Identifying Passions, Behaviors, Motivations and Interests

The holiday season is typically NOT a time where we allow ourselves the “space” to sit back and think. Why do we do the things we do?  What makes my child behave that way? What motivates my colleague? What interests me enough to pursue it as a hobby, college major, or job. NOPE. It’s the time where we push all  of these questions to the back burner of our minds and think, “I’ll deal with that when I have time.”  Newsflash: two weeks off from school, a couple days away from work, and a more flexible schedule (that is, when you’re not traveling!) is exactly the time to consider these things.  This year, I’m offering some office hours for feedback sessions during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s  to accommodate people who’d like to come in to receive their feedback while they’re away from work or school.

It may seem like a daunting task to approach questions like those above.  Five years ago, I was faced with some tough questions regarding myself: where to work, who to marry, and how to interact with my family.  Then the Birkman…

Oh, the Birkman (short for Birkman Method assessment).  It’s a  298 question (250 true-false, 48 multi-choice) that you take online whenever you’d like (home, office, vacation, etc) and should take about 30 minutes to complete. The results available immediately after completion and are then sent to me for report preparation. The questionnaire is translated into over 20 languages and, yes, we offer Skype sessions for feedback. There are dozens of report formats for individuals, pairs, and groups. These options make the Birkman a great tool for exploring a college major, switching careers, pre-marital or marital counseling, family counseling, and “figuring out” what makes your relationship with your teenager or spouse thrive or plumit.

What I once thought was just a couple of pieces of paper telling me more about my personality has turned out to be so much more.  I’ve utilized my own results to land a stable career at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants, marry a man who I can communicate and be vulnerable with, and connect with my sister in a way I never thought possible. If you’re willing to make the time to invest in this tool, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Call us today (713-365-9015) to receive a quote for your assessment and schedule a feedback session. Spots for the holiday weeks are limited.

Peaceful (School) Mornings…

Did you read the title of this and chuckle to yourself thinking…

  • “Yeah, right. She’s probably writing this from a beach chair in Tahiti.” (I wish!!!)
  • “She should try living in my house. We live in the real world.”
  • “She probably doesn’t even have school-age children.” (I do- 2 of them.   And 2 dogs. And a cat. And a tortoise. And a husband. But I digress…)

Your kiddos have likely been in school for about a month. If mornings in your house are anything but peaceful, hang on!! There is help and there is hope. Let’s reclaim peace- even on school mornings.

I like lists, so I’m going to give you a handy dandy, practical list of tips get your (school) day off to a great start.

  1. Understand that “leave time” and “load time” are two entirely different times. Read that again and really think about it. It differs for each family depending on the age/stage of each child, but typically “load time” is 5-7 minutes earlier than “leave time.” Give this a shot- it’s a game-changer, I promise!
  2. Eliminate morning clothing drama. This applies to uniform and non-uniform wearing children. The night before school, work with your child to lay out everything he/she will need for the next day. This includes all clothing, accessories, special sports/band equipment, shoes, etc. that they will need the next day. A plastic tub at the foot of the bed or in the closet works well for storing all of the morning necessities. And…the golden rule: NO mind-changing the next day!
  3. Think about food. Have your child decide what he/she will eat for breakfast the next day. Set out the dishes, cereal, etc. Have the milk/juice poured in cups in the fridge. Have lunch boxes pre-packed the night before with perishables ready to add from the fridge in the morning.
  4. Get backpacks loaded and ready to go the night before. Check with each child to be sure that all homework is finished and in the proper place in the binder. Check for any notes or forms that need to be signed and returned, locate library books and any “special” items that need to go to school the next day…you know, “special” things like four items that begin with the letter Q and fit into a brown paper lunch bag, the class pet, show and tell items, the science project with jars of growing mold,etc.
  5. Gather everything that will need to go into the car (backpacks, sports equipment/uniforms, gym bags, snacks, cell phone, purse, car keys, work bag, etc.) and put it in a central location (at my house this is usually on top of the kitchen table because a) it is big enough for all of our junk and b) the puppy hasn’t figured out how to pull stuff off the table and eat it…yet!).

A few final tips and tricks to restore peace to your rushed mornings:

  • Stay off all electronics in the morning (parents too!)
  • Plan to arrive 5-10 minutes early and use the extra time to play a game of I Spy, listen to a favorite song, ask Siri some goofy question, etc. This sure beats shoving the kiddos out of car and telling them to run to beat the tardy bell!

Remember that you are very likely dealing with “morning people” and “night owls” living in the same house. Be sensitive to personal preferences in the morning…and please don’t try to talk to me before I’ve even poured my first cup of coffee!

Behavior Therapy 101: How to achieve positive behavioral changes with your children

If you have kids (or pets, for that matter) then chances are that you have used some behavioral therapy techniques on them. Behavior therapy involves the use of reinforcement and/or punishment to increase a desired behavior or extinguish an unwanted behavior. Here are some practical pointers on using positive reinforcement (praise and point charts in particular) with your children. Much of this information was gleaned from Dr. Alan Kazdin (you can check out more of his materials here).

Changes in Behavior Occur When…

  1. The reinforcers increase the strength of the positive behavior. If they do not, you may need to choose different reinforcers.
  1. The reinforcer should occur immediately after the positive behavior.
  1. Your child must perform the desired behavior before receiving any reinforcers.
  1. For new behaviors to occur, the reinforcer needs to follow the behavior every time.

Four Types of Reinforcers

  1. Material Reinforcers: Tangible items such as toys, clothes, and candy.
  1. Privileges of Activity Reinforcers: Time together with the parent, slumber party, staying up late, chore done by the parent.
  1. Social Reinforcers: Your approval! A smile, a wink, a hug, and praise.
  1. Token Reinforcers: Items given to your child that can be exchanged for more valuable reinforcers.

How to Make Your Praise Most Effective

  1. Deliver praise when you are near your child. When you are close to your child, you can be sure that the behavior you are praising is taking place. Also, when you are close, your child is more likely to pay attention to what you are saying.
  1. Use a sincere, enthusiastic tone of voice. You don’t need to be loud, but make sure that you sound thrilled about what your child is doing.
  1. Use nonverbal reinforcers. Show your child you are pleased by smiling, winking, or touching. Hug your child, high five him, or pat him on the back.
  1. Be specific. When praising your child, say exactly what behavior you approve of. “Wow, thank you so much for picking up your shoes and putting them in the closet.” You want to be specific.

Helpful Hints to Make the Point Chart Work

  1. Remember to praise and give points immediately after the desired behavior.
  1. Review the chart with your child at the end of every day. This gives you a chance to praise the number of points accumulated that day and review all the positive things your child has don’t to earn the points. Also, when few points have been earned, it gives you a chance to handle it neutrally and encourage your child to earn more the next day.
  1. Have some of the rewards available every day.
  1. Give rewards as agreed. Once your child has earned enough points to buy a reward, he should be allowed to receive it regardless of anything else that may have happened that day.
  1. Encourage your child to buy rewards each time. Remember, it is an opportunity to reinforce the behavior you are working on.
  1. Bring the point chart to our sessions each week whether or not it is completed. That way we can track your child’s progress.

 

Points Chart

10 Stress Busters for Finals Week

Finals are just around the corner! But there’s no need panic. In fact, when studying for finals, panicking is totally counterproductive. So if you feel your blood pressure start to rise, try some of these strategies to stay calm under pressure.

1. Breathe!!! – When you hold your breath, you increase the neurotransmitter adrenaline. Adrenaline is great for regulating your metabolism, making roller coasters exciting, and helping you run quickly if you are ever chased by a tiger. But, adrenaline is the enemy when you are anxious, it can induce panic!  Try breathing in for 7 seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathe out for eight seconds.  Then repeat four more times.

2. Start studying early – The earlier one starts studying, the better. There is nothing worse than cramming the night before the test and realizing that you are out of time and you can’t find your study guide. Insufficient study time is one of the biggest underlying problems for students who suffer from test anxiety. When you start studying early and hit a roadblock, you will have time to ask for clarification or tutoring.

3. Find a furry animal – Playing or snuggling with a dog or cat has been so effective in reducing stress that many universities around the world have started having a “puppy room” during finals week.  It’s a room full of puppies!  How can that not be relaxing???

4. Go for a walk or a run – Whether you are a marathon runner or a strolling through the park kind of a person, get outside and go.  It’s great to step away from the books intermittently and moving around will increase the blood flow to your brain.

5. Drink plenty of water – Many people overload on caffeine during finals week.  Caffeine has been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks.  Drink plenty of water!

6. Make time for your passions – Take a 15-30 minute break to do something you are passionate about.   Taking time for music, dancing, friends, and sports can rejuvenate your soul.

7. Get plenty of sleep – People think that it is wise to pull all-nighters when studying for finals.  It’s real simple: you don’t sleep, you can’t think.

8. Take a social media break – Anxiety is contagious.  If you are reading all about your friend’s anxiety about finals, you will start to feel it too.

9. Study with friends – Choose a (not completely anxious) friend and study together.  You can divide the work, quiz one another, and help each other when the work is confusing or difficult.  Also, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

10. Get your parents to chill out! (Tell your parents to read this part.) “Are you studying?” “Why aren’t you studying?” “Do you care that finals are just around the corner?” “You don’t have time for that, start studying!” CHILL OUT PARENTS!!! Anxiety is contagious! Students are hearing about finals from every teacher, all of their friends, their friends’ parents, and all of your neighbors, etc. Your child is fully aware that finals are approaching and EVERYONE is anxious about them! In a calm manner, ask your child what you can do to help them. Offer to bring them healthy snacks, quiz them, take a walk with them, and help them get organized. Finally, find something absolutely ridicules to laugh about. Laughter is a wonderfully fun stress reducer!

Freedom from Food Fights

It is mid-summer and maybe you are thinking that any nutrition goals you had for yourself or your kids will “just have to wait” until all of the vacations, summer grill-outs, and sleep-overs for the kids are behind you.  Let’s face it: most families admit that summer is a difficult time to change kids’ eating routines and food choices.  In fact, it is very likely that the last time you tried to suggest something green or unpackaged for a snack or meal, your kids threw a fit or rolled their eyes.  So, to avoid the energy drain and drama, you gave in to your kids’ pleas for “another snack”, “more dessert”, or their favorite fast-food drive thru pick-up.

Is there a way of out the family food fights without waiting for the school year to begin?  I believe so.  But don’t take it from me…  Here are a few of the tips that have worked best for the parents of my elementary and teenage clients who PREVIOUSLY claimed they had a picky eater at their table:

  •  There are no “good” or “bad” foods.  Experience tells us that as soon as we hear that a food is “bad for us” we want it and if it’s “good for us” we think it’s tasteless or boring.  Plus, many kids begin to associate their value as being “good” or “bad” with how mom or dad says they’re eating.  Instead, it is more helpful to refer to foods as “smart, in between, or empty” when it comes to nutritional value.
  • Nobody has to eat anything they don’t want.  I know, I know: this sounds crazy and does NOT jive with the “clean your plate” mentality that many of us had growing up.  However, research has shown that it takes  kids up to 10 exposures to a food (i.e., seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, spitting out, etc.) before they’ll eat and swallow the food comfortably.  So, the mere presence of that food on a kids’ plate counts as an exposure. They don’t necessarily need to eat it or try it before getting up from the table.  It may sound crazy, but it works!
  • Role model loving healthy food.  If you want your kids to eat broccoli, eat broccoli… without trying to convince them of how good it tastes or manipulate them into eating it, too.  Your kids are watching you and, eventually, will want to try the foods you are eating to feel grown up.  If you don’t believe me, you should ask the mom who was frustrated that her kids were only eating pop-tarts for breakfast.  They saw her eating a healthier version of eggs benedict with asparagus every morning and BEGGED her for some of their own.

These are just a few of many tips I teach for changing the food environment NOT just modifying the foods we eat.  Until we alter the language and “rules” we use in relation to food, we keep ourselves stuck in the food battles at the dinner table and feel trapped in the fights about food types.  If you are interested in more material like this, join us for our next Feeding the Kids Workshop: Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants. Click here for more details and to register.  There really is freedom  from this age-old battle with food for you and your children!

The Family That Plays Together

For as long as I can remember I have loved rainy days. I grew up in a family that was always on the go and usually outside. So when all of the practices and activities were rained out, we went home to a giant bowl of popcorn to play Clue, Battleship, Connect Four, Uno, Life, and Monopoly. We sat in the den for hours with the television off talking, laughing, bonding, and playing a board game.

Board games can be a wonderful tool in promoting family unity. It’s amazing that when kids and teens get into the relaxed atmosphere surrounding the board game, they are able to open up and share so many aspects of their lives. As a family sits around a table and laughs together, the underlying message is, “I like you and I enjoy spending my time with you.” To me, this is the definition of quality time.

Board games may just look like fun and family bonding, but here are a few additional areas where board games can be educational.

Concentration and attention to details– Taking turns, following the flow of the game, and adhering to rules are skills that can carry-over into the classroom.

Strategic thinking– Many games require planning several moves ahead. This encourages a higher level of thinking and increases problem solving skills.

Creativity– Many games require drawing, acting and/or making up stories. These actions can have a positive impact on creative writing and abstract thought.

Good sportsmanship– Being able to win respectfully and lose gracefully is a skill that will stay with kids throughout adulthood.

Vocabulary and Spelling– Games like Balderdash and TriBond expand vocabulary. And, I am pretty sure that I learned how to spell the word “queue” while playing Scrabble.

This summer when it’s your turn throw the dice, know that what you are building is open communication, life long memories, and family unity. The family that plays together, stays together.

TAAS and TAKS and STAAR……OH MY!

For many young students in Texas these three familiar acronyms represent something much scarier than lions and tigers and bears.

STANDARDIZED TESTING, as we know it today, often leaves students and teachers feeling caught in the tornado nightmare Dorothy experienced in the Wizard of Oz.  Everyone wants to go home.

The cheerful buzz of spring and the excitement of summer peeking around the corner have become overshadowed by the emphasis placed on standardized testing.  The STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness), which replaces the former TAKS test, has promised an increased level of rigor and greater depth of cognitive complexity.

Students and teachers all over Texas are feeling the heat to perform.  An increased number of children, as young as third grade, are presenting signs of test anxiety.  How does one differentiate between normal levels of nervous energy and increased levels of anxiety that can significantly impact performance?   If you notice any of the following symptoms in your child, he or she may be struggling with test anxiety.

  • Physiological: changes in eating patterns, upset stomach, nausea, headaches , increased heart rate, or muscle tension
  • Emotional: changes in mood, such as sadness, anger, frustration, or nervousness; fatigue, cries often, feels helpless, fears failure
  • Cognitive: irrational, negative self-statements (“I don’t get it. I know I will fail.”), reduced self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, negative thoughts about performance

What can parents do to help?

  • Encourage children to replace negative self-talk with positive statements.  For example, if your child says, “Math is my worst subject.  I am not going to pass this test.”  They could replace this thought with, “I have studied hard and will do the best I can on this test.”
  • Practice relaxation.  Encourage children to take long, deep breaths before and during the test.
  • Develop a plan for taking breaks during the test.
  • Provide opportunities for physical exercise at home before test day and encourage stretching during the test.
  • Guide children in developing good study skills and creating a quiet environment to work in at home.
  • Speak with teachers and school counselors to offer support in the classroom and on test day.
  • And of course, don’t forget the basics; make sure children are well rested and properly nourished on test day.

If your child is struggling with anxiety this testing season, please don’t hesitate to contact one of the counselors at HBHC.  We are happy to assist in developing strategies to decrease test anxiety so that your child can step into any testing situation in a calm and confident manner.

Is There a GT Kid in the House?

Does your child incessantly ask questions?  Is your child compelled to take the simplest of tasks and create a new design or way of doing it?  Does your child have an intense internal drive to learn things?  Does your child seem to know how to do things before they were taught?  If so, you may have a gifted and talented (GT) kid in the house.

A mom recently told me a story about her almost four-year-old son.  They were in the car talking about the concept of backwards.  He said, “Mommy, did you know my name spelled backwards is W-E-R-D-N-A?”  She explained how impressed she was with his knowledge.  I responded to this story by wishing her “good luck!”  When she looked at me puzzled, I explained that raising a GT kid can be an extremely demanding task.

Gifted and talented children make up only 3-5 percent of the general population.  The National Association of Gifted Children defines gifted as a person who “shows, or has the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance” in one or more of the following areas: general intellectual ability; specific academic aptitude; creative thinking; leadership ability; and visual and performing arts.  This definition encompasses a wide range of abilities, intelligence is thought of most often.  A child with an IQ above 130 is considered GT.

Often, people are confused at the difference between a high achieving child and a gifted child.  In most children’s development, the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional areas all progress at the same rate.  In a high achieving child, all of these areas are advanced.  Simply put, the high achiever is good at everything.  Often with a GT child, what we see is they are incredibly advanced in one or two areas, but the other areas lag behind their peers.  Here are a few more differences:

High Achievers Verses Gifted Learners
Knows the answers Asks the questions
Enjoys a straightforward, sequential  plan Thrives on complexity
Works hard Plays around, yet tests well
“What do I need to do to get an A?” “What is the purpose of the assignment?”
Enjoys peers Prefers older students or adults

There is a widespread myth that GT children do not have behavioral problems.  In reality there are four areas that get GT kids into trouble.

  1. Intensity – They often get “tunnel vision” and forget what they should be doing.
  2. Sensitivity – They often empathize too much with peers, get their feelings hurt, and take criticism very personally.
  3.  Multi-potentiality – Where they can pay attention to several things at one time, they can also have trouble making decisions.
  4. Extra Energy – They often require less sleep than their peers.  This extra energy causes them to prefer fast paced activities and they tend to interrupt others in an attempt to speed up the conversation.

In conclusion, if you come home to find that your kid has disassembled the toaster oven and he/she has reconfigured the parts to create a whole new toaster oven, there are two wise parenting responses.  First, verify that the fire extinguishers are in working order and readily available.  Second, contact your child’s school to have them tested for the GT program.