Allergies in Children

Allergies in children occur when the child’s immune system reacts to substances that are harmless to most children. Some substances are known allergens, which means they are known to cause allergic reactions in children and others susceptible to allergies. These substances include dust mites, pets, pollen, insects, ticks, mold, various foods, and some medications.

Allergies can make a child feel miserable with chronic uncomfortable symptoms. For some children, however, allergies don’t just affect quality of life, but are so severe as to be life-threatening. Any child can develop an allergy, but allergies are more common in children whose families have them, too.

A child who often coughs or sneezes, develops rashes or hives, or gets stomach aches, cramps or nausea each time he or she eats a certain food, may be experiencing allergies. If you identify those allergies early on, you have a good chance of making your child’s life a better, more comfortable one. By identifying and dealing with a childhood allergy, you’ll cut down the number of days your child will have to miss school. Treating the allergy means you’ll also be able to use your sick days and vacation days as they were intended, instead of using them to care for a sick child.

Baby has an allergic rash on his cheeks
The baby is adorable, but the allergic rash? Not so much.

Allergies: Common Symptoms

In order to identify allergy symptoms in your child, you have to know what they might look like. Here are some of the most common symptoms associated with childhood allergies

  • Skin rashes (such as atopic dermatitis or eczema)
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing (asthma)
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Stomach ache
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea

Common Allergens

Getting control over childhood allergies means avoiding the substances that trigger allergic reactions in children. Here is a list of the most common childhood allergens.

Out of doors:

  • Tree pollen
  • Plant pollen
  • Insect bites
  • Insect stings

Indoors:

Irritants:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfumes and scented products
  • Automobile exhaust fumes

Foods that may be allergens:

If you think your child may have an allergy, have the child seen by an allergist. In the days leading up to your appointment, keep a journal of your child’s symptoms and what substances you think might have caused them.

Common Allergy Issues

If your child has allergies, he or she is probably dealing with some of the following issues:

Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is the most common allergic condition in children. The symptoms of allergic rhinitis include runny, itchy nose; sneezing; postnasal drip; and nasal congestion or blockage. Other symptoms of hay fever include watery, red, itchy eyes, and fluid in the ears, which leads to ear pain, and ear infections. Hay fever is not triggered by hay, and does not come with fever.

Nasal congestion or a stuffy nose in children, is most commonly caused by allergies. When the nose is congested, a child is forced to breathe through the mouth. This can make for a restless night’s sleep, leaving your child tired during the day. This makes it difficult for children to concentrate in school. It’s important to note that if this congestion is not treated, it can affect the development of the child’s teeth as well as the bone structure of the face. Seek treatment for allergic nasal congestion as soon as possible, to prevent such issues.

Ear infections can develop when allergic congestion, causes fluid to accumulate in the ears. A buildup of fluid can lead to inflammation, pain, and a reduction in hearing. Decreased hearing puts babies and small children still learning to speak at risk for speech issues. Ear troubles due to allergies can cause ear pain, itching, popping, and a feeling of fullness or being “stopped up.” A child with ear trouble may rub or tug on her ear and may cry at night.

Food allergies affect some 6 million children in the United States. Breastfeeding is an excellent way to prevent food allergies for some children. But some children are so sensitive that they have allergic reactions to foods their breastfeeding moms eat. If you have allergies in your family, you may want to stay away from allergic foods while breastfeeding. You may also want to avoid introducing these foods to young children. Allergic foods include:

  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Tree nuts (for instance, walnuts and cashews)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Wheat

Peanuts and milk are the most common food allergens in children. The most severe childhood allergic reactions to food are generally to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. While not all children outgrow food allergies, they often outgrow their childhood allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy.

Children with food allergies are at risk for anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause breathing difficulties accompanied by a sudden drop in blood pressure. An anaphylactic reaction can send the body into shock. For this reason, doctors prescribe epinephrine, a form of adrenaline, that can be self-injected at the first symptom. The child’s school should be made aware of the condition and teachers trained in the use of administering the life-saving epinephrine in case of emergency.

School nurse helps child with asthma inhaler

Allergies: School Issues

Inform the school. If your child has allergies, his school should be informed. The same is true of summer camp or anywhere your child spends time. It’s important to ensure that the school knows what to do in case of emergency, and how to administer your child’s medications.

Classroom pets. Some classrooms have pets with fur, for instance gerbils, that can cause symptoms in children with allergies. If your child feels unwell in the classroom, for example, asthma, coughing, or congestion, a runny nose, a rash, or sneezing, such symptoms may well be caused by the classroom pet.

Boy sneezing from holding cat
Will the family pet have to go?

Asthma and gym class. Participating in sports or physical education classes is good for children, even those with asthma. Children with asthma should, however, take care to use their asthma medication regularly and as directed by a physician. When asthma symptoms occur during hard exercise or sports, it suggests that the child’s asthma is under poor control.

Chalk dust irritation. Chalk dust can be an irritant for those with allergies. Children with allergies may need to sit farther away from the blackboard to avoid irritation and allergy symptoms.

It’s a challenge to deal with children’s allergies, and it takes commitment. But take heart: so many children suffer from allergies that you are surely not alone in dealing with this issue!

If you suspect your child has allergies, don’t take a wait and see attitude, because early identification and treatment of allergies is crucial for your child’s health and development. See your child’s doctor as soon as possible.

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Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: Lies We Encourage as Parents

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are mythological creatures many of us believe in as children. We think of them as real and our parents encourage this belief. At some point, someone busts the bubble and a child might approach a parent: “Is it true there’s no such thing as (choose one: Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny)?”

This creates a dilemma for the parent. Should the parent come clean? How will the child feel on learning the truth? How will the parent feel to watch the child wrestling with the death of strong-held childhood beliefs?

These questions lead to more questions: Is the belief in mythological characters like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny beneficial to children? Does it harm a child to be misled by his own parents, even if the misleading information was meant kindly? Should parents continue or discontinue this practice?

Parenting coach Barbara Harvey doesn’t think that the focus on these mythical creatures is all bad, but she does think the practice of encouraging belief in make-believe figures sets children up for disappointment and disillusionment. “I encourage parents to tell their children about the origins of these fictional characters and to talk about how the stories have become bigger than life. Then it becomes fun to examine: ‘Okay, what’s going down with the Easter Bunny at Easter? Let’s look around and see how the Easter Bunny has become bigger than life.’

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: The Magic

“This way kids still get to enjoy the magic and the wonder of these characters without having to believe that they actually exist,” says Harvey, who is the executive director of Parents, Teachers, and Advocates, a parent development group in Atlanta, GA.

Teaching kids to believe in these creatures is, on the other hand, teaching them lies. What happens to the trust a child has in a parent when the lie is discovered? Wouldn’t it be only natural for a child to feel betrayed on learning the truth? Is it worse when the child hears the truth from a friend, and discovers his own parents have lied to him?

And what about the child who tells the friend that his mother told him that Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are real creatures, and his mother never lies—only to discover that his mother has, indeed, lied.

And what is the effect of all this when you’ve never lied to your child about anything except for the “lies” about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny?

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: Benign Practice?

Do these questions show us that the subject of mythological creatures is more complicated that anyone might have supposed? Or is this just a lot of fuss and bother over the perpetuation of a belief in make-believe characters—something most of us think of as a benign practice, harmless. Part of childhood.

But is it? Must it be this way?

Well, according to Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent, the answer is both yes and no. “Parents should never lie to their children about anything. However, when it comes to myths like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, many parents want to carry on the tradition of fun by nurturing a gentle belief in these myths when their kids are young.

“Usually, by age 7 or 8 years, most children wonder out loud and ask their Mommy or Daddy if Santa is real. It’s up to the parent at that point to respond honestly and openly by saying, ‘When I was a child, my parents thought it was a fun part of Christmas to teach us about the myth of Santa Claus. I loved it so much that I decided to share those teachings with my children. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to carry on this family tradition or do Christmas in your own special way,’” says Walfish, who serves as a regular expert on The Doctors, on CBS TV, in her capacity as a child psychologist.

Despite the advice of experts like Harvey and Walfish, there isn’t much science to guide us in understanding what we should do as parents going forward. The research tells us that most kids figure out the truth by age 7 or 8. The kids generally have a positive reaction to learning these characters aren’t real. It is the parents who report feeling sad when their children stop believing in Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: Part of the Process

In spite of this scientific evidence that kids aren’t sad or damaged by the truth, at least one expert disagrees, believing sadness and disappointment to be part of the process. “When your child learns that there is no Santa Claus or Easter bunny, it is certainly sad for him or her and as parents, we need to be sure to validate their disappointment,” says Child and Adult Therapist Courtney Rodrigue. Rodrigue suggests that children, on learning the truth, be enlisted to keep the secret from others, “It is also helpful to tell your child that now he/she knows there is no Santa Claus (or Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy) you need their help to keep this special secret so their younger siblings or cousins can enjoy the magic of believing. Parents should emphasize that although there is no magic man in a red suit, this doesn’t mean there is no magic to the holiday spirit,” says Rodrigue.

Interestingly, one stand-out scientific finding is that Jewish children are less likely to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy than Christian children, even when their parents encourage such belief. What makes Jewish children impervious to the hype? Could it be the emphasis of the Jewish religion on Old Testament beliefs? The Ten Commandments?

Perhaps. Child Psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character, Dr. Elizabeth Berger, however, thinks children should be directed to share the beliefs of their peers, whatever these might be. Berger reminds concerned parents that, “Adjusting the nature of reality to the child’s developmental level is one of the main missions of parenthood. This involves adjusting the nature of reality for one’s child to the social reality of the community in which the parent has chosen to raise the child.

“In practical terms, this means editing the brutal truth about many matters so that the mind of a small child–a toddler or 6-year-old–can understand them. All parents do this, in order to spare small children overwhelming experiences which are part of an adult reality–terrible things on the news or painful events among one’s friends, neighbors, or family. We do a great deal to ‘spare’ our small children many realities and this effort is in their best interest.

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: Joyful Magic?

“Likewise, it is not harmful to encourage a small amount of joyful magic in a child’s experience, such as belief in imaginary creatures who single out the child for special events such as the Tooth Fairy. In our communities today, many children share these fantasy beliefs as part of special times. Encouraging your child to burst these innocent balloons which are enjoyed by other kids on the playground does not help the child get along with others in a comfortable way. It sets your child up as a nay-sayer and kill-joy,” says Berger.

That doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t prepare a child to realize the truth, which according to Berger is an inevitable part of growing up. “It is important that parents are empathic in easing along the transition to realistic thinking which most children do naturally as part of their growing intellectual depth and their awareness of peer attitudes. Few ten-years-olds believe in the Tooth Fairy, regardless of what parents do or say. Once a child wants to penetrate the fantasy and confront the parent with the truth, it is a good idea to congratulate the child on this insight and to validate the development of more complex understanding. You can always explain that these silly beliefs are for littler kids, and commend the child on his or her maturity,” says Berger.

Experts urge us to be empathetic to children who have just found out the truth about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Isn’t it odd then that research describes children as having a positive response to finding out their parents have been lying to them their entire lives? It seems children see discovering the truth as a rite of passage. It means they’ve crossed the line and become big boys and girls, and are little babies no longer. They now know something small children don’t know. It makes them superior in their own eyes, more grown up, more knowledgeable.

 

Why are the parents sad when their children learn the truth? There’s something about the fantasy world of small children that is beautiful and moving, compared to the harshness of everyday reality. We like the idea that babies live in a sweet, pink world, where everything is soft and friendly. Growing up also means a loss of closeness to our children in some ways, because they no longer need to depend upon us—their parents—in quite the same way. They don’t need us.

That is bittersweet.

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the EMythological creatures such as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, and practices like putting a tooth under a pillow (illustrated), allow children to experience wonderaster Bunny: Betrayal

Not all of us are sad when our children begin to figure it out. David Gerecht was proud as punch when his six-year-old asked him what the Tooth Fairy does with all those teeth. Children, meanwhile, aren’t always happy to be clued in. “I remember getting totally upset at age 6 when I realized that the Tooth Mice (in my family it was Mice) were an invention of my parents,” says the now middle-aged Miriam Kresh.

Do some parents find other ways to mark milestone events such as losing teeth? Shira Daniel says her husband, a dentist, told the kids that an angel gives the teeth away to new children. But even this attempt was foiled by discovery. “I think they bought it but at one point knew it was their father,” says Daniel.

The father in-law of Chana Roberts called himself the Tooth Fairy’s “agent.” “Kids gave him their teeth and he gave them money. [My own children] don’t have a Tooth Fairy. I just said I want to put the first teeth with the first pair of shoes, because sometimes mommies like to do that kind of thing,” says Roberts.

Some parents feel that it is the function of a child’s mind to fantasize, with or without our input. We don’t need to tell them about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny in order for them to invent their own fantastical worlds and the creatures that inhabit them. They dream this way despite us.

Such parents may point to children at play as illustrating this idea. They are endlessly creative at play.

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: White Lie?

These parents believe it is better to draw the line in the sand for their children, when it comes to the difference between truth and make-believe. They say that by being keepers of the truth, their children can use them as trustworthy guides for distinguishing fact from fantasy. These parents believe that in remaining truthful, they deepen the bonds they have with their children who will never discover they have been lied to, betrayed, even in the matter of the “white lie” of make-believe characters such as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.

These parents may feel that the only people who stand to lose from truth-telling are the marketers who plug these creatures at holiday time to make their wares more attractive to youngsters and their parents.

But Dr. Elizabeth Berger still sees the importance of maintaining the ruse. “The world of the small child is full of magic and unreality, and should be. Each small child should feel like ‘the best little girl or boy’ in the world and regard the Mom and Dad as the best Mom and Dad ever, and the local community as the best place on earth. The recognition of ordinariness comes gradually and later.”

Do you think belief in make-believe characters is no big deal?

Did you decide not to encourage your children to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny?

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Critical Thinking Skills: Resources for Parents

Critical thinking skills are one of the greatest gifts a parent can offer a child in today’s world of too much information. As a people, we humans are bombarded by information coming at us from our various screens. How we relate to that information separates us into two groups. We are either intelligent, sensitive people, or we are “sheeple.” Sheeple take in the data they see and hear and spit it back out at the world, without stopping to examine or assess the information in the first place.

Being one with the sheeple means being ripe for manipulation. The sheeple drink in false propaganda like it’s water. They’ll happily buy whatever moral code you plug without question and adopt it as their own. They’ll buy any product you tell them will make them happy.

We don’t want our children to be vulnerable to group think. We want them to stop and use their critical thinking skills before buying products marketers claim will make them thin and happy, when no product can replace diet and exercise, or fix their emotional baggage. We don’t want our children to buy into what the media tells them to think, rather we want our children to dig deep, find the facts, and develop their own, fact-based opinions.

Critical Thinking is a Learning Process

Critical thinking isn’t a lesson you’re going to sit down and teach your children at one fell swoop. It’s a process. One that takes time and patience.

Your children are going to demand you buy them pretty, sparkly things, based on advertising. Each time, you’re going to have to point out the manipulation in the marketing. When children come to you with ideas on current events, moreover, you’re going to have to press them regarding the facts. You’re going to have to show them how the media uses suasion to drive home an editorial stance. You’ll need to show them how the story is depicted in a completely different manner on a different website and help them understand how to read between the lines to learn the truth of any given news story.

Critical thinking is about questioning: is this all there is to this story? Is there another side? Am I being manipulated? Will a given product fulfill the promise, the claim of the packaging and advertising?

Is it any wonder that right about now you’re thinking you never signed up for this when you decided to have a baby? All this scrutiny, all this teaching your child how to think! It’s a tall order, this critical thinking business.

Critical Thinking Resources

Lucky for you, there are resources out there to help you do the hard work of helping your child separate fact from fiction. There are actually amazing websites that can help you teach your child the important skill of critical thinking, no matter the topic at hand.

Many of these resources were developed for teachers, but there is no reason why we can’t, as parents, partake of these free tools. Parents, after all, were the first teachers, and remain the go-to source of information for their children. One great place to start is NAMLE, which stands for National Association for Media Literacy Education. NAMLE is sponsoring the third yearly Media Literacy Week (November 6-10, 2017), a cause  near and dear to NAMLE’s heart.

A great place for parents to begin exploring what NAMLE has to offer is this recently released parent’s guide on teaching children how to be careful media consumers. The focus of the guide is on teaching kids to always ask questions. Here, parents can read up on how to have the conversation about fake news, how to teach children to identify scams, and how to guide children in avoiding plagiarizing information found on websites. An invaluable resource for instilling in our children the message of using their critical thinking faculties.

The Newseum, on the other hand, is more like a teacher’s treasure trove, with lesson plans galore for teaching children how to use their critical thinking skills to form opinions. Choose a topic, such as civil rights, women’s rights, the Holocaust, or an election campaign, and you’ve got everything you need to show children all about it. Looking at Newseum’s collection on women’s suffrage, for instance, there are downloadable units on the history of women’s suffrage; how the Suffragettes used media to further their aims comparing these tactics to today’s use of social media; and a unit on the new techniques women used to get the vote and how these techniques are still in use today. There’s a timeline for feminist milestones a map showing how women’s suffrage spread, and search engines to learn about people important to the women’s movement. We can see women’s movement-related government documents and newspaper clippings, too.

Sortable Resources

Newseum has neat things you can download, like a colorful poster with a mnemonic device to aid children in spotting media bias. The various offerings can be sorted according to grade, format, topic, theme, and century. There are even case studies relating to current events, such as this one about First Amendment rights and the cancellation of Milo Yiannopolous’ speech at the University of Berkeley campus. Good stuff here, whether for kids just cutting their teeth on finding their thoughts or somewhat further along with their critical thinking skills.critical thinking skills involve questioning, a girl at a desk raises her hand

Common Sense Media is devoted to providing unbiased media to and honing critical thinking skills in children, and offers resources to parents on media literacy and bias under the heading of “Parent Concerns.” Here, parents can find videos, articles, and infographics to help them navigate the news with children. The Common Sense Media statement at the bottom of the website’s homepage is a pleasure to read, a terrific moral statement:

“Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.”

If all this wealth of information seems overwhelming, and you’d rather have everything you need on one page, try this resource at Internet4Classrooms: How to Evaluate News Sources for Media Bias. Written for teachers to use in the classroom, this resource breaks down the various forms of media bias for the student. This article can serve as a kind of checklist for the child who is trying to figure out whether a particular news piece is or is not biased. (Speaking of bias, the piece was written by this author, so there may be some bias in recommending the piece to you, the reader!)

Avoiding Cynicism

Critical thinking is an ongoing learning process. Once you get kids started on the right path asking lots of questions, however, it shouldn’t be difficult to encourage them to continue. Kids have a strong sense of morality and will enjoy applying their critical thinking skills to all situations. Helping them avoid bitter cynicism as they wake up to the deceptive nature of too many media outlets and advertisers, on the other hand, may be a lesson that’s harder to teach.

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Manage ADHD by Developing Skills

You can’t manage ADHD with drugs alone. Anyone who has ever parented one of the 6 million children in the United States age 4-17 diagnosed with the condition knows that. But with school now back in session, frustrated parents and their children may be asking what more can be done to manage ADHD and its symptoms. Because taking drugs isn’t enough, and may not even be the right way to go.

ADHD is complicated. It makes learning difficult. That’s why children with ADHD need a great deal of support from their parents, teachers, and school counselors. A school counselor, in particular, can play a special role in helping students with ADHD by serving as an intermediary between parents and teachers.

With so many children experiencing ADHD, it becomes crucial to offer them some sort of support system that goes beyond purchasing a prescription and hoping for the best. Here, school counselors can fulfill an important function, by serving as the pipeline for communication between parents and teachers. School counselors can also be an important resource for all those who work with children with ADHD, both in and out of the classroom. While most children are diagnosed with the combined form of ADHD, the presentation of symptoms can change over time. The school counselor can offer strategies to cope with changing behaviors as these changes arise.

In order to manage ADHD, however, it is important to gain an understanding of the skills a student with ADHD must develop. The aim of any therapies for ADHD must have, as their ultimate goal, improved impulse control, time management, and the ability to focus or concentrate on tasks. If students fail to develop these critical skills, they will remain in perpetual frustration, become worn out from trying so hard, develop poor self-esteem, and suffer from acute embarrassment, as well.

One practical way to help students with ADHD develop these skills is to provide them with a dependable structure. A student who struggles with forgetfulness, for instance, should be made to do homework at the same time every day. Over time, the student internalizes that homework is always done at 4 PM, so that when 4 PM rolls around, the student knows just what to do and never forgets. A student who tends to forgetfulness can also be instructed to store his schoolbooks in one designated space. Since the item is always placed in the same spot, there will never be a time when the child cannot find the item. These are meaningful methods for developing time management and organizational skills to really address and manage ADHD.

But let’s say there is to be a school field trip at 4 PM on a certain date. That can throw the student with ADHD for a loop, since 4 PM is homework time. The student should be prepared well in advance of any such changes in schedule or routine. Talking about how and when the child will get dressed, do homework, and eat on that day is going to be a necessary conversation that may have to be reviewed several times over several days or weeks. Students with ADHD need lots of help and much spatience in learning to organize their time.

As for developing a student’s powers of concentration and focus, ADHD expert Dr. Edward Hallowell believes Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expertthat staying focused for shorter periods of time is the right way to go. “Kids with ADHD must learn to manage large projects. Break down large topics or tasks into small, manageable bits. For example, a book report might be subdivided into eight steps, or a science project outlined in a dozen doable steps. This helps the child with ADHD not feel overwhelmed.”

Strategies to Manage ADHD

These coping tips and tricks help students manage ADHD symptoms by teaching them strategies that have been proven to work, based on evidence. Such strategies are called evidence-based interventions (EBIs). An example of an EBI would be helping the parents of the student with ADHD to develop and put into place a system of organization to assist the student in carrying out more homework assignments and chores and getting them done on time. Parents might use calendars, charts, notebook or computer, and class syllabi to make it work.

Anil Chacko, a professor for Counseling@NYU’s online master’s in school counseling program from NYU Steinhardt, describes some strategies that school counselors can use when working with students who have ADHD. “School counselors should utilize methods that support students’ time management, planning, and organization,” Chacko says, citing the work of Joshua Langberg at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Howard Abikoff at New York University’s (NYU) School of Medicine, leading scholars in the field of ADHD in children and adolescents. “I would also encourage school counselors to work directly with parents to create a school-home note system to support cross-setting changes.”

Dr. Langberg developed and published the successful Homework, Organization, and Planning Skills (HOPS) intervention. HOPS is about teaching kids to use physical organization tools, for instance book bags, binders, and lockers, and homework management tools such as writing down assignments and recording them accurately, entering test dates on a calendar, and in general, planning things out.

Dr. Abikoff researches interventions and training in children with ADHD, for instance Organizational Skills Training (OST). OST targets specific organizational skills goals. Here is a description of the OST program from program’s creators:

OST is a 20-session, twice-weekly, clinic-based program, which focused on building organizational skills in four areas:

  • Tracking Assignments: Teaching students a system for consistently recording assignments and due dates in a specially designed planner.
  • Managing Materials: Providing students with methods for storing and organizing their papers and materials through the use of an accordion binder system, materials checklists included in their planner, systems for organizing their desks, and by developing prominently visible checklists for backpacks and other tools for material transfer, as well as other related strategies.
  • Time Management: Helping students become more aware of their use of time and how to plan ahead to structure their time effectively through the use of an afternoon scheduling component in their planners; helping students improve their time estimation skills and their awareness of how much time they need to complete tasks; teaching students to work efficiently by minimizing distractions in their work spaces.
  • Task Planning: Showing students how to break larger projects and goals into steps and create schedules for task completion through the use of task-planning pages in their planners.

OST students are taught that each OTMP (organization, time management, and planning) problem area is the result of a brain “glitch.” Each glitch is depicted as a naughty character who likes to watch children make mistakes due to organizational problems. This concept helps motivate the students and makes the program “lighthearted and fun.” The concept of glitches is also meant to make the issues encountered by students with ADHD less personal. Kids come to understand that it’s not they who fail, but the symptoms of ADHD getting in the way of their academic and social success.

Each organizational skill is taught using the same basic method:

1) The new skill is discussed, defined, and explained. A rationale is given for the importance of the skill. The child hears about the settings in which the skill might be used.

2) The skill is demonstrated

3) The skill is practiced by the child under the guidance of an instructor and feedback is given. The skill is practiced many times. The student is taught to identify situations in which the skill should be used.

Studies as recent as this one from 2016, have found that early behavioral therapy (HOPS, OST, and the like), begun before any other interventions, such as medication, had “four fewer rules violations an hour at school than the medication-first group.” That’s not to say that behavioral therapy takes the place of medication. Medication has proven benefits for children with ADHD. What we should take away from the research is that 1) We shouldn’t begin with medication and 2) Teaching children to develop their OTMP skills even before they reach school age, can really make a difference. In terms of cost, by the way, behavior-first therapy is estimated to cost an annual $700 less per year when compared to medication-first treatment.

Strategies for Teachers

Besides using EBIs like OST and HOPS in their work with children, school counselors can also train teachers to support children who are coping with ADHD in the classroom. A school counselor might, for instance, suggest the teacher give out points or tokens for good behavior. Here are some other practical tips from the National Resource Center (NRC) on ADHD:

For the easily distracted student (predominantly inattentive)

  • Seat the student close to the teacher’s desk and away from distractions such as windows or school corridors
  • Split long assignments into smaller segments
  • Offer more breaks during class time

For the students that fidgets and squirms (predominantly hyperactive/impulsive)

  • Seat the student where the fidgeting and squirming will be least likely to disturb classmates, for instance along the side of the classroom
  • Offer opportunities throughout the day that allow the fidgety student to move, for instance, handing out work sheets.

More Tips to Manage ADHD

Scott Ertl, M.Ed., was an elementary school counselor for 18 years before he became the CEO of BouncyBands, a device to help fidgety students cope in the classroom. Here are Ertl’s top 5 tips for helping students with ADHD succeed in the classroom:

1) The child or teacher, depending on the child’s maturity, should clean out the child’s desk every Friday afternoon so the week starts off as organized and prepared as possible.

2) Allow movement. Let the child earn the ability to deliver a book to the media center, a note to the front office, or a message to a teacher when their work is completed correctly. Bouncy Bands, yoga balls, and standing desks in class are also great ways to allow movement throughout the day. Kids need appropriate ways to release their extra energy without distracting others.

3) Set them up for success. Give them advance notice that you are going to call on them to answer a question in class so they are ready. This works much better than catching them off task as a way to shame them into paying attention.

4) Have specific goals on their desk to accomplish, like: Check over my work when completed, Make sure all of my homework is written down before leaving class, and Raise my hand to ask for help when unsure of what to do in class.

5) Communicate. Give specific feedback during the day when these goals are being accomplished to recognize their improvements. Use them as model in class to encourage other students to improve those behaviors as well.

Teachers who must manage ADHD in the classroom may also want to try using sentences that suggest an order of action, for instance, “First read all the questions, then answer them,” or, “First put your crayons away, then take out your geography book.” In addition, enlisting a student’s help can increase self-worth and help refocus the child’s energy. Teachers and parents should always watch for good behavior and give praise whenever and wherever it happens!

How Can Parents Manage ADHD?

Here are some things parents can do at home to help their children who struggle with ADHD:

  • Use a system to acknowledge and reward good behavior, for instance, a chart with stickers
  • Stick to a home routine with as little deviation as possible (e.g. homework, dinner, bedtime, and etc., are at the same time each day)
  • Create written to-do lists for chores so that the child can cross things off the list as they are done
  • Practice at home, OTMP strategies learned at therapy sessions

Professor Chacko encourages parents to educate themselves. If you have a child with ADHD, seek out information on behavior parent training programs in your area. Some consider these programs to be the most important and most effective means to manage ADHD behaviors both in and out of the classroom. Parents, along with teachers and school counselors, should also be aware that ADHD often coexists (see: Comorbidity and ADHD: It’s Not Just About ADHD) with learning disabilities and difficulties. “The challenges these children face may be more than just ‘ADHD,’” says Chacko.

What do you do at home to help support your child with ADHD?

Save Your Baby’s Life With Infant CPR

Maybe you know how to perform CPR, but do you know how to perform infant CPR?

Most parents knows that babies, being small, need smaller amounts of nearly everything, ranging from food to shampoo to toothpaste to doses of medicine. With regard to medical care, however, it’s important to understand that infants and children are not simply small adults. Children of varying weights and ages, for example, require varying amounts of medication which must be carefully calculated and administered.

By the same token, when a baby requires emergency medical care, it’s important to tailor that care to the age of the patient. Babies have smaller, more delicate bodies. As such, you wouldn’t perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as you would for an adult, by pushing down hard on the chest with the heel of your hand. Such a technique would actually prove dangerous to a baby, and might crush the child’s chest.

Yet most people know that CPR saves lives. You use CPR when someone isn’t breathing or his heart stops beating. The CPR technique involves chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Here’s why CPR is important: when the heartbeat and breathing stop, blood can no longer circulate to bring oxygen to the brain. Without blood flow to the brain, permanent brain damage or death can occur in under 8 minutes. CPR helps provide much-needed oxygen in the event of an accident or other medical emergency. The emergency medical technique may also stimulate the patient’s heart to begin beating once more, and the patient’s lungs to begin inhaling and exhaling on their own.

Infant CPR Is Different

While infant CPR is quite different from adult CPR, the principle is the same. In both cases, the sooner lifesaving methods are taken, the more likely it is that the patient will survive and with little or no permanent damage. For this reason, parents should learn how to do infant CPR, as CPR will greatly enhance a child’s chances of survival in the event of an accident or other life-threatening situation.

How likely is it that, as a parent, you will need to perform CPR on your infant or child? It’s difficult to say, but if you’re a parent, you know that kids will be kids and accidents can happen. CPR can be useful in all sorts of emergencies, from car accidents, to drowning, poisoning, suffocation, electrocution, smoke inhalation, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

A good resource to have on hand in case of emergency is a step-by-step infant CPR chart, such as this one from Carrington College.

How to Save Your Baby's Life With Infant CPR

It’s a good idea to print out several copies of this chart. That way you can store copies of the infant CPR chart where you might need them most. Stick one on your fridge with a magnet; put one in your first aid kit, keep one in your purse, wallet, or diaper bag; and store one in the glove compartment of your car for easy reference should the need arise.

Assess Baby’s Condition

Before beginning CPR you will want to assess the baby’s situation. Look the child over to see if he has injuries or bleeding. Put your face close to the baby’s mouth and nose. Do you see the baby’s chest rising and falling? Do you feel his breath on your face? Talk to the baby or flick his feet to see if you can get a response. If the baby cries, that’s good. It means he can breathe.

Begin Chest Compressions

If the infant is not moving or breathing, call out for help. Ask someone to call 911, but don’t leave the baby. It’s crucial to begin CPR as soon as possible. CPR administered within the first few minutes can double or even triple the chances of survival.

Lay the baby on his back. If, however, you suspect a neck injury, roll the baby’s body over, moving his entire body at once.

Locate the baby’s breastbone, just below the nipples on the baby’s chest. Use two fingers to push down by about an inch to an inch and a half. Each push is called a “compression.” For a baby, you want to give 2 compressions per second, or 120 compressions a minute.

Do 30 chest compressions and then check for breathing by placing your ear above the baby’s mouth for no more than ten seconds. Watch that you don’t block the baby’s airway. While you do this, watch the baby’s chest for movement that might indicate breathing.

Open The Airway

Next, check that the baby’s airway is not blocked. To do this, tilt the baby’s head back and lift his chin. Sometimes, tilting the head back is enough to open up the baby’s airway and allow for breathing to begin again. Be aware that a baby who is gasping for air is not really breathing; only coughing or steady breathing indicates that breathing has returned to normal and CPR can be discontinued.

Look inside the baby’s mouth. If the baby is choking on a visible object, you may be able to remove it with your little finger.

If, after a few seconds (no more than 10 seconds), the baby is still not breathing, offer two rescue breaths (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). A baby’s lungs are small so two gentle puffs of air of about one second each, are just right. Make sure that the baby’s neck is straight, the head tilted back, as you blow into the child’s mouth. That way, you ensure your rescue breaths make their way through the baby’s airways into his lungs. If the baby begins to breathe, you should see his chest clearly rise and fall.

Continuing CPR

If the baby doesn’t respond, continue CPR in cycles of 30 compressions followed by two rescue breaths. If you are alone, yell for help after each cycle of 30 compressions and 2 breaths, and request anyone in the area to dial 911. If there is no one to hear you, continue doing compressions and breaths, calling for help and checking the baby’s status every 30 compressions. After 2 minutes (4 rounds of 30 compressions/checks), if the baby is still unresponsive and there is still no one to make the call, make the call to 911 yourself, but keep the baby with you and continue to do compressions and breaths, as much as possible.

Once the call to 911 is made, the dispatcher will be able to guide you through the best way to help your child until emergency medical personnel arrive. It is likely you will need to continue to give CPR (30 compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths) until the baby breathes on his own or help arrives.

Risk Prevention

Some emergency situations such as car accidents may be unavoidable. Most incidents that require infant CPR, however, are preventable. Store chemicals and cleaning products out of baby’s reach. Offer your baby only age-appropriate toys to prevent choking risks. Babies are curious and active, so it is our duty as parents to provide a safe environment in which they can explore.

Better Safe Than Sorry

At the same time, knowing CPR may save your baby’s life, or the life of someone else’s child. Go over the steps and practice on a doll, so you’re all ready should the worst occur. You may never need to use infant CPR, but it’s better to learn the skill than be caught not knowing what to do in a time of dire emergency.

May all our babies stay safe!

Peanut Bans: Are They Doing More Harm Than Good?

Peanut bans were unfamiliar to me until I visited The Zone, a summer camp facility partially funded by  Kars4Kids. I was accompanying a van full of teenagers on a daytrip to Albany, New York, and the girls were hungry. A counselor was about to open a jar of peanut butter, then hesitated and asked me if I was allergic.

I was not.

She made sandwiches.

“Wow,” I thought. “Like peanut bans? Seriously? When did that happen?”

The short answer? Peanut bans happened sometime during the 1980’s and 1990’s. That’s when peanut allergies became all the rage.

Tragic Peanut Story

I myself remember hearing about a local someone who dropped dead at a bus stop after kissing a spouse who had taken a bite from a cookie that had such a minute amount of peanut in it, that the ingredient had not appeared on the label. The guy who kissed his wife, the guy who received the kiss of death, died too fast for anyone to locate an Epipen and treat his severe allergic reaction.

That was a tragedy—a rare tragedy.

But to ban peanuts outright? No way.

Peanut bans would mean no Bamba in Israeli daycare centers, which would mean starving children, most likely. Bamba is the ubiquitous peanut flavored snack food that is in every Israeli home.
Peanut bans would mean no Bamba in Israeli daycare centers, which would mean starving children, most likely. Bamba is the ubiquitous peanut flavored snack food that is in every Israeli home.

In fact, where I live, far from banning peanuts we make them a major part of every infant’s diet, in the form of a crunchy snack treat called Bamba. I used to joke that Bamba is what stood between my babies and malnutrition. because there was always a point where my babies dictated to me what they would and would not eat, as opposed to the other way around. That may have been due to sore gums and lack of appetite from teething, or out of simple pickiness. Whatever the reason, I could always count on my babies’ affinity for Bamba and thanked God that the  snack food was vitamin fortified.

Now, my second child turned out to be allergic to just about everything, including peanuts. She too, thrived on the Bamba diet as an infant. Because here’s the thing: even when a person is allergic to peanuts, it does not follow that the person will go into anaphylactic shock and die as a result of eating that food. I fed her Bamba having absolutely no idea she was allergic to the snack. She didn’t choke or turn blue. And now she is a mommy of her own picky children.

The fact is my daughter’s peanut allergy is probably as minor as it is (her hands itch when she makes PB &J sandwiches for her peanut-allergy-less children) due to her having eaten Bamba as a baby. I didn’t make that up. It’s science.

Peanut Bans Increase Allergy Rates

Bamba exposure as a way to ward off peanut allergies was written up in the New England Journal of Medicine and tested in a British study, too. What did the good scientists find? They found that medical advice to keep kids away from peanuts had caused the rate of peanut allergy to rise in the United States. Meanwhile in Israel, almost no one has peanut allergies. Because Bamba.

In fact, children fed Bamba during the first year of life, had an 81% lowered risk of developing a peanut allergy.

What does this mean going forward? It means that researchers are going to see if they can make the same thing happen with other common allergy-causing foods, for instance soy, dairy, and eggs.

It makes sense if you think about it. I had allergy shots as a teenager for pollen and all sorts of air-borne allergens. The shots contained small amounts of the allergy-causing culprits themselves. It’s the same principle as the flu shot or a vaccine. It’s about strengthening the immune system.

So if all this makes sense, why on earth are we engaging in peanut bans in our daycare centers, schools, and summer camps?

Peanut Bans Equal Peanut Panic

Well, here’s the deal: in 1997, a random sampling found that one in 250 children in the U.S. had a peanut allergy. By 2008, that number had jumped to a startling one in 70. The number of children with peanut allergies had tripled.

No wonder the humble peanut was banished from sight. But not everyone agrees that we’re experiencing an epidemic or as Miranda Waggoner calls it, a “peanut panic.” Waggoner did some pretty intense research on the subject of peanut allergies for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She’s not convinced the epidemic is real.

It could be that the experts and the media raised awareness of peanut allergy to the point that we were more able as a society to recognize the allergy when we saw it in our young children. It could be that the number has risen a bit in response to peanut bans, which affected the developing immune systems of small children. But what we don’t have is lots of kids dropping dead in school because of peanut allergies.

Medical sociologist Peter Conrad, of Brandeis University commented that Waggoner’s research shows how a rare reaction to an allergic food (the peanut), became very widely known to the public and even came to be seen as a “childhood epidemic.” Meantime, says Conrad, “While the individual risk [of a severe allergic reaction to peanuts] is high, the risk on a population level is small.”

Conrad goes on to say that, “Sometimes the public’s response to a disorder may significantly outpace the actual public health risk potential. Papers like this help us understand how the sociological nature of the disorder may well shape the public response more than its medical and epidemiological nature.”

In other words, peanut allergies are not as big a deal as we make them out to be, with the exception of the very small number of people with life-threatening peanut allergies.

My point is slightly different than Waggoner’s: in making a bigger deal out of peanut allergies than necessary, we are creating the very problem we are trying to avoid.

That is to say: if exposure to peanuts during the first year of life significantly cuts the allergic response to peanuts, why on earth would we put into effect peanut bans in public spaces? Wouldn’t we want to expose our children to peanuts early and often?

Now I get that some people have severe reactions to foods. Someone with a severe peanut allergy might find his throat swells on contact with the substance. Or like my daughter, maybe just making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can make her hands itch. These people should certainly avoid peanuts. Caregivers should be well-prepared to help their charges with known food allergies avoid those foods and they should know what to do in case of an allergic reaction. They should be aware and alert and take every precaution. I had another child who was allergic to dairy as a toddler. I had a terrible time making his caregiver understand the danger, how if my son were to crawl on the floor, pick up, and eat a stray piece of macaroni, he’d subsequently have a bloody stool.

It never once occurred to me to forbid macaroni in his presence or on account of his presence. It only occurred to me that his caregiver must be careful. That was what was important: that the person who cared for my son be educated, aware, and careful.

It is in this light I see the peanut ban: the fear of opening a jar of peanut butter in a classroom and the utter panic that ensues should some non-allergic child pull a PB&J sandwich out of a baggie during snack time.

It’s the very thing that causing the problem. Most of these kids who developed allergies, developed them as a result of the peanut ban. It is this that is causing the current peanut allergy epidemic: fear of peanuts, the avoidance of peanuts. Banning them from our presence.

Ban Peanut Bans

That’s why I must and you should conclude that the peanut ban is a bad thing. Forbidding the presence of peanuts in our children’s lives is making them allergic to peanuts. It’s making them sick.

And that’s why the peanut ban, in my humble opinion, should be banned for good.

Kars4Kids Safety App May Save Your Baby’s Life


Kars4Kids Safety App May Save Your Baby's Life

Kars4Kids Safety app? We’ve updated it. Are you still driving without it?

If so, the facts should stop you cold: babies are dying in hot cars, all over America.

  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2015: 8
  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2014: 31
  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 1998-present:  645
  • Average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998: 37

That’s the reason Kars4Kids developed Kars4Kids Safety, and it’s the reason we’ve now updated the app to make it more intuitive, Safety App screenshot1more user-friendly. We’ve made it something you’ll want to use. Something that might save your baby’s life.

Last year, the focus of the Kars4Kids Safety app campaign was Forgotten Baby Syndrome (FBS) and how perfect parents can’t fight back against the perfect brain storm that causes the syndrome. It’s just the way the brain works under stress. Here’s what we wanted to get across: FBS says nothing about parenting ability.

We tried to make the point that even YOU need this app, because FBS is not about poor parenting. We didn’t want a parent’s pride to stand in the way of offering this extra layer of protection to his child. And by the way, the app is free–we just want your baby to stay safe.

This year, in addition to taking the Kars4Kids Safety App to the next level, from adequate to wow, we chose to focus on the way heat rises to unbearable, and yes, deadly levels inside a closed car inside of a few short minutes. We show what it’s like for an adult to sit inside a closed car on a summer’s day in this video:

If an adult can’t take 15 minutes of sitting in a hot car with temperatures rising all the time, just imagine how it is for an infant or toddler. It hurts to think about it.

But as parents, do we really have a choice?Updated Kars4Kids Safety App, Alert

This summer is already proving to be hotter than usual. Eight babies have already died from being left in cars. We know that the number of infant deaths due to heatstroke from being left in cars is bound to rise as the summer heat reaches its peak.

The Kars4Kids Safety App prevents all-too-preventable deaths by alerting you to check the backseat of your car to make sure you haven’t left your little one behind. It works by pairing the Bluetooth function of your car with your phone. When you leave the car, an alert goes off reminding you to check you’ve taken baby with you.

Kars4Kids Safety App: New Features

You can set the app to automatic, so that it always alerts you to check the backseat of your car for baby, or you can schedule the app for specific times, for instance, the time you normally drop off or pick up your child from daycare. You can also just let the app let you decide whether or not you want to turn on the alert when you’re getting ready to drive.Updated K4K Safety App, Alert settings, Alert ringtone

The updated Kars4Kids Safety App is also  more attractive, which makes it more likely you’ll enjoy using it. You can upload your baby’s photo so that it shows in the background when the app kicks in and during alerts. Altogether, this new version of the Safety App is sleek, beautifully designed, and a pleasure to use.

There’s no question that Kars4Kids is having an impact and helping to raise awareness of Forgotten Baby Syndrome. Last summer, Kars4Kids sent out over 10,000 informational posters to pediatricians’ offices and guess what? They called and asked for more. We even had interested parents calling in to our customer service representatives to ask questions about what they can do to protect their dearest possessions: their babies.

So what can you do to make sure your baby stays safe this summer? Download the Kars4Kids Safety App from the Google Play store. And make sure you share this post with your friends.

It just may save a life.

 

Visual Processing Disorder: Is This What Your Child Has?

Visual Processing Disorder (VPD) covers a variety of vision issues that have nothing to do with nearsightedness or farsightedness. Does your child think that a square and a triangle look the same? Does she bump into things, seemingly unable to understand where objects are in relation to her body? Does she have trouble understanding that numbers and letters come in a certain order? All of these issues can be signs of a visual processing disorder. In VPD, the brain has trouble processing signals that come from the eyes.

A child with VPD may pass her vision test with flying colors because her eyes are fine. The problem is the way her brain deals with visual information. It’s not something a person outgrows, but there are ways to cope with the challenges of visual processing disorders.

While we think of our vision as something to do with the eyes, it is much more than that. It is the brain that is responsible for using information from the eyes to create images and impressions. The eyes may be sending a perfectly good message that in front of you on a piece of paper is a triangle. But the brain may simply see a shape and not be able to tell which kind of shape it is. The eyes may see a house a short ways down the road, but the brain sees the house far away. Brain function is simply weak in these areas.  And that is called visual processing disorder.

Somehow, his foot never connects with the ball. Is it visual processing disorder?
Somehow, his foot never connects with the ball. Is it visual processing disorder?

Visual processing disorders aren’t considered learning disabilities, but as you might suspect, they are pretty common in kids who have learning issues. Just as ADHD and dyslexia have to do with a difference or weakness in brain function, so does visual processing disorder. That’s why VPD often comes together with learning disorders. When there are two conditions at the same time, they are said to be comorbid.

VPD can affect the way a child learns, but also affects everyday tasks like putting away the forks and knives into their correct slots in the silverware drawer, or sinking a ball into a basketball hoop. Visual processing disorders can even affect the way a child feels about himself when it makes it hard for him to fit in with his friends. To his classmates, he’s the kid who can never get that ball into the hoop. And so the child may withdraw and turn inward, to avoid the frustration and pain that comes with being different.

Visual processing disorder is complicated. There are eight different types of visual processing disorders but it’s absolutely possible to have more than one kind. Since visual processing issues aren’t the sort of thing that show up in a vision test, it could be your child will go through school without anyone noticing or realizing he has a visual processing problem.

Eight Types of Visual Processing Disorders

Here are the eight types of visual processing disorders (remember that a child may have any combination of the following visual processing issues):

  1. Visual discrimination: The child may not see the difference between similar shapes. He mixes up d and b and can’t tell a circle from an oval, for instance.

    Which sign is the one she's looking for? She just can't tell. That could be a visual processing disorder.
    Which sign is the one she’s looking for? She just can’t tell. That could be a visual processing disorder.
  2. Visual figure-ground discrimination: The child can’t pick out a person or a shape from the background on the page. He may not be able to find specific information on a webpage.
  3. Visual sequencing: The child doesn’t know that B and C always follow A, or that 4 follows 3. When he reads, he may skip lines because he doesn’t get that there is such a thing as “the next ” Sometimes kids with visual sequencing issues reverse letters or words.
  4. Visual-motor processing: The child has trouble using the feedback he gets from his eyes to coordinate the way other parts of his body move, for instance, the hands or the feet. He may knock into things or find it difficult to turn the pages in a book.
  5. Long/short-term visual memory: Show the child a picture, take it away, and ask him what he saw. He can’t do it. It makes it hard to remember the letters and numbers he’s been taught in class. He also finds it hard to remember what he read and his memory issues get in the way of using calculators and keyboards.
  6. Visual-spatial: The child has trouble understanding where things are within space. This affects his understanding of how close or far items are to them or to each other. The same may be true of objects in a picture. Visual spatial issues can make it hard for the child to judge how much time has gone by, and it can make it difficult for him to read a map, too.
  7. Visual closure: A child may not understand that a smiley face is a face, because it is missing ears and hair. A truck without wheels may not be recognized as a truck. If the teacher gives a worksheet where students have to fill in missing letters or words, a child with visual closure issues may not be able to do the work.
  8. Letter and symbol reversal: Most kids reverse letters when they first begin to write. But if he’s still mixing up b and d and p after the age of 7, it may be due to a visual processing disorder. This sort of disorder can make reading, writing, and math work difficult.

    This baby learned the sequence of big, bigger, biggest with his stacking toy. But your 8 year-old still can't do it? It may be a visual processing disorder.
    This baby learned the sequence of big, bigger, biggest with his stacking toy. But your 8 year-old still can’t do it? It may be a visual processing disorder.

VPD: How Common is it?

No one really knows how common visual processing issues are, especially since a lot of the time, these disorders go undetected. But we do know that the signs of VPD often show up in kids with learning disorders, for instance dyslexia. Dyslexia is the most common learning disorder in America, where it is thought that as many as one in every five children has dyslexia. That translates to lots of kids who also have VPD.

What Causes VPD?

Again, no one really knows the cause of visual processing disorder. But if you think of the brain as a sort of circuit board where the wires can get tangled up and kinked and even disconnected, you’ll have a pretty good picture of how VPD works. The eyes send a signal to the brain, but the signal crosses with a different one, or there’s a kink in the wiring that keeps the signal from going through to the right part of the brain. Or perhaps, the wire is narrower in parts. The brain’s synapses, responsible for mapping out information and sending messages, are very much like wires.  The eye sees what it sees, but the brain fails to understand the information sent to it by the eyes.

Is it VPD?

Here are some signs that a child may have a visual processing disorder:

  • Turns away from a large amount of visual information, such as a busy picture

    When your child follows the words in a book, and it's time to skip down to the next line, does she skip too far? Or read the same line again? It may be a visual processing disorder.
    When your child follows the words in a book, and it’s time to skip down to the next line, does she skip too far? Or read the same line again? It may be a visual processing disorder.
  • Fidgets during movie clips or PowerPoint presentations
  • Does a sloppy job with visual tasks, for instance, sweeping the floor
  • Doesn’t like to see movies or watch television
  • Can’t deal with copying from the blackboard
  • Mixes up shapes, letters, numbers, and words
  • Always bumping into things, is clumsy
  • Can’t stay inside the lines when writing or drawing
  • Finds it hard to spell words he knows that have unusual spelling patterns, for instance he can never quite remember that “quite” is not “quiet.”
  • Can’t remember even his own phone number
  • Doesn’t understand what he reads when reading silently
  • Cannot remember common facts read silently, for instance, H2O is water.
  • When reading, he reads the same sentence over and over again, or skips too far down the page for the “next” line
  • Says his eyes hurt, rubs his eyes a lot
  • His reading comprehension and writing skills are poor, but his verbal and oral comprehension skills are average or even strong
  • His math skills are weak because he leaves out steps, overlooks function signs, or mixes up similar types of math problems
  • Fails to note, on a regular basis, changes to displays, signs, or new notices posted to bulletin boards

What’s A Parent to Do?

If you suspect your child has one or more visual processing disorders, there are many things you can do to help him. Keep in mind that it will take patience and lots of work. Here are some of the things you can do at home that may be helpful:

  • Read up on the subject. Knowledge is your best tool for helping your child.
  • Watch and note. Pay attention to how your child does different tasks and write down what you see. This will help everyone in your child’s life understand his particular challenges and tell them how to respond.
  • Always be clear when writing out schedules or instructions. Break up instructions into numbered steps. Write things out in large letters and use colors to help, for instance, each sibling has a designated color. If “sweep the steps” is written in purple, it’s Tommy’s task.
  • Use your child’s free time for activities that help improve visual processing, but make it into a game. Do a puzzle together. Read. Play catch.
  • Give lots of praise for achievements. If your child worked really hard on studying for his spelling test and improved his grade, let him know you’re pleased. He needs your support and recognition to keep on going, because it’s really hard! Let him know you know that.

Homeschooling: How to avoid burnout

As a parent, you know that burnout is a very real condition. Once that little bundle of joy emerges from the womb, the day-to-day, the laundry pile that’s been sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor for a week, the sticky fingerprints on the door frames, the toilet misses, the revolving door on the kitchen, the week-long battle with hair lice, that 24-hour stomach flu that turned in 72 hours once it contaminated the entire family–it can become tiresome,  monotonous, and just plain hard. Despite the hard moments, parents have dreams. Our children represent a little piece of immortality for us and when that child is just a baby, a proverbial lump of clay, we are responsible for his or her development. Just like the perfect life we imagine when we marry our spouses, we have dreams and expectations for our children. Burnout happens when our dreams or expectations are a little unrealistic or blips in the goals sideline us. Little setbacks can lead to disappointment, frustration, and burnout.

For homeschooling parents, the pressure can be much greater and so can the burnout. Homeschooling parents, on top of the day-to-day routine, are with the kids ALL THE TIME, are responsible for the maintenance, upkeep, and education for those bundles of joy. On top of dreams, homeschooling parents have to choose the right curriculum, find a schedule that works, must assess each child’s learning style, and must keep  the love of learning burning. Knowing that you want your child to be someone important, that you want your child to reach his potential is a lot of pressure. What happens if you fail? You can’t blame the school district, or the teachers, or anyone else but yourself. And if you fail, oh my gosh, your child might not become what you wished for.

One major factor in burnout for parents and homeschooling parents is expectation, unreasonable expectations. We ALL do it! And we all beat ourselves up when we don’t live up to our own impossible expectations.

For example, in the early years of my parenting, some twenty-five years ago,  I thought my child would become a Doogie Howser! He started reading letters at 18 months. He started reading novels in first grade. He was a voracious reader and I thought, wow, I have so much responsibility to develop this intellect. This brilliance. I had the find the right programs for him. I had to get him tested. I had to do EVERYTHING in my power to make him into the prodigy I thought he was.

You know parents like that. I used to be one and in the beginning I drove myself crazy. After the second child and third child came along, the dream kind of took a back seat. I was tired, just staying on top of things. And my oldest? He grew up just fine.

Perhaps, you were like that. You dreamed (okay this is stretching it a bit but stay with me) that your future Einstein would be the ONE who solves the Twin Prime Conjecture. Or perhaps you’ve decided, since the U.S. lags behind other countries in STEM readiness, your child will follow on the heels of Steve Jobs. Only problem? You’ve never been one to embrace science,  math, or computer science and now you’re trying to guide your own child. Then again, maybe you’re not aiming toward the stars but you want your homeschooling environment to model a real classroom, one that lends legitimacy to your efforts. You’ve invested countless hours and money to convert your dining room into a state-of-the art classroom replete with a computer, progress charts, brightly colored posters, worksheets, Montessori-like manipulatives, and organization. Only problem? You’re really not that organized and our child resists it too.

These little blips on the radar, these obstacles on the path to achieving your goals and dreams are actually causing you to swerve off course, making you more than a little bit upset. And I’ve talked about it before. Your bad mood puts everyone in a bad mood. Your negative attitude can poison the entire family.  So if you’re heading to burnout, and you’re thinking about forgetting the homeschooling plan, take a moment, breath, and reflect.

What are you feeling? Let’s analyze it. Signs of burnout can include the following symptoms:

  • You cry more easily.
  • You lose patience if the toilet seat is up.
  • You overeat or you have no appetite.
  • You overreact.
  • Your decision are irrational.
  • You have no sense of priority.
  • You want everyone and everything to go away, to just leave you alone!

In addition to unrealistic expectations, other factors can contribute to burnout. A week when all the kids are passing around that stomach flu and all you’ve been doing round the clock is cleaning up throw-up is enough to set off a burnout episode. A new move, your husband’s new job, day savings, a new baby, or just too much structure can trigger burnout, can throw a wrench into a normally smooth homeschooling routine.

So what should you do?

From my tenure as an army wife, I have a handful of experienced homeschooling friends who offered up kernels of wisdom. Many parents in the military community homeschool. While reasons vary, the primary objective seems to be consistency. Military families undergo a lot of change and must find a way to maintain consistency. But perhaps your mission is more of a lifestyle change? Perhaps you homeschool because your children have special needs?

When you feel the signs of burnout, my friend Beth made it clear. Think about the reasons why you decided to homeschool and find a way to get back to that grassroots principle. Beth is a low-key breath of sunshine who has moved countless times during her husband’s military career and has homeschooled all eight of her children (I counted Beth. I think I included everyone.). There were times when her husband was deployed for long spans of time. There were times, after his retirement when they lived in different cities for his job. But through it all, she managed to homeschool. Her oldest is out of college and married. Her next two are in college, and she’s educating the rest. There  are good days, bad days, days when you throw in the towel and head to the park, days when you put the oldest in charge and head to the hairdresser.

So what are other tips to prevent homeschooling burnout?

Micki Colfax, author of Homeschooling for Excellence offers some practical tips to ward off burnout.

1. Lower your expectations. If you homeschool, you don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to be superwoman. Pick and choose the activities or co-ops that work best for your family, and for your homeschooling goals. Sometimes a simple schedule change, moving school from morning to afternoon, moving the co-op to a closer location can make an enormous difference. This also applies to your child. Get to know your child before you impose your dreams on his learning. Perhaps he doesn’t want to become a mathematician? Then again, perhaps computer programming is his passion. Introduce your child to learning and feed that spark if it takes off.

Feed your child’s love of learning. If he wants to be the next great mathematician, encourage him. If he doesn’t, that’s okay too.

2. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. You aren’t supposed to be like anyone else. You are you. If you’re homeschooling, you don’t have to be as proficient as a certified teacher. You only need to be a facilitator and a mentor for your kids. Also, and this goes back to the reasons why many homeschool, if you didn’t want your children to attend compulsory education because of the pressures of standardized testing, why pressure your kids to be as academically accelerated as those in the public school. Let your child set the pace. If you child enjoys the pace, wants to move faster, great! If your child needs more time for mastery, then slow down and relax.

3. Find support. Parents need support, a sense of community. Homeschooling parents especially need support to avoid burnout. Co-ops, homeschooling chat groups, online forums, and conferences can connect homeschooling parents with others. Having other parents to share ideas, to brainstorm with, or to complain to is healthy and constructive. The same is true for your children. Peer groups where kids can do problem-based learning under the tutelage of another parent with expertise can ease the load and can give you a much needed break.

4. Take a break. If you’re feeling overwhelmed one day, forget about school. Take the kids to an indoor trampoline and burn off steam. Head to the park, to an art center, to a friend’s house. Homeschooling parents need mental health breaks. So do kids.

5. Change your teaching style. Structured learning might sound great on paper but it might be counter to your innate style. If you’re trying to maintain a tight rein on structure, and your kids are feeling the tension, it’s counterproductive to the process. Also by changing the teaching style, you’re also teaching your child flexibility. Being flexible is a critical life skill especially when children learn that change is part of life.

6. Simplify. Mary Pride, author of The Big Book of Home Learning suggests that you ask yourself, “Am I overdoing it? Am I making simple subjects too fancy? What can I eliminate? Do I need to be doing this at all? Is my child too young for this subject? Should I give it a rest? Are there other worthwhile things we would like to study or do and come back to this later?” If your child is ready for more complex, they will show you. When you teach, their eyes won’t glaze over. They will remain intrigued, interested, and motivated.

7. Schedule time for yourself. This is important. Even if you have to pay someone to watch your kids a few hours a day, taking time for you can prevent burnout.

 

Boredom Is the Mother of Invention

Necessity is the mother of invention. The proverb, originating from Plato’s Republic, still rings true after more than two millennium. It’s a mantra, a call to action. When conventional approaches fail, find a new method. When you’re bored, rely on the imagination, and discover the magic and learning behind self-directed exploration to inspire.

At one point or another, kids complain. “I’m bored” is a timeless mantra too. While kids hate feeling bored, being bored isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, Dr. Laura Markham, clinical psychologist, mother, ad author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, says that boredom is a good thing. As long as other primary needs of a child are met (i.e. need for emotional connection with mom or dad, hunger, illness, etc.), boredom can be the stimulus for self-directed learning.

It’s also a sign that a child feels disengaged and doesn’t know what to do about it. That’s where you, supermom or innovative dad step in. Your role, as parent and facilitator is to teach your child how to re-engage.

Warning: The solution isn’t technology. While a special television program or video isn’t a bad activity, it doesn’t re-engage a child’s imagination. Contrary to popular belief, television is a passive medium, one that encourages boredom. It’s the reasoning behind the cliché “couch potato.” It’s counterproductive and sedative. And that’s a negative.

When a child, especially an older child complains of boredom, the best way to facilitate learning isn’t to fix it. It’s to facilitate, encourage, and direct our kids to fix the state of boredom themselves.

Nancy Flanagan, a 30-year veteran K-12 teacher, education consultant, and digital organizer for IDEA, concurs. Even among her brightest students, Flanagan noticed that boredom still occurred. It was merely a lack of engagement, a lack of responsibility. Yes, responsibility. Being engaged is a two-way street. It’s partly the parents job to frame the environment in a way that encourages self-directed learning. But it’s also the child’s responsibility to actively engage. “Daily practice of musical scales isn’t much fun, but it’s an enormously effective technique-builder. Brushing your teeth is boring, too, but that doesn’t mean you should stop.”

Flanagan feels that boredom can by cured by kids. Kids should be told to own their boredom and fix it.

So what are our roles as parents? We can frame the environment. We can also facilitate by giving our kids choices, showing them how those choices can play out, and providing the means by which our kids can explore.

What are some great activities we can encourage kids to do, to inspire self-directed learning and imagination:

At home science experiments: There are many science experiments you can set up right in your own kitchen, bathroom, or backyard. The experiments reinforce principles of important scientific theories your kids learn in school. Making elephant’s toothpaste, a foamy by-product of an exothermic chemical reaction is a visual way to teach about chemistry, particularly the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. The ingredients are all available in the local market or drugstore and the experiment has great “wow” impact.

 

Another at-home experiment makes a cool slimy fluorescent goo from potato starch and tonic water. Once the goo is made, it can be dehydrated and reused countless times.

Make a boredom jar: This might take a little planning but Dr. Laura recommends it. On any number of slips of paper, write down activities. Pull out the jar on any snow day when cabin fever is settling in. Have the kids pick out one strip of paper and perform the activity.

Redesign and reorganize the bedroom, or any room in the house: When I was a kid, I loved reorganizing my room, moving around my bedroom furniture. It was a way to revitalize a room, to make it feel new and special. It was a clean-up job without feeling like a chore. You can motivate the kids, inject activity and exercise, and use it as a team-building exercise. I use it a purging activity, a method of dealing with too much stuff. A decade ago, I discovered FlyLady.net, a site that its readers to regain a sense of control through organization and decluttering. I found the site when my husband, a retired army officer, deployed to Iraq. Home with more than a handful of kids, I felt overwhelmed in the day-to-day household maintenance. The site, teaches organization through baby steps, provides encouragement, and lots of atta-girls. One activity, the “Throw away 27 items” game, is a marvelous decluttering activity. It fools kids and adults into throwing away clutter by making it seem small and inconsequential. Give each child a garbage bag. Tell them to find 27 items worth throwing away. It’s a simple way to declutter a little bit at a time, it allows kids to choose belongings to dispose, and it makes clean-up fun.

Set up a scavenger game: You can do this when the weather’s nice or when repeated snowstorms have your children at home. I like to incorporate a little cleaning in the hunt. Make a list of items your children have to find while walking as a family. It can be something simple, like license plate on a car (note, tell your children not to remove the license plate). When we’re household, I like to hide a finite number dried beans or pennies in different corners of the house. I tell my kids, they will only find them if they dust properly. The winner gets to pick from a grab bag but everyone is a winner when the house is dust-free.

Yoga or Meditation: Sometimes, a little mindfulness meditation can go a long way. Mindfulness meditation, a relatively new concept in education teaches kids, and adults, how to meditate, to focus on deep breathing and on the moment. When the kids are stressed out or when the noise level is reaching deafening proportions, I pull out a CD. We all lie on the floor in comfortable positions and the dogs walk between us (which always gets a good laugh). Then we listen to the tape and do some deep breathing for ten to fifteen minutes. Mindfulness meditation is especially helpful with kids with anxiety and attentional issues.

Set up a spelling bee or trivia competition: I’m particularly fond of spelling bees or timed word games. But you can create a competition that challenges the kids in any particular way. It can be a timed version of Pictionary. In Pictionary, teams compete by drawing a word from a hat or a bowl. Each team has two players; while one player draws the picture, the other player has to guess the word within one minute. Players face off and win points.

Build an igloo or a sledding ramp: When all else fails and the weather is cold and snowy, bundle up the kids and send them out to play in the snow. Snow is magical. It fosters imagination. And it tires the kids out. It’s the essence of the proverb, “…mother of invention.” And, if you want, join them in the fun.