In addition, other children will start viewing them more positively. Just sitting close to a ‘higher status’ child can improve the buddy’s own standing in the classroom. Importantly, the children with strong social skills are usually not affected by the less regulated behavior of their buddy**.
Tolerable situations are those that are not too over-stimulating or under-stimulating. Children with autism and related conditions have many sensory sensitivities. Sitting close to other people, smelling their breath, sensing their movements, hearing them cough …. makes this all the more challenging. I recall a child who purposely made errors on a test so he could get away from the adult’s smelly breath.
Let’s look at the different seating arrangements.
Facing teacher sitting in rows. Students are expected to watch, listen, and respond consistently to the teacher (shown as gray chair). The physical closeness of the students can increase the sensory demands on them. Having to watch and respond to only one person (the teacher) can make this seating arrangement a little more tolerable for some students.
Students in small groups and pairs. In these seating arrangements, students are expected to pay attention and respond to verbal and nonverbal behavior of other students. They have to deal with the sensory issues related to being physically close, in addition to working on a task. Since children are generally less predictable in their behavior than adults, these seating arrangements can prove to be quite challenging for some students. The reduced number of people in the one-on-one (rather than the group of four) can be easier to deal with. The side-by-side arrangement can further reduce demands.
Teacher or assistant face-to-face with student. This seating arrangement is typically used when testing children or teaching new or difficult tasks. The adult works individually with the child and the student is expected to pay attention and respond to them. The child has to deal with sensory issues related to being physically close to another person in addition to working on a task. The greater predictability of adults makes this situation a little less challenging. But there’s a confrontational nature to this seating arrangement because it is one-to-one and face-to-face.
Teacher or assistant behind the student. This seating arrangement is perhaps the best for teaching new skills and academic content. The teacher or assistant sits behind and to the side of the student. The student’s main focus is then on the task and the adult assists when needed. There are reduced sensory demands because the adult is not visible. Also, the adult’s role is as a helper rather than challenger.
The major take-away from this discussion is that there’s no best way to arrange seating. Observe children carefully and understand their sensory challenges in addition to their learning and social/behavioral needs. Use different seating arrangements for different purposes. If academic learning is the main goal, consider sitting behind the student or seating them in rows. Face-to-face across a table is still an option for teaching and testing but be aware of the dynamics and sensory concerns. If you want to focus on social learning as well as to practice skills, consider buddying children up or seating them in small groups. Those arrangements are not ideal for introducing new or more difficult tasks. As children develop their self-regulation skills, change seating arrangements to help build their resilience and self-advocacy skills.
* Note I didn’t say ‘looking at the teacher’. Eye contact can be disruptive to learning by students with autism and related conditions. Making students look at the teacher is not recommended. Looking in the direction of the teacher is something you can work on over time.
** For further reading, check out these studies:
Gremmen, M. C., van den Berg, Y. H. M., Segers, E., Cillessen, A. H. N. (2016). Considerations for classroom seating arrangements and the role of teacher characteristics and beliefs. Social Psychology of Education, 19, 749–774.
van den Berg, Y. H. M., & Stoltz, S. (2018). Enhancing Social Inclusion of Children With Externalizing Problems Through Classroom Seating Arrangements: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 26(1), 31–41. https://doi.org/10.1177/1063426617740561
***Sitting with a child with special needs may not be considered ‘cool’ by some students. It may be wise to rotate on a consistent basis in order to limit any negative effects on likeability.
There’s so much focus on IQ, so-called ‘intelligence’ as the a predictor of learning and success. It just infuriates me when I hear people talk about a child as not being able to do something. How do they know? I’ve battled against this IQ-referencing a long time. People will cite a child’s IQ and use it to determine if they qualify for certain services or not. That’s just ridiculous in my opinion.
Results of intelligence tests are used by some government agencies to decide what services someone can access. If your IQ score isn’t high enough, you’re considered to be ‘unable’ to benefit and you’re cut off. This same thing happens in school systems. If your IQ isn’t high enough, you’ll likely be routed through special education classes.
These ideas make a lot of assumptions. One of them is that the measured IQ is indeed the person’s level of ability. As the researchers at the University of Montreal have found, results of assessment can seriously underestimate intelligence, depending on the test used.
Another assumption is that IQ is the only predictor of achievement. A fascinating article was published in 2011 that made my heart soar. It presented the notion of the hungry mind as a factor in achievement. They found that, in addition to IQ, strong predictors of achievement were persistence and curiosity.
If a person is persistent, they put in the effort, they plan, they organize themselves …. they self-regulate. Persistence was found to be independent of intelligence – you didn’t have to be smart to work diligently.
Students who are curious look for chances to learn. They have a drive to know and to experience – an appetite for information. As with conscientiousness, curiosity was not related to how smart you are.
When persistence and curiosity were combined, they predicted achievement better than IQ! So, your IQ is less important if you have a drive to know and you refuse to give up.
This reminded me of students I’ve known over the years. One young girl, in particular, was classified as “educably mentally retarded” (excuse the terminology, those were the olden days!). This meant she wasn’t allowed to attend mainstream classes. She had to be in special education. Her parents worked hard to give her learning opportunities. I remember being impressed by the girl’s persistence and drive to learn. Some years later, I met her again at a university where she was a student, getting her degree in early childhood education. She reminded me of the importance of perseverance as well as the injustice surrounding IQ referencing.
What does this all mean to children we live and work with? Number one, don’t let IQ determine how or what you teach. Number two, help children develop their behavioral, cognitive, and emotional self-regulation skills. Then they can more readily develop their persistence and curiosity. This, in turn, will impact their achievement.
For the curious, here are two interesting articles:
von Stumm, S., Hell, B., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011a). The hungry mind: Intellectual curiosity as third pillar of academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 51, 12-31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26168378
von Stumm, S., & Ackerman, P. L. (2013). Investment and Intellect: A Review and Metaanalysis. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 841-869. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ea81/8d3ed84875d9981d9d39f61ac11bc2374f61.pdf
I’m a big fan of AuKids magazine that comes out of the UK.
It’s one of the richest and most accessible resources I’ve found. They address important issues in highly readable ways. The co-editor, Debby Elley, is the parent of twins with autism who provides perspective and good humour to the journey.
Disclaimer: yes, I do contribute to AuKids from time to time purely on a voluntary basis. I think it’s that good.
A: Grrrrrr, I so dislike it when children are labelled as ‘low’ or ‘high’ functioning. It’s really annoying and can get in the way of finding the best in children.
That aside, let’s look at where you can start.
Making choices is a great place. Your child undoubtedly has preferences for things to eat, drink, play with, etc. Self-regulation is learning to make decisions for yourself. That’s where choices come in.
If you find your child will accept just about anything you offer, let’s give them the option of a preferred thing and a dud. By ‘dud’, I mean something that your child wouldn’t choose at the best of times. Let’s say they’re thirsty, offer them two options – a cup of juice and a sock. The sock is the ‘dud’ – not something they’d choose. Prompt with: “You choose.” Then praise the choice – “Good choice. Now you can drink.”
Remember to put just a wee bit of drink in the cup so they come back for another round.
If that went smoothly, try it a few more times. Give them a break. Then try two more similar options, say juice versus water. Just make sure that one is something they usually like more. Prompt: “You choose. Which one do you want?”
Extend making choices to other drinks, food, toys, clothing, places to visit … and so on. Do choices a few times a day. We want to keep choice-making fresh and positive.
The more often you can get your child to choose, the more self-regulation they’re learning. They’re making decisions on their own …. and you’re listening.
Children, especially those with learning discrepancies, need to develop thinking skills at the executive function level. That is, they need to learn cognitive self-regulation.
The first area we address is being systematic. That means doing one thing at a time and working from beginning to end. Explain to them that, by being systematic, we won’t miss anything. A lot of our children don’t know where to start. They don’t systematically work on one thing and then the next. And they don’t know when they’re done. These are the focus of being systematic.
Teach children to figure out where to start an activity. In the beginning, they need help. I like to place a green ‘go’ dot in the upper left hand side as the place we always start*. Then they learn to complete one step before moving to the next – always moving left to right and top to bottom*. Put a red dot at the end so they know when they’re done.
Most children find it challenging to have a lot of tasks in front of them. Prompt them to cover up the rest of the activity if it overloads them. Comment: “It looks like that’s hard for your eyes. How about we cover some of them up?” Sticky notes are perfect for covering up anything that’s distracting them. I’ve found that most children ask for sticky notes once they’ve tried them. They’ve told me it really helps them stay focused. It’s a small investment for improved attention and learning.
Another important helper is the ‘finder finger’. Tell students that they’ve already got something to help them work systematically … and it’s attached to their hand. It’s their index finger. Index fingers can point to things and track along a line to help their eyes (and brains) stay focused.
When you look at being systematic and these simple strategies, you can see how they help children gain control over their executive functions.
* of course, the direction would be right to left for Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu, and Sindhi speakers.
I came across a research article that really made me think. It was entitled: “When Helping Hurts: Children Think Groups That Receive Help Are Less Smart.” In the study, preschool children were shown short video animations. In them, an ‘expert’ offered help to one group of children because it looked like they needed it. For the other group, the expert said, “Looks like you don’t need help. I’ll come watch you.” Children watching the video were asked how smart they thought the groups in the video were. They were significantly more likely to say the group that received help was less smart.
Intuitively, I knew this was true. I’ve worked with and observed enough children to know this is the way things go. But we know that helping someone can improve their success.
The study showed that helping can serve as a social stigma. Other children believe that, if you get help, you aren’t as smart. The helper-child relationship is inherently unequal. The helper is the authority. The child is seen as being unlikely to succeed on their own.
This is at the core of my passion for improving behavioral, cognitive, and emotional self-regulation in children. If they learn to self-regulate and make more decisions on their own, they won’t need us hovering so closely around them. Then other people won’t think they’re ‘less smart’.
But teachers, therapists, and assistants are hired to help students. What does this mean for day to day practices at home, in therapy settings, and in schools?
For starters, it’d help if everyone viewed themselves as coaches. Like coaches, we need to:
How could this work in traditional settings? At home, in therapy, and at school:
The coach mindset can help us make good strides in reducing the stigma many of our children experience. Teach foundation skills and then learn to stand back.