Yesterday, we were on a flight and my husband and I were seated in front of a mom and her kindergarten-age child. As we were waiting to take off, this mom reviewed the seat back safety card with her son. She had him practice how to brace should the plane make an emergency landing. She talked about water landings. She discussed why it is unsafe to smoke on planes and reminded her little boy how nanny had died from lung cancer from smoking. We were relieved when the sounds of the engine began and drowned out the painful conversation behind us!
Even in the context of my work with anxious kids, this was an extreme example of how parenting can prime anxiety. This child did not ask a SINGLE question about air safety. In fact, he sounded like he was having a fun time on the plane. But, I have no doubt that as he gets older, he will become anxious about air safety. This experience made me think.....
How do we balance educating our children with preventing unneeded anxiety?
-Talk about what is likely to happen, instead of what is extremely unlikely to happen. Do planes crash? Yes, they do. But, with extremely low likelihood. Air travel is extremely safe. What should we talk about on an airplane? How about all the fun things we will be doing at our destination? The shape of the clouds? The beautiful sunrise or sunset? Rather than instilling a sense of fear in our kids, we can instill a sense of wonder.
-Let kids ask the questions, and answer as briefly as possible. I noticed yesterday that the little boy behind us did not ask a single question about air safety. My advice would therefore be - don't talk about air safety! If kids ask questions, answer them but as briefly as possible. Do planes crash? Yes, but barely ever. Why can't people smoke on planes? Because it stinks and pollutes all the passengers' lungs. Why do we go through the Xray machines before boarding the plane? Because those are the rules. Yesterday, my son asked why we can't take liquids through security. Before I could even answer, he said, "I know mommy! They want us to buy our drinks at the airport so they make money." I am totally fine with him thinking that rather than knowing about people using liquids to try to blow up planes. After all, he is nine!
-Make your answers age appropriate. Related to the previous comment, answers to our kids' questions are obviously going to vary depending on age. If a three year old asks if a plane can fall out of the sky, it is totally fine to say a simple NO WAY! If a thirteen year old, with access to the internet, asks the same question, it is appropriate to have a more detailed discussion about airplane safety.
-If you are a nervous flyer, try to not transmit that anxiety to your children. Children learn by example. If you are a nervous flyer, try not to share your fears with your kids. Wouldn't it be nice if they can grow up enjoying something that you fear? Read a self-help book on fear of flying. Attend one of the wonderful classes offered at your local airport. Seek treatment from an expert. Have your kids sit with the adult in your family who is not afraid of flying so that they can learn to associate flying with calmness and enjoyment. And, remember, the nice thing about kids is that they are distracting! You might find that flying becomes easier ones you have children and your attention is diverted from your fears to tending to their needs on the flight!
Last weekend, we went skiing for the first time as a family. Not only was it fun, but I also found it immensely helpful for both of my kids - in very different ways.
-Conquering fears - One of my kids tends to be on the slightly more anxious side. She has always been a little reluctant to try new things and a little fearful of bad things happening. On the way up the chairlift for the first time, she was scared of falling. At the top of the mountain, she was terrified she would not make it down. There were a lot of "What if's!" We had some really useful discussions on our way down this first run - great for skiing and great for life!
-Being Gritty! -- This child is also a typical "gifted kid" - so many things naturally come easily to her that she sometimes gives up on things that are really hard. Skiing is hard for everyone at first! It was great for her to see how she could build on new skills over the course of just two days and know that with more work and practice, she could get better and better. This lesson applies to skiing, and to really anything new that we want to learn.
-Maintaining Focus - My other child can be a little unfocused at times. He has a really busy, inquisitive brain. It is a super thing about him, and can also pose challenges when he needs to do just one thing at a time (like getting dressed in the morning without chatting with his sister, getting immersed in a book, or looking at a beautiful sunrise out his bedroom window!). We were so proud of his focus on the slopes! He was 100% in the moment, attentive to making those big C's across the mountain, filtering out unimportant information (like the annoying snowboarders swooping around him). Since we returned home, we have been talking about how this focus led to success! All that attention made him ski beautifully and he also saw how enjoyable it can be to have your brain and body do just one thing at a time.
-Being in the moment - We must all be teaching out children about how to be in the moment. Skiing is a beautiful exercise in mindfulness. When you are actually skiing, you can become completely immersed in the swishing sound of your skis, the wind on your face, the beautiful scenery. We can re-create that experience when practicing mindfulness at home. Picture a beautiful mountain and imagine skiing down it at a relaxed, even pace. In your imagery, you can remove the annoying snowboarders and the whizzing five year olds (who make us adults really notice our aching knees!). Just you, a gorgeous spot, and the side to side rhythm of skiing. Try it and have your kids try it -- it's really good for your body and mind!
I am happy to announce two new offerings for 2017:
Parent Introduction to Anxiety Group
This group is for parents who are new to my practice. It is a great opportunity for families who are waiting for treatment, or for families who are not sure that they need a full course of treatment but rather just want to learn the basics. We will cover the reasons that anxiety is maintained over time and discuss strategies for reducing the hold that anxiety has on your child and your family. Once you have attended the Parent Intro to Anxiety Group, you can attend the monthly Parent Anxiety Support Group.
Parent Anxiety Support Group
This monthly support group is for parents whose children are in ongoing treatment for anxiety with Dr. Ledley. There is no need to come on a monthly basis - come as you need to. During this group meeting, parents can bring up their concerns and questions about parenting a child with anxiety. Dr. Ledley will facilitate the group and parents will offer each other ongoing support.
Dr Penny Moldofsky, Director of the Literacy Institute at the Woodlynde School in Suburban Philadelphia is a super human being and an even better teacher (is that possible?). I love this summary she just sent around regarding the most recent Literacy Institute Speaker, Dr. Cheryl Chase. We all hear so much about EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONS -- but what exactly are they?
The Literacy Institute Newsletter:
What Are Executive Functions?
Penny Moldofsky, Director of
The Literacy Institute
Dear Woodlynde Families, Friends, and Colleagues,
Most of you have heard the term "executive functions" and may wonder, "how is this different from a learning difference or a problem with attention?" On November 3, Dr. Cheryl Chase, a psychologist from Cleveland, Ohio, and a nationally recognized speaker on executive functions, clarified executive functions and provided specific strategies for parents and educators for helping students who are coping with executive function deficits.
Here are some highlights of Dr. Chase's presentation:
The Big Five
Dr. Chase follows the model of executive functions explained by Dr. Russell Barkley:
Some students have difficulties with one or two executive functions, but many have difficulty with many or all of these areas, and their difficulties depend on the setting. These students do better in settings that:
Don't overload working memory.
Tools are made available and students are shown and cued to use them with adult guidance and reminders gradually diminishing as students become fluent in using the tool. At home and school, we can provide consistent picture clues, consistent graphic organizers or note-taking forms, consistent schedules, and readily available reference materials. Separate note taking from listening - you may be able to do both simultaneously, but kids with executive functions can't. Don't pass around that cool geode you found in the desert while you are providing information that students need to hear and process.
Demonstrate again and again using the actual task.
When teaching new strategies, demonstrate in a step-by-step manner how they are applied in the real-life task you want the student to accomplish. If you show a video on a topic, you first provide the organizer that will help them enter the ideas from the video that they will need for the quiz/test/project. Then, pause the video frequently to demonstrate how to pull the information from the video and where to enter it in the organizer.
Explicitly teach when, how, and why to use one tool rather than another.
Demonstrate to help students understand when to use detailed notes in a comparison organizer vs. when to jot down a few key words. Demonstrate repeatedly how and when to use a tool like a calculator, a recording pen, or text-to-speech software, and be very clear in showing how each tool works better or not as well for different activities.
Predictable and consistent = reduced stress and anxiety.
When a student with executive function weaknesses feels stressed and overloaded, it is even more difficult to access skills they have practiced. Break down activities that load working memory into small chunks for the student. Have them work toward smaller, single day goals. Post activities in the same place and with the same format so that students don't have to copy or figure out your intentions. The topic and activity can be vivid and riveting, but the format should be predictable.
For more ideas from Dr. Cheryl Chase, visit her website.
Penny Moldofsky, M.S.
Director of The Literacy Institute at Woodlynde School
610.293.6628Upcoming Speaker Series Events
All Literacy Institute Speaker Series events are FREE and open to the public.
Thinking Differently: Reframing Learning for a New Generation
Presented by David Flink
Thursday, February 9
Registration opens December 1
Raising Kids to Thrive
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg
Registration opens February 1
About The Literacy Institute
The Literacy Institute is one of only six Wilson® Accredited Partner Schools in the country. As such, it provides research-based instruction for Woodlynde students in the Wilson® Reading System as well as high quality professional development for the Woodlynde community and the greater Philadelphia area. Throughout the year, The Literacy Institute offers a free series of nationally-recognized speakers in the field of learning differences for area parents and professionals.
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Today, I saw seven patients - middle schoolers, high school students, and college students. Although they were all there for different anxiety problems, one theme ran through my day: anxiety about Election Day. Even my youngest patients have been voicing concerns for months about who is going to win the election and what the consequences of that outcome will be. These worries seemed particularly palpable today, with only two weeks to go until Election Day.
The New York Times published an interesting article about last week called, Talking to Your Therapist about Election Anxiety. It is a great read, but I felt it was important to write about some tips for kids and teens who might feel even more anxious than adults because they can't even vote!
-Acknowledge what our kids are feeling. Anxiety is all about the unknown and at this late date, the probable outcome of this election seems to depend on the source that one consults! Not knowing makes people feel uncomfortable. It is okay to say to kids, "Yup, it is hard to not know. It makes me feel uncomfortable and worried too."
-And, to the extent that we can, boss back that anxiety! Although we do not know who will win the election until Election Day, we can remind ourselves that our government is set up to prevent really bad things from happening. Kids have been expressing their worries in my office for months and I find that we can boss back many of these worries by saying, "Not gonna to happen!". The media has stirred up so many worries and kids need a reminder that there are checks and balances in place to prevent many bad outcomes.
-For some kids, DOING something in service of the electoral process makes them feel more empowered. One of the kids I met with today decided she would like to volunteer for her preferred candidate with her mom over the next few weeks. Many kids value going into the voting booth with their parents. Although they aren't casting a vote per se, they feel they have contributed by participating in the family vote.
-For other kids, tuning out is a better strategy. If reading the newspaper or watching the news is causing your child undue anxiety, it is okay to encourage him or her to stop for the next two weeks. If Election Day is going to be excruciating (especially for kids who have the day off of school), make a plan to keep your kids' brains busy with something else. Go to a museum. See a movie. Set up some playdates. Logging on to the computer every few minutes to check the polls is likely not a good strategy for making it through the day (for adults or kids!).
-Coach kids through the complex social aspects of this election season. Many of the kids who I work with have told me about conflicts among friends due to the candidate that their families are supporting. Some kids have told me that they have noticed an increase in disrespectful behavior toward girls and female teachers during this election season. Kids need our help with these situations. The best way to do this is to model appropriate discourse with our own friends, relatives, and work colleagues. We need to model to our kids how to respect people who hold different opinions than us.
Yesterday, I attended the Scholastic book fair at our school with my almost 9-year old son. Although he is drawn to those huge, pricey Star Wars books that come with mini-figures, we had already agreed that these were off limits! I find it interesting that he is drawn to totally different books than my 11-year old daughter. Whereas she loves fiction, he wants to learn about history, wars, how things work, and so on. This brings up a controversy in my house -- does reading fiction build better reading skills than reading non-fiction?
This morning, I decided to turn to the literature to find out. Here is what I learned:
Smith was diagnosed at that age with OCD—obsessive compulsive disorder. But he didn’t receive proper treatment for his mental disorder until he was 31 years old, when he came to McLean Hospital’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute.
“I lost 31 years of my life to some extent, so I really feel like I was reborn after [getting treatment] because living in the moment was completely foreign to me,” he said. “When I got better, I felt like an alien. It’s really strange, and it’s still amazing.”
Now 38, Smith returned Boston on Friday as a spokesperson for the International OCD Foundation, which has its headquarters here. The IOCDF is celebrating its 30 years as an organization and just commemorated the end of OCD awareness week.
The IOCDF has made great strides for people with OCD in the last 30 years, but it still has a long way to go, said Executive Director Jeff Szymanski.
The IOCD started in Connecticut where a group of people with OCD participated in one of the first studies about the disorder, Szymanski said. The foundation moved to Boston in 2008 to be closer to its vibrant medical community because the organization focuses on financing OCD research. (Although there is no cure for OCD, the compulsions can be managed).
Though the foundation has made great strides in terms of growing OCD awareness—more than 1,600 people attended IOCDF’s annual conference this year, four times as many as the first conference in 1993—Szymanski said the mental health community still struggles with the diagnosis and how to treat it.
Smith was lucky that he was correctly diagnosed so early. More than 3 million adults live with OCD in the United States, but physicians misdiagnose patients 50 percent of the time and mental health professionals a third of the time, Szymanski said. It took Smith 17 years to receive proper treatment, and that’s a common reality.
Szymanski said the average time between a diagnosis and proper care is between 14 to 17 years.
“If you had cancer, who is waiting 14 to 17 years? It’s not acceptable anywhere,” he said. “Yet, it’s the state of things with OCD.”
Both Smith and Szymanski highlighted how OCD has been warped in the public’s eye: It’s not about being “neat” or liking things a certain way. It’s a debilitating medical disability stemming from obsessive, anxious thoughts.
“When we’re in our rituals, we don’t want to be doing them,” Smith said. “No one wants to wash their hands 100 times. We know it’s irrational, but we believe we have to do it anyway.”
After his diagnoses, Smith met with multiple different therapists, but none of them had ever specialized in OCD treatment or were able to refer him to a specialist. “What I mean by proper treatment is that a general psychologist is not equipped to treat OCD but roughly most of them think that they are,” Smith said. “And attempting to treat OCD by doing psychotherapy, called talk therapy—well, what happened was it ultimately made my OCD worse and harder to treat in the future.”
Szymanski worked as a clinical psychologist at McLean’s OCD Institute before joining the foundation. He explained that while most therapists are trained in psychotherapy—where you talk through your issues and try to uncover how they may have started in your childhood—that’s actually damaging for OCD patients.
Instead, professionals need to be trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and specifically a subset of that called “exposure and response prevention.” In that practice, those with OCD are forced to confront the very things giving them anxiety and prompt their obsessive thoughts. Instead of giving in to their compulsions to ease their anxiety, the patient is forced to sit with it.
If someone’s OCD centers around germs, for example, the therapy would involve them touching the floor or something else they consider germ-infested without allowing them to wash their hands repeatedly. “The best way to get over a phobia is to repeatedly expose yourself, and over time your brain stops putting out those anxiety signals,” Szymanski said.
Smith, who underwent the therapy while living in Boston, described it as “torture.” But it’s the reason he’s alive today, he said. He had told his mom that if he ever got better—and for a while, he never thought he would—he wanted to help others like him.
“Coming back to Boston and being able to speak in Boston, where I struggled so much, on a national stage, it’s full circle and emotional, but it’s also extremely gratifying,” said Smith, who now lives in Los Angeles where he works as an actor. “This is where I discovered the strength and power of the human condition. This is where I learned what I was made of as a person.”
I am so excited to share this announcement.....The Penn Center for Mindfulness is super!
Our teens and tweens are stressed out.
They need tools to deal with their complicated modern lives.
Mindfulness techniques have been shown to help kids be less stressed,
anxious and happier in their lives.
This four week program provides a thorough introduction to mindfulness to help your child:
- Tween Stress Management: 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm
- Teen Stress Management: 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Location: Ralston Center, 3615 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Instructor: Bidi McSorley, MD
Description: The course meets for four consecutive weeks for 2 hours each week. There are two separate classes, one for teens and one for tweens.
Your child will learn a variety of mindfulness techniques inducing formal meditation practice such as breath awareness, body scan and movement meditation, as well as informal practices to use in daily life.
Questions? contact Bidi McSorley directly at email@example.com.
CLICK HERE TO REGISTER.
registration deadline, October 3rd.
A lot of my clients struggle with getting their kids to keep up their academic skills over the summer (or complete the dreaded "summer work.") I share the struggle. One of my kids spends her free time writing stories and reading books faster than we can buy them. The other, well, does not....
I am all for kids enjoying summer. I hate those summer packets and assigned summer reading. I think they take all the joy out of learning. But, we all know the statistics about how much skill kids lose over the summer when they aren't at school. Keeping up those skills is definitely important -- particularly for kids who struggle in school or have learning differences.
My #1 piece of advice is to keep learning fun. And, to provide choice and variety. There are many avenues to reading, writing and doing math and kids will be more likely to complete these tasks if they choose them; if the tasks are interesting; and if they have some variety so that they don't get bored.
I want to share with you what my family is doing over the next two weeks to celebrate the Olympics! Each family member selected three countries competing in the Olympics. We added Brazil and the U.S. (yes, I know my math skills are off and with a family of four, we have more than two weeks of countries!!).
The kids will take one country at a time and do some Internet research on that place. They will learn the country's capital, what continent it is on, and what people like to eat there. They will draw the country flag (most appreciated by my artistic daughter). And they will learn about one athlete from that country who is competing in the Games (most appreciated by my son). Each night we will cook a meal from that country.
The kids are really enjoying my assignments (the jury is still out on the meals!). From a parent perspective, they are practicing their reading and writing; by cooking with me, they will get some math practice; they are learning about geography and a little bit about world affairs; and they are learning to do research on the Internet. I'd say that is a gold medal summer assignment.
Want to join? Tonight we are eating from Brazil. Thanks to Food52, we are trying a fish stew called Moqueca and a blackberry drink (minus the rum!) called a caipirinha.
Before my kids left for camp for their first summer away from home, I thought a lot about how I was going to manage without them. Now that they are at camp, and having such an awesome time, I am recognizing something else interesting about having an empty nest.
When the kids are gone, a bright light is shone on the state of your marriage.
I am happy to say that my marriage is alive and well. But, I can see how the state of one's marriage can become a bit of a mystery if you don't take the time to shine that light on it. In our almost 11 years of parenthood, we have been away (together) for a grand total of eight nights. Yes, we go on date nights somewhat regularly, and yes, there are a few nights a year when the kids sleep over at their grandparents when we are somewhere else in the same city, but for the most part we are with them ALL THE TIME. There is a real danger of losing one's relationship when all focus is on the family as a whole.
When the kids are gone, there is a lot of space to fill. Their little voices aren't constantly chattering (or interrupting, bickering, demanding). There aren't a million places to be for soccer and swimming and chorus practice and educational outings. This space feels most salient for parents who don't work outside the home. When the work of kids is not there, the days can seem quite empty and lonely. Parents might feel at a loss as to how to fill their time.
In the 10 days I have been home without kids, I have thought of some helpful insights for parents --
-Don't wait till the kids leave home (for summer camp, or college, or even the endless nights out that teens tend to have) to work on your marriage. There has to be some connection between spouses besides just children. Make sure to keep up the spark and the back and forth conversation with regular date nights (even in your own home once kids go to sleep). Getting a good sitter and heading out without kids is not selfish -- it is an investment in the happiness of your whole family.
-Think about finding a shared interest with your spouse that does not involve the children. How about regular golf or tennis games? Seeing awesome music concerts? Reading and discussing books of interest to both of you? Volunteering together for the candidate you are supporting in the upcoming election? Even if these interests mean some time away from children, the benefit to your relationship will be worth it.
-Feel okay with having conversations that don't involve the kids even when the kids are present. We tend to let the kids dominate our dinner table conversation (and their daily news is so much more interesting than ours!). It is okay to say "this is a mommy/daddy conversation" and to encourage our kids to learn to talk amongst themselves or even to sit quietly. Similarly, as kids get older and stay up later, it is okay to carve out parent time. Kids do not need to be constantly entertained and in fact, manage much better in life if they are comfortable filling alone time.
-The moral of this story is that the greatest gift we can give our kids is to grow up in a loving home. We also want to model for them what it looks like to be a happy adult -- and this probably means being in a strong relationship; having trusting friends; having interests and passions; and having a job or volunteer role that you enjoy. All of these things take commitment and time -- not for a month in the summer, but regularly, all year long. Be sure to invest some time in a stronger and more healthy family!
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.