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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Helping Children Make Wise Decisions (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     Decisions, decisions, decisions…so many to make!  I recently taught a class on this topic to a group of parents and one of the parents commented that it helped her with her own decision-making process! This parent hit it right on the nail because how we, as parents, make decisions impact how our children make decisions in life. If you have been following my blog, you will know that I am a huge believer in learning through social modeling. I hope this article will serve you and your child well!

     From the moment they are able to think for themselves, children are making decisions all the time!  Sometimes they do it very consciously and other times, not so consciously.  Sometimes they take action in their decisions and other times they may not take any action at all.  For example, a 4 year old is playing ball outside and the ball rolls into the street. Without thinking, he goes after the ball.  Here, the child has taken an action and this can have a dangerous consequence.  Whereas, a 3rd grader watches his friend get bullied everyday but does nothing. Here, the decision does not involve taking actions but consequences still exist. Decisions lead to positive or negative consequences.

     As parents, it becomes our responsibility to teach our kids how to make wise decisions. We cannot  predict if our decisions are right or wrong at the time, but if we give our best efforts then it will probably serve us well one way or another.  Before we get into the actual decision-making process, it is important for us to understand the power of choice.

     As a therapist, one of my clinical mantras I share with my clients is that: “Every morning we wake up, we always have a choice in how we want to lead our lives. They may not always be the choices we want, but we do have the choice.” This speaks to empowerment.  Once we adopt this perspective, our attitude towards decision-making changes. For some, we may become more serious about our decisions and for others, we may relax a bit.  Only that individual can decide what will be their path.

     Now that we understand the power of choice, let us talk about the SODAS method. This framework was developed by Jan Rosa in 1973 to help teenagers make wise decisions by rationally thinking through problems and come up with solutions.  However, it can be adapted for younger kids too.  This method provides a process for parents and children to problem solve and make decisions together. It also helps parents teach children how to problem solve on their own.  The method is a simple, five-step decision making model that can be modified for many situations:

The Steps in SODAS (Burke & Herron, 1996):

1.    Situation- Define the situation. Before you can solve a problem, you need to know what the problem is. This is not always easy to do because children often use vague or emotional descriptions.

•    Ask specific questions such as “What did you do then?” or “What after you did that?” 
•    Teach children to focus on the entire situation, not just part of it.
•    Summarize the information using simplest language and clarify if necessary.

2.    Options- Brainstorm options. Kids tend to think in “all or none” fashion. For example, if they fail a Math test they may want to immediately transfer to another class or to another school altogether. Other times, they may see no options at all. A parent’s role is to get their child to think of options.

•    Have your child list both good and bad options. Foster independent thinking rather than telling them what they ought to do. However, if your child has difficulty coming up with options, do give suggestions.
•    Limit options to three. More will get confusing and frustrating.
•    Make sure atleast one option has a chance for success.

3.    Disadvantages- Discuss for each option. These are the potential negative outcomes if that option was chosen.
4.    Advantages- Discuss for each option.  These are the potential positive outcomes if that option was chosen.

•    Write them down!
•    Ask questions like: “What are the possible benefits?” “What are the drawbacks?” “Why are those things important to you?” “How does that affect you/ family/friends?” “How would that make you/family/friends feel?”

5.    Solution- Choose the best option! Briefly, summarize the disadvantages and advantages for each option, and ask your child to choose the best one.

•    To help your child make an informed decision, make sure they know the options and possible outcomes for each. 
•    Some decisions are harder to make than others. It is okay if your child needs some time to consider the options before making a decision.
•    Practice or role play the situation or solution. A mock interview for a job or college admission would be a great example.  With younger children, role playing how a friend would feel if they were being bullied and nobody helped them would be an effective teaching strategy.
•    Remember: The choice made must be owned by the decision maker! This is key in teaching our kids about taking responsibility for our decisions and accepting consequences for them.

Merry decision-making!

Burke, R. & Herron, R. (1996).  Common Sense Parenting.  Boys Town, Nebraska: Boys Town Press.

Blase, K., Wagner, R. & Clark, H.B. (2007). The SODAS Framework: Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Processes for Working with Transition-Aged Youth and Young Adults.
 Personnel Training Series. Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services Florida Department of Education. 
Retrieved from

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Helping Children Succeed in School (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

Every parent I know wants their child to have a good education.  They understand that having a solid education is a path to success.  The implications of getting a good education are numerous. To name a few: people tend to have better jobs with higher earning potential, engage in lower rates of criminal behavior, better outcomes in relationships, strong critical thinking skills, greater independence and self-reliance, etc. However, many parents struggle with how to foster this value in their children in an effective way. 

If you have a child who loves to learning for the sake of learning, welcomes challenges, and breezes through school, then you are probably practicing some of the strategies that will be covered in this article.  This type of child is someone who has intrinsic motivation to learn. On the other hand, if your child has difficulty getting homework done without being asked several times, loses assignments frequently, waits until the last minute to do the homework, prefers to skip classes than attend them, or has any other school-related problems, then this child probably needs extrinsic motivation to learn. This simply means that the child needs extra support to help them succeed in school.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and the strategies discussed here will surely be helpful!

In order to help children succeed in school, parents need to first understand the relationship between behavior and academics.  From my experiences working in the schools, it is clear that many parents seem to compartmentalize behaviors and academics into two separate categories with little or no relation to each other. Therefore, they view them as being mutually exclusive. For example, a parent may often say "My child is very smart. It's their behaviors."  This may very well be true, but what they do not fully understand is that there is a strong link between behavior and academic performance. It is imperative that we bridge the gap between these two ideas in order to optimize our children's educational potential.

It is clear from studies that those children who succeed in school tend to behave well in class, follow directions, accept criticism, get along with their classmates, attend classes regularly, do their assignments regularly, etc. Hence, students with positive social skills have a greater chance of doing well academically.  This link is very much intertwined. Moreover, parents can do many things to support their children succeed in school!

 10 Tips to Help Children Succeed in School:

1.   In a positive way, make sure your child can follow directions at home and in the community.

2.  Get involved in your child’s education. A good starting point is to ask them about their day in school in a specific way.  Opening questions do not have to be related to academics. If a good rapport is established with your child, the conversation will lead to academics.

Bad example: “How was school today?” (The universal response being “fine” or “good”). Not effective way to communicate!

Good examples: “What did you learn in Math class today?” “What did you play in recess?”  “Did Johnny have fun at his birthday party?”

3. Set up time for homework that works with your family’s schedule. Make sure the area is clean and not distracting.  It is very difficult to work in a cluttered space! Also, have a rule about doing homework first and then doing other leisure activities.  Rushing through homework so you can do other activities is not to be encouraged.

4.  Help with homework. If you do not feel comfortable helping with fractions, physics, and the like, you can help by encouraging them through positive reinforcement like “You are working so hard on that problem. I am proud of you!” The parent can also do activities that model positive learning or organizational skills like reading a book or balancing their checkbook. Sorry, watching television does not count!

5.  Make regular contact with teachers via emails, notes, and phone calls about your child’s progress. However, keep in mind the school policy about how and when to contact teachers since they are busy people trying to teach so many things to so many students.

6. Attend parent/teacher conferences. Be prepared for these meetings and ask questions.

7. Work with teachers to solve school problems. They are your allies, not adversaries. Go in with the mindset that teachers are like parents to your child (Refer to my article: “Your Child’s Third Parent”: Seek professional help if warranted.

8. Volunteer in the class or school. It does not have to be a lot of your time. Even once a month for an hour will be enough for you to be a known quantity with your child’s teachers, peers, and other staff.  If you can give more time than this, even better! This will send the message that you care and will support your child. When others see that the parent is the child’s strongest advocate, it will help your child in school.

9.  Attend special school events. If your child is in it, try your best to attend or send someone as a representative. Taking pictures and videos are a great way to share memories.
10.  Most importantly, set a positive tone in your home about education! For example, homework is not a chore that you rush through so you can do more fun things like play or watch television. This attaches a negative connotation to homework. However, homework should take precedence and trump other leisure activities. A balanced approach is the best approach!

I will leave you with a song my son learned in school when he was a kindergartner. He used to sing it all the time around the house! We have it posted on our wall as a reminder. I feel this sets a very positive tone for learning!
Knowledge is Power

“Knowledge is Power.
I know what I know.
The more you learn, the more you will grow.
If you get an education, you’ll be taking a stand.
‘Cause Knowledge is Power.
So grab it all you can!
So grab it all you can!”

Monday, April 9, 2012

Handling Toddler Hitting (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     When a parent first learns that their child has hit another child, often in a daycare setting, it can be a bag full of mixed feelings.  Some parents may feel frustrated and confused because this is not how they discipline their children at home so why are they exhibiting these hostile behaviors.  Others may be upset because they feel this could have been prevented with proper adult supervision. Yet others, hopefully only a few, may feel that the other child must have provoked it so therefore, it is acceptable.  Whatever the case may be, the first thing a parent has to keep in mind is that this is a developmentally appropriate behavior.  

     A toddler is beginning to understand the outside world on a different level now. In particular, he or she is realizing that their behavior gets a reaction from others. This may be the caretaker, parents, the other child, and whoever happens to witness the social exchange. The hitting toddler views the act as an appropriate social exchange. They do not have the language skills to initiate social interaction, so hitting becomes their primary mode of communicating this desire.  However, this does not mean a parent should ignore or condone this behavior. Appropriate reaction from the parents is crucial to make this a valuable learning experience.

     Parents ought to view these situations as teachable moments and proceed from there. Taking it personally is not constructive and only clouds the teaching part of this developmental stage.  Teaching children takes lot of repetition so patience is paramount. Below are some strategies to consider when appropriately handling your toddler’s hitting behavior.

10 Tips for Handling Toddler Hitting:

1.    Remind yourself this is a developmentally appropriate behavior.

2.    Do NOT take it personally. Get rid of the guilt that you are not being a good parent!   

3.    Model appropriate behavior immediately after the hitting happens. For example, you can say “Hitting hurts. We need to be gentle.” Then, use your toddler, the other child, or a doll to exemplify appropriate, gentle touching. 

4.    Give attention to the child who has been hit by comforting them and encouraging them to tell the child who hit them by saying something simple like “No hitting, it hurts.” By doing this, you are teaching the hitter that they will not get attention for negative behaviors and teaches the victim to be assertive.  Over time, your toddler will learn that hitting will result in an undesirable consequence. 

 5.    Do NOT spank or hit the child to teach them that it hurts or it is wrong.  This only sends a mixed message.   You want them to stop hitting but you show that violence solves the problem by spanking/hitting the child.  For children who do not have the language skills or even for those who do, often “action speak louder than words.” There are additional ramifications to this strategy, but that goes beyond the scope of this subject.  For what it’s worth, many parents resort to hitting because they are frustrated and do not know alternative methods.

6.    Use simple verbal or nonverbal language to communicate your message that hitting is wrong. It is easy to fall into a tirade when you are frustrated, but lecturing is not effective with a toddler and only frustrates the parent more.  In terms of nonverbal language, teaching basic sign language can help your toddler communicate his or her needs.  For example, if your toddler is hitting the other child because he or she wants to play with her then you can teach the sign for “play” to encourage appropriate behavior. 

7.    If you sense that your toddler is about to hit, redirect their attention to something fun. It can be simple as putting your palm out and saying “Giving me five!” or asking them if you can give them a hug.  This not only prevents hitting but it also teaches them alternate, positive behaviors that involve touching.     

8.    Keep track of triggers.  Is your child hitting because they are hungry, tired, angry, etc.? Furthermore, has there been a change in the family such as a move, marital discord, change in daycare provider, etc.? Sign language will also come in handy during these circumstances!

9.    Work with the daycare provider in correcting this behavior. Investigate what triggers your toddler’s hitting and find out how it is being handled at the daycare.  This of course, will require you to spend some time observing your child in this setting.  If it is being handled appropriately, commend the caretaker and try those strategies at home! If it is not being handled appropriately, then this needs to be addressed. Likewise, share with your child’s daycare provider what strategies you have been using at home.  Since this can get touchy, present it in a way that communicates you are trying to have consistency between daycare and home to get optimal results.

10.     Spend quality time that involves snuggling, hugging, holding, etc.  This teaches appropriate ways to use gentle touch.  Furthermore, if your toddler’s hitting is an attention-seeking behavior then this will be especially helpful.  However, you should not engage in these behaviors soon after hitting has occurred because you do not want to reinforce it.  Any other time is great!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Growing Pains or Bullying? (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Raising confident children is an important parenting goal for my husband and me. We have been practicing all of the strategies necessary to make this happen.  This includes using praise, having effective discipline, being consistent, providing new learning experiences, working together with the teachers, and many more.  As a result, our 7 year old son is an intelligent, confident child.  However, this seems to be somewhat of a problem too: he is an intelligent, confident child.  Do allow me to explain this paradox.

     Many parents reading this post also have bright, confident children.  For some, this may also present a problem like it is for us.  Our son’s teacher recently put it something like this: “He is wise beyond his years and this seems to create disconnect with his peers.” To this, silently I am going “Uh oh, I had a feeling this was coming.” Interestingly, our son is not reserved or shy, but quite the social butterfly.  Furthermore, he is a caring, honest, and sensitive individual.  He is a well-liked person and gets plenty of birthday invitations (apparently, this seems to be a measure of a child’s likability). However, the “disconnect” comes into play when he enters this “black and white” way of thinking. Although this concrete way of thinking is developmentally appropriate, it also creates a problem. When our son feels he is correct and he may very well be, he cannot let go until the other person sees it his way. Or the other person proves him wrong.

     If this situation arises, he challenges you like an attorney in the courtroom! He will argue his point as if he is in a debate until the other person proves him otherwise. He often says: “Prove it!”  It was quite amusing at first. Now, it is becoming a social liability.  He is being teased at school with some name calling and being excluded from some group activities at recess. He would come home and only report the negative things that happened at school. He would cry afterschool when he would occasionally get on “Red” or “Yellow” at school for “bad behaviors.”  I understand some of this is normal growing pains, but when he came home one day and said “I don’t want to go to school!” my radars went up high. He is an intrinsically motivated child who loves to learn, so hearing this became a real shocker.  He explained that he did not being like on “Red” to which my husband passed this off as a strategy to avoid trouble.  My gut told me otherwise. Therefore, I queried further and he said “No, kids tease me.”  Now enters the dilemma.

     As parents, we have to decide whether this is normal growing pains or is it really bullying?  This will determine the course of action. I describe at length about our son because bullying situations often arise from previous, seemingly innocuous circumstances. I can very well see my child as a recipient of teasing as well as being the perpetrator.  Over time, this can turn into bullying.  I suppose this is to encourage parents to take teasing seriously and get some help.  If you are not convinced, consider what measures we took and the outcome we had.

    First, we listened to our son and empathized with him. Second, we asked if he needed our help with this situation.  This is so important to do because there is so much stigma and negative consequences for “tattlers/snitches.” Third, we explained the difference between telling someone to get help and tattling on someone to get them in trouble.  Fourth, we talked about how to be assertive and not aggressive to solve problems. Lastly, since he had said he needed our help, I emailed his teacher that night. We were very pleased with his teacher’s response.

     The very next morning, his teacher called and said she had already spoken with the children doing the teasing. She reported that our son usually stays away from these peers so therefore, he knows how to ignore them.  To her credit, she reassured me that nobody deserves to be teased.  As a parent, this was comforting to hear because sometimes we may have mixed feelings about intervening.  Furthermore, she has asked the guidance counselor to do another presentation on anti-bullying for the class.  Ever since our intervention, our son has been on “Green” everyday and reports that he has been having great days at school.  It has been two weeks, and we have not heard him once say he does not want to go to school. He is back to being the kid who loves school and his friends!  

     On a final note, my thought on parents’ intervening is that this is much easier to do when children are younger and parents can “nip it in the bud” than when they are in middle or high school years. Further, the social stigma is less severe during the elementary years because parents tend to be more involved in the school scene anyways.  Additionally, the child is less vulnerable to bullying behaviors because they have involved parents who will protect them when necessary. I strongly believe that a proactive approach reaps greater rewards than reactive ones. Happy parenting and remember that parenting is a process with many ups and downs!