Tag Archives: Anxiety

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Learning Disabilities: Trust Your Instincts

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St. Louis truly is a unique educational marketplace. There are more private schools in St. Louis than most any other city in the United States. Because many of these institutions have small classes and a unique educational niche, students who learn differently thrive in our city. In fact, many of these children and teenagers enroll in honors-level curriculums, take advanced placement classes, or attend the city’s best preparatory schools.

One can have a superior IQ yet still have cognitive challenges. In fact, being learning disabled (LD) does not directly correlate with having a lack of intelligence or low motivation. However, LD students do manage information differently because they have a neurologically based processing challenge that interferes with the ability to master specific concepts when taught in a traditional manner.

Learning differences can take on multiple forms. Some students have difficulties getting content into the brain. These children struggle with information integration such as the ability to organize, sequence, retrieve or infer meaning. Other students have difficulty getting information out of the brain. These children struggle with fine motor skills (handwriting), organizing thoughts on paper, or finding the right words to express ideas.

Knowledge acquisition is unique for each child and difficulties can surface at any age. There are, however, some specific signs that may indicate your child learns differently. During the pre-school years, look for language complications such as acquisition difficulties or word-pronunciation problems. And some young students may have struggles with coordination and finger use, finding simplistic tasking unusually frustrating. If any area of development feels delayed, check with a teacher to determine if an early intervention is needed.

As children enter the elementary years, subject-area concerns often become more prominent. LD students may be able to master many skills but have difficulty grasping certain concepts. Frequent reading errors, constant misspellings, or atypical troubles with basic math computations can be markers of a learning issue. Additionally, some may experience social struggles and communication problems, which also impact knowledge acquisition.

Further confusing the identification of LD students is that these problems can go unnoticed during the elementary years because these intelligent kids often develop self-compensating strategies for their learning deficits. Additionally, grade school teachers are particularly talented at supporting individuals of all abilities. Maturing students, however, face new challenges as they juggle the demands of a busier scholastic schedule, attempt more demanding academic tasks and negotiate increased independence. Grades may decline and unknown learning issues can surface during the high school years.

It can, however, be difficult to sort out typical teen distraction from true learning issues. Some older students struggle with classroom attention, avoid homework, and fail literature tests because they have no desire to read Jane Austin. Others, unfortunately, put forth appropriate or even excessive effort, but still experience low grades. Review homework and look for unusual sequencing, overly sloppy work or excessively long completion times. Also, check on your child’s emotional state. School anxiety or a confidence crisis often can be the result of an unknown learning issue.

Trust your parental instincts and pursue assistance if you think there is a problem. Start by talking to your child’s teachers. Next, consult with your pediatrician and rule out any medical concerns. Finally, and perhaps most important, work with a qualified educational specialist who will review academic records, interview the family and consult with the school. These professionals also can administer a comprehensive set of intelligence tests and academic assessments to develop a detailed learning profile and determine if a problem exists.

It can be upsetting for a parent to consider the possibility that their child may learn differently. It is, however, important for families to own the problem, understand how their child thinks and learns, and seek the services they need. Don’t adapt a wait-and-see approach; attack the problem. With intervention, advocacy and support, LD students succeed in school, college and life.

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Are you a Procrastinator?

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What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference of more urgent tasks or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable things.

Why Do People Procrastinate?

People procrastinate for different reasons, but, for the most part, there are three basic types of procrastinators.

  • Thrill Seekers – Those who wait until the last minute so they can get that euphoric rush that goes with completing the job right before the deadline.
  • Avoiders – Those who avoid tasks due to fear of failure or due to a fear of success. In either case, these individuals would rather have others believe they lack effort than lack ability.
  • Decisional Procrastinators – Those who choose to avoid making decisions so they can be absolved of the responsibility or the outcome of an event.

What are the costs of being a procrastinator?

  • For yourself, procrastination causes stress and anxiety. This physiological response can compromise the immune system and make one more susceptible to colds, the flu, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • For the spouse of a procrastinator, resentment often builds because it shifts many of life’s responsibilities onto to them.
  • For the child of a procrastinator, a procrastinating parent models bad work habits and may create a procrastinating child.

Tips to Avoid Procrastination.

  • Make a good to do list– Focus on items you typically avoid and then set a deadline to do those evasive tasks.
  • Break down big tasks into little ones – Devote short chunks of time to a big project. Once you make some progress, the momentum builds and most will want to keep moving forward.
  • Choose appropriate surroundings -Make sure your work environment works for you and not against you.  Placing yourself in situations where you don’t get much done such as “studying” in bed or working at a café can actually be a method of avoiding work.
  • Stop checking your email, Facebook, Youtube, etc. – Digital distractions are the arch enemy of the procrastinator. It is too easy to get sucked in to the electronic vortex and waste hours of valuable time.

Procrastination is one of the most sure-fire methods to avoid success in life. Procrastinators sabotage themselves by placing obstacles in their own path and also choosing paths that hurt their performance. Procrastinators can, however, change their behavior but doing so consumes a lot of psychic energy. Commit to change and find a therapist or life coach if you can’t do it on your own.

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Sibling Conflict

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A new University of Missouri research study shows that sibling conflict can lead to depression and anxiety. Now, this research is not saying the occasional argument or disagreement is a problem; rather, this study is highlighting that on-going, persistent fighting can have long lasting effects on an individual’s mental health.

It is also worth noting that conflict is different from sibling rivalry. Rivalry is about “one upping” the other sibling, which in some cases can actually be a positive motivating factor. Healthy competition can push kids to be better.

There are two main types of conflict that can have long lasting emotional impact. The effects can last into adolescence and adulthood.

  1. Violations of personal space and property can cause one to be overly anxious if these intrusions are consistent. This is the worry associated with somebody entering your room or using your personal things.
  2. Continual conflicts over issues of equality and fairness can also lead to depression. A child that feels like they are continually treated unfairly will often suffer low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.

Common sense tells us that continual conflict is detrimental; this study reports findings that most of us already know. The real implication or benefit of the research is studying how we should respond to these types of sibling disputes. It is a parent’s natural instinct to want to be the arbitrator of the argument. This is the wrong way to solve these dilemmas.

Tips to assist with avoiding conflict

  1. Set specific household rules—knock before entering a room, create chore calendars, have predetermined times for video games, etc. Parents should discuss among themselves the continual conflict triggers they see among their kids and create specific rules to avoid those problems.
  2. Don’t be a referee. Things will happen that are not covered by the household rules. When conflicts arise, tell your children they need to walk away from the situation and provide an immediate consequence such as no video games tonight, both go to your room. etc. Don’t buy into the conflict because it could force you to take sides.
  3. Defuse the jealousy. A child who feels like he is treated unfairly may often be jealous of the other sibling. Redirect your child’s jealousy concerns by acknowledging it is normal to occasionally be jealous but also highlight something they do well. This will make the child feel valued and can ultimately increase self-esteem.
  4. Model appropriate behavior. Parents are role models. Be supportive of your spouse, solve appropriate disagreements in front of your children so they learn how to resolve conflict.

The bottom line here is to pay attention to your kids. Rivalry, conflict, jealousy, etc. are part of normal family life. Your parental job is to help your children to manage their feelings and learn how to function. Send the message that we are family and we help each other. If the problem becomes too much to handle and the conflicts become overly intense, seek professional help to avoid long term consequences. Home should always be a safe place to work things out.

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Staying Focused During the Holidays

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It is beginning to look a lot like the holidays: Streets are filled with decorations, Christmas specials are on TV, and kids fantasize about snowy days and new video games. This ‘most wonderful’ time of the year, however, also is a most distracting and stressful time of the year, especially if you are a kid.

School does not slow down during the holidays; rather, it speeds up. Final exams are taken, long-term projects are due, and essential last-minute tasks are assigned as the semester comes to an end. There also are big games and special events to attend. Combine an increased work load along with many distracting festivities, and it can be difficult for anyone to stay focused.

Parents should take advantage of the hectic holiday season to perpetuate a good habit or start a new family tradition: talking to your kids about school. It can be complicated coordinating multiple schedules for a serious discussion, but that is the point. When times get too busy, families need to focus on life, relationships and academics.

Learning to study is an evolutionary process that continually needs adjustment. Have a conversation with your student discussing what homework habits work best, as well as potential problem areas. Kids should be encouraged to learn from their mistakes, make changes as necessary and celebrate successes. Being a supportive parent is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child, but it may take many years before your offspring truly appreciates your parenting style.

In general, most students struggle to balance school and outside extracurriculars. The holidays, however, provide additional opportunities for students to go astray. A key to staying on task is to avoid being overwhelmed. With parental assistance, kids should set a schedule at the start of each week, designating times to study and times to enjoy the festivities.

Additionally, unforeseen activities often pop up during busy times, and kids may waste energy because they are not in the correct state of mind to attack their academics. Regular weekday check-ins can assist students with making appropriate adjustments and, at the same time, provide additional support. A gentle parental push to work efficiently encourages students to prioritize work and strike a better balance between school and holiday fun.

The proper ambiance also is particularly important during this season of distraction. The study area should be stocked with pens, pencils, paper and other essential aids such as healthy snacks and beverages. Sitting at a desk in a well-lit room also is more conducive to learning than lounging on a comfortable couch. Light background music can assist with focus, but upbeat holiday songs should be avoided until homework is complete.

Parents, too, can bolster academic productivity by joining the study-time fun. Sit at the desk alongside your student and bring your work to the table. This not only models good habits but also provides a unique bond as families unite to do work before engaging in play. Additionally, your student will also be less likely to text, Facebook or Skype with a parent in the room.

Finals are finished, school is over, and it is time to take a breather. An essential way to recharge and re-motivate is to enjoy the holidays and focus on the family. Shift away from the daily stresses of school and work to create a new family tradition. Get everyone together to bake holiday cookies, prepare a special breakfast, or take a trip to the ice rink. Special times create lifelong memories that outlast the temporary enjoyment provided by expensive or trendy gifts. Yes, kids want presents, but they also want to be part of a family.

Life is always hectic. The holidays can, however, allow families to temporarily leave behind the daily grind and spend time focusing on each other. The food is great, the atmosphere is special, and relaxation is encouraged—it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Happy holidays!

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Kids and Stress

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One thing that parents and kids have in common is stress. While the sources may differ and reactions may vary, everyone, at some point, experiences undue anxiety. Stress is an inevitable part of life created by a physiological reaction to an uncomfortable situation. In fact, if one never experiences any anxiety, that is actually a bigger problem than having anxiety.

Interestingly, stress also can be a positive emotion. Good stress motivates and energizes kids, often pushing them to do better, and a little ‘fear’ can cause kids to work harder and study more. To understand how stress is impacting your child, it is important to recognize the different types of reactions that one may have.

Acute stress is a short-lived response to a particular event such as a big test. It is a very common feeling and, in some cases, can be interpreted as bodily excitement such as the nerves associated with starring in the school play. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is ongoing anxiety that continually taxes one’s body and mind. It is not exciting or motivating; rather, it wears on the body and can cause a mental meltdown. If a child is experiencing a high number of acute episodes or is in a persistent, chronic state, it is a problem that needs professional assistance.

It can, however, be difficult to decipher between problematic behaviors and developmentally appropriate responses because children of different ages react differently to stressful situations. A preschooler may excessively cry, tremble with fright, or run aimlessly. During the elementary years, an overly anxious child may demonstrate regressive behaviors, develop irrational fears, or have persistent physical illness such as head and stomach aches. An overly angst-ridden teen may become socially withdrawn, act out, or appear frequently confused.

Ignoring stress will most likely cause increased anxiety for your son or daughter. However, knowing when to approach your child and what to say might strain your parental nerves. Observe and learn when your kids might be most willing to talk. Is it before bedtime, after diner, or during car rides? Initiate a conversation but avoid flinging questions. Also consider creating a ‘covert’ activity such as a weekly donut date where conversation is actively encouraged. Availability provides opportunity for your child to speak with you about any topic.

When your child does finally decide it’s time to dialogue—listen. Stop what you are doing and provide your full attention. It can be difficult to avoid strong reactions, but parents should respond with empathy and focus on the emotional content of the conversation. Parents who minimize their offspring’s feelings shut the door to future problem-solving sessions.

Unfortunately, anxious adolescents turn into anxious adults. And while encouraging conversations is an important component of stress reduction, kids need to learn ongoing ways to reduce life’s tension. Distraction is an excellent way to provide regular relief. A physical activity or an engaging hobby will take individuals of any age away from the daily grind. Having fun is a powerful mood enhancer.

For ‘in the moment relief,’ kids, especially younger ones, need to learn how to ‘just’ breathe. An anxious person takes small, shallow breaths using their upper chest. To reduce stress, air needs to flow smoothly from the abdomen. Model this for your children and they will quickly learn this easy to implement strategy.

Kids have a lot to worry about, despite the carefree lifestyles we adults think they may lead. Interestingly, the one thing kids do not worry about is their parental relationship. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association noted that only 8 percent of surveyed children and teens cited mom and dad as a source of their stressful woes. Doing well in school and family finances topped the list of major worries.

Whenever there is change, it is important for parents to understand that situational stress is an appropriate and reasonable reaction. If you feel, however, that your child’s anxiety is too intense, lasts longer than it should, or occurs more frequently than is typical, trust your parental instincts and seek further assistance. Your school’s counselor or family pediatrician is a great place to find guidance and professional recommendations.

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Helping Kids Reduce the Pain of Comparisons

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When kids return to school this fall, they will do what kids have always done—start making comparisons. Unfortunately, some may feel they don’t measure up as they compare vacations, clothes, or their relative popularity. In a recent segment on KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Dr. Russell Hyken discusses what parents can do to better understand why their child may feel inadequate and how to help them cope with that “everyone else is better than me” feeling.

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Your Child’s First Sleep-Away Camp

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Sending a child to sleep-away camp can be a positive, life-changing experience for the camper but can cause anxiety in parents as the departure date approaches. In this recent segment on KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Dr. Hyken offers tips for parents and children to make summer camp a success. The story is also featured in the Ladue News. Download the full article here.

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How to discuss environmental disasters with children

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The occurrence and aftermath of major natural disasters can be particularly difficult to explain to children.  Effectively dealing with the complex range of emotions and questions children may have in reaction to this kind of news is key for parents who want to provide information while protecting kids’ sense of well-being and safety.  Dr. Hyken recently offered tips for parents and caregivers on KTVI-TV in St. Louis.

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Are Girls More Anxious Than Boys?

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Q: I have both a teenage son and a daughter. It seems that my daughter is much more anxious than my son. Is this because of how I parented?

A: A recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry found that teenage girls are six times more likely to be anxious than boys. Additionally, there is a significant amount of research that shows women are significantly more anxious than men.

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Back-to-School Anxiety

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Summer is over and you child’s mood has shifted: He is not the happy, carefree kid of a few short weeks ago; rather, he has become irritable, complains about headaches and is having sleep difficulties. Welcome to back-to-school stress.

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