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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Is Anxiety in Young Boys the New Normal?

From Independent School Magazine by NAIS

By Wendy Mogel
Author of "The Blesings of a Skinned Knee"

Winter, 2016

"Boys long to run errands, patrol distant fields, hunt in the bush, Lancy writes. And if denied this opportunity, trouble awaits... Consider boys’ anxiety as energy, imagination, and adventure turned against the self."

I’ve been in practice as a clinical psychologist for 35 years. In the old days, most parents of lower school boys came to see me at the recommendation of the school. The student was behind in reading and writing, or restless, devil­ish, or puzzlingly out-of-sorts.

Today, most parents of young boys are self-referred. The most common presenting problem? Their sons’ worrisome worries.

These anguished parents use such similar phrases that I feel as if I’m listening to actors reading sides for a casting agent. Here’s Kate, mother of six-and-a-half-year-old Spencer and four-year-old Bella:

"Spencer insists that one of us stay in his room with him while he gets dressed for school.

Even if he wants something badly — a Lego part or his Wii controller — he refuses to go upstairs by himself.

He asks so many questions about his homework that I usually just sit with him the whole time.

He’s miserable if he knows we’re going out for the evening. If we leave before he’s asleep, he begs the babysitter to let him call.

He has bad dreams and wants to get in our bed. If we say no, he gets in bed with Bella.

And he’ll only consent to sleepovers if they are at our house."

I know what you’re thinking: spineless, overprotective, sissy parents create entitled, bratty, babyish boys. What else is new?

Or, if you’re inclined toward more refined means of evaluating childhood mental health problems: Perhaps Spencer was born with an unusually sensitive temperament, or has faced a painful life experience: an illness, the death of someone near, money or marriage troubles in the family, a wrenching move to a new neighborhood or school.

Maybe something fishy is going on in the family, and this troubled and troublesome boy is “the identified patient.”

Or, has he observed or experienced something ­TERRIBLE, and no one knows?

But as I’ve discovered through hours of probing and pondering, ­neither hyper-parenting nor early trauma is the key to understanding this new trend. Many children tolerate parental overprotectiveness and over-involvement without becoming chronically anxious, and the majority of these young boys have what psychologists call an “unremarkable” family history.

But they do have two seemingly unrelated characteristics in common.

As heartbreaking, pathetic or annoying as their parents find them to be at home, these boys’ teachers think they are terrific. When I inquire about what transpired at the last parent-teacher conference I hear more “sides.”

Oh, the teachers LOVE him! They say he’s a great addition to the class. That he jumps right in. Is a leader and kind to the other kids. They so enjoy his sense of humor.

Frequently the parents follow these comments with: Spencer? We thought his teacher might accidently be describing another kid in the class.

The other common characteristic: As responsible, capable, enthusiastic and thoughtful as these boys are at school, they cannot be relied on at home. They can’t even remember to flush the toilet.

Digging Deeper: the View from the Nurse’s Office

Around the time that I was struggling to make sense of this new triad — yeoman student/nervous son/non-flusher — I was preparing to give a talk at the Sacred Heart Schools in Chicago. Gathering background information about the community gave me the opportunity to talk with Joan Callahan, the schools’ longtime nurse. Joan is a genius.

Her ability to see the world from the students’ perspective and to provide them with comfort without coddling led me to consider that school nurses might be the ticket to understanding these changes. Unlike the classroom teacher’s panoramic view of a single age cohort of students or the intimate and sustained but tiny sample size on which parents base their theories about what children need, nurses have a unique lens, one that is both broad and long.

So, during my visit to Sacred Heart, Joan organized a roundtable discussion with a varied group of independent school health professionals. The more I heard from these frank, wry, wise women, the more I wanted to hear.

Immediately upon returning to my office in Los Angeles, I teamed with the National Association of Independent Schools to launch a research project. Nancy Raley, then-vice president of communications, graciously sent a query to member schools inviting “the school nurse or staff person students seek out to care for their splinters, tummy aches or heartaches…” to participate in phone interviews that would be recorded, transcribed, and analyzed for trends.

Here’s what I learned. While there have always been “frequent fliers” in the school nurse’s office, a greater proportion of today’s students seek care from the nurse, they present their symptoms with far greater urgency and at younger ages, and more and more of them are boys.

Some boys are near frantic over everyday ailments. Others complain of such exotic symptoms that the nurse suspects vigilant eavesdropping has taken place at home. I think it’s a concussion. Can I try to follow your finger with my eyes? Oh no! I can’t! They describe boys with “hyperacusis” (abnormal sensitivity to loud sounds) who beg to be alerted before a fire drill. Others fear thunder or the darkening afternoons of winter.

The nurses describe these students as “hyper-reactors”: “They come running to my office acting like a hangnail is an amputated limb.”

Following the Clues to the Source of the Problem

Putting together the observations of the parents, teachers and nurses, the boy-anxiety equation became clearer. Most boys valiantly hold it together through the school day (those needing a refill wisely slip into the nurse’s office for a bit) and then soldier through their extracurriculars or practices.

But once they hit the soft landing of home, drop their backpack by the front door, and remove their literal or figurative tie and jacket, or jersey and cleats, these admirable young men regress into needy, irritable puddles of babyishness.

I spend a great deal of time working in therapy sessions with parents to first understand the sources of their son’s polarized behavior and, second, to offer suggestions about what they can do at home to raise resilient boys. But part of the work needed to reverse this trend — I now see, thanks to school nurses — falls to schools. How can schools shift their expectations and shape environments that will help boys sustain their exuberance, confidence, and accountability?

First, by understanding that helpless boys are not born but made.

The Need to Engage

Michael Tomasello, an American developmental psychologist and co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, uses observations of spontaneous, independent acts of helpfulness and cooperation in toddlers as evidence that the altruism is hardwired, an instinct, the necessary basis of all community building. In his experiments, toddlers — accompanied by their moms, who sit in a chair nearby — play in a quiet room.

Enter an unfamiliar adult carrying an armful of magazines. The adult simply looks at a cabinet on the floor, and with no further cue, every child — without turning to mom for permission, approval, or assistance — walks across the room to open the cabinet door, allowing the adult to unburden himself of his load.

Boys long to run errands, patrol distant fields, hunt in the bush, Lancy writes. And if denied this opportunity, trouble awaits.

Wishing to study the strength of this intrinsic altruistic motivation, Tomasello litters the path between child and cabinet with alluring obstacles (bright attractive toys and balls). Same response. Every child, some as young as 12 months old, sizes up a need, instantly stops playing, and helps out.

Neuroscience research provides more evidence. Imaging studies show that contributing to community and feeling purposeful causes the reward centers of the brain to glow and releases all the good drugs: dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. The independent, resourceful toddlers in Tomasello’s lab are getting high. But none of this is really news. Little ones have always announced with satisfaction: I helped! I do it myself!

So why is it downhill from the nursery? What causes helpful toddlers to morph into helpless second-graders? Why are our big boys in a panic over a loose tooth? What has changed so dramatically in their lives that they are willing to risk provoking parental contempt and exchange opportunities for dignity and pride with displays of dependence and distress?

The Weird Ways of WEIRD Societies

David Lancy, in his eye-popping new book, The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings, describes how the current norms and expectations of parents in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic (WEIRD) societies contrast with those of America of the past, and with all other cultures around the world.

He describes how the chore curriculum for boys in non-WEIRD societies provides them with social standing and identity, but is designed in a practical fashion with respect and recognition of boys’ need to move.

Boys long to run errands, patrol distant fields, hunt in the bush, Lancy writes. And if denied this opportunity, trouble awaits.

If schools wish to reverse this rising tide of anxiety in boys, it helps to be aware of its sources — to understand the problematic cultural trends at play — and work to mitigate them.

Consider boys’ anxiety as energy, imagination, and adventure turned against the self.

I often make a distinction between “good tired” and “weary” to parents of boys. In school, was there an opportunity for derring-do, enough time spent outdoors, a sense of mastery gained through his own desire and will, and not through the efforts of a teacher, tutor, or coach?

It’s not reasonable or fair to expect small boys to sit for long stretches of time doing desk work, following adult directions, being physically still and mentally focused on academics.

The boys use so much energy keeping their energy contained. Good schools understand the value of time reserved for imaginative, creative, and rough-and-tumble play and opportunities for self-directed physical, mental, and social problem solving.

Sorry about the economic downturn, but if your school has lower admission standards for boys than for girls, you’re playing a game of emotional roulette with young minds.

Many schools have unwritten policies of accepting siblings, legacies, sons of generous donors or even sons of tireless yet uncomplaining, undemanding volunteers. But if you are admitting a child just to fill a space or to please a parent or donor — without carefully considering the boy’s ability to thrive in your school — consider this offer of admission a health risk for the child.

Follow the lead of sensible curriculum disruptors using both old-fashioned and pioneering models.

Many independent schools are experimenting with experiential learning models, developing problem-based learning activities, building innovation spaces and maker or tinkering labs, getting students outside of the classroom and into the field. All of these efforts benefit boys, especially those who learn best by doing.

Study the pedagogical philosophy of activists like Gever Tulley and Doug Stowe. Tulley is a “tinkering” advocate and a school and camp administrator who puts power tools in the hands of second-graders. (His popular TED talk is called “Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do.”)

Stowe runs the “Wisdom of the Hands” program at the Clear Spring School in Arkansas. It’s based on the principles of Sloyd, a program of industrial arts training for children that began in Sweden in the 1870s. Sloyd emphasizes the value of nontraditional activities in daily curriculum including sleight of hand, woodworking, paper folding and sewing.

Reread Maria Montessori. Study the beautifully articulated age-by-age goals laid out by the Waldorf schools. Take care that our children do not lose what Virginia Woolf refers to as “the great Cathedral space” of childhood.

Follow the lead of enlightened boys’ schools.

Here’s Julie Seymour, school nurse at Fairfield Country Day (Connecticut): “We’re geared toward the way boys learn. We have plenty of recess at every grade level and sports every day. The boys are allowed to move. Our new desks and desks all swivel and they all have a foot swing.”

Boys need room for high-spirited self-expression. “They act silly. They sing in the hallways. We have an incredible music program and everybody has to do everything: sports, arts, and academics. So it’s OK to be singing. A lot of things are OK here because the boys don’t even know better and they are not made fun of for anything.”

In order to reach parents on their favored channel, offer insight into the social and emotional needs of boys in a variety of forms: at back-to-school night, during parent coffees, in a letter from the head of the lower school, as part of a speaker series.

It helps to be creative here. The school counselor of an academically elite independent school, frustrated by the very poor turnout for middle and upper school parent education nights, devised a clever strategy. She titled an upcoming event as “How to Get Your Child into College: Surprising Aspects of Adolescent Social and Emotional Development.” When an overflow crowd showed up, she suspected that most parents never read the subtitle.

Requiring boys to demonstrate consistent and reliable citizenship reduces anxiety.

We shortchange boys if we don’t require a little helpful servitude. At home, the little ones want to fold the socks, they want to help, but we’ve moved them to the point where they say, “Help me, please.” The kindergarten teachers say, “Please make sure that the children carry their own backpacks and they walk into the classroom themselves,” and then the parents are carrying the whole child plus the backpack into the classroom.

Schools can counteract this trend by requiring boys to do chores in school. Let them be helpful. Anyone old enough to remember when being selected to clap the blackboard erasers together was considered a high honor? Give boys a task, the necessary tools, and trust (that they can handle an important job), and they grow stronger.

At Waldorf schools, young students wash and chop vegetables for cooking projects, stand on ladders to hang art, scrub their boots so that mud is not tracked into the classroom, water the plants, write the day and date on the blackboard, and like sailors learning to tie knots, wind up all the jump ropes neatly before putting them away at the end of yard time.

Build confidence by being enchanted with his enchantment.

Ian McEwan, in his novel The Children Act, describes how an eight-year-old’s release of “a silvery stream of anecdote, reflection, fantasy” created in the adult listener a “wave of love for the child [that] constricted her throat and pricked her eyes.” It helps enormously to let boys run with their budding intellectual interests:

Did you know there are 450 kinds of sharks? The biggest is the great white. It’s 60 FEET LONG! But sharks kill only one person a year! Dogs kill 200 people a year! And the types of sharks are mako, hammerhead, great white, blue, bluntnose, cookiecutter, goblin!, leopard, nurse, dogfish. Do you know what country has the fastest Wi-Fi in the world? South Korea. It does. South Korea. We are so slow. We’re behind Lithuania and Latvia and Portugal. Way behind.

Information is the conversational channel boys tune into. So educators would be wise to sample from the menu of the topics boys find engaging and deem important.

Conversing with little boys requires a surprisingly delicate touch. A good tactic is to act a bit ignorant, seeking their expert knowledge no matter how meager. Being enthusiastic and captivated is a deposit in the bank of goodwill. Say: “Interesting!” “What else do you know about that?” “Are there other tricks spies use?” This esoteric, passionately communicated information is their gift to you; by asking for details and appreciating the answers, you show your gratitude.

Listen to the savvy nurses.

WM: The nature of the problems they’re coming in with, has that changed?

Joan Callahan: Stomachaches and headaches are huge. I’m just amazed at the number of kids that come in with headaches.

WM: What’s your sense of the cause?

JC: I think both are very stress-related. It’s tension. I have a thing we call WOW. It’s water, oxygen, wait. So when they come in, they know they’re going to drink 10 little cups of water, they’re going to take 10 deep breaths, and then they have to wait 30 minutes to let me know how they are feeling.

I always take a temperature on a kid with a headache, unless I know that they’re really always getting headaches, because oftentimes headaches are the first fever thing. So they get their temperature taken and then it’s time for WOW. Take your 10 drinks. For a lot of kids, that’s all it takes, just 10 drinks of water and 10 deep breaths and it just seems to dissipate.

WM: What percentage of the headaches disappear?

JC: I would say 80 to 90 percent. I also give out ice all the time. We call it magic ice. They usually just get a cup of ice and we talk about the time of day it is. Is it low blood sugar? Did you eat breakfast? Just to check. Two minutes of focused, “You’re the only important person in my life right now, so I will sit and talk to you for two to three minutes.” We’ll sort through things and that alone just seems to take the edge off.

A brief interlude of adult concern, compassion, and calm can yield a big payoff in anxiety reduction and a willingness to jump back into the day.

The nurses are sophisticated diagnosticians, alert to the symptoms of previously overlooked disorders of ­sensor-motor integration, allergic reactions to food and latex, the latest concussion protocols. The frequent fliers, hyper-reactors, and students suffering from a variety of general and specific forms of “health anxiety” are not physically ill but they are, for certain, suffering.

When schools regularly check in with their nurses, they can trace more of these symptoms back to institutional causes — then work to mitigate them.

The Anxiety Paradox

Are the boys anxious because their lives (no matter how privileged and successful on the surface) are too stressful? Or are they playing the anxiety card because, just as exaggerated fear-mongering news headlines capture the attention of a distracted, jaded public, a young boy’s expression of fear, in the proper dose, elicits attention, empathy, and care even from busy, distracted, preoccupied adults?

The answer is both.

Think of a boy-friendly curriculum — the opportunity to do exciting and important physical and mental work and shoulder responsibilities beyond grades and scores — as ­anxiety-proofing and dignity-promoting­ agents.

Too many boys are suffering in school. Without change I’m afraid they are going to file the largest class action suit in history against us. They’re going to sue us for stealing their childhoods.

Wendy Mogel is a practicing clinical psychologist, a New York Times best-selling author, and an international public speaker. In more than 500 talks, she’s addressed diverse audiences including non-English-speaking businesswomen in Beijing, youth leaders at a Buddhist institute in Sydney, Baptist clergy, talent agents and the graduating class of 2014 at the interfaith Baccalaureate Ceremony of the Claremont Colleges.

Currently she serves on the scientific advisory board of Parents Magazine, and is a research and policy advisor for Challenge Success — a child advocacy program of the Stanford University School of Education.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Top 3 Executive Function Apps in My Coaching Toolbox

From Beyond BookSmart's
Executive Functioning Strategies Blog

By Lindsay Schelhorn, M.S., CCC-SLP
February 22, 2016

“What are good apps I should get for my phone?”

A few months ago, my dad finally upgraded his old flip phone to a smartphone. Everytime I see him, he asks me what my favorite apps are that he should download. Once I told him the obvious, like Facebook, Fitbit and Waze, I was at a bit of a loss each time he asked.

Eventually, I realized he was trying to update his “smartphone toolbox” or “go-to” applications to make the most of his new phone.

His question got me thinking about how I update my toolbox as an Executive Function coach and Speech-Language Pathologist. Sure, I attend renowned continuing education events, and read journal articles written by experts in the field, but recently my favorite tools have come from my students and colleagues at Beyond BookSmart.

I start each coaching session with a new student learning about what Executive Function tools he or she currently uses to record assignments, manage time or emotions, and prioritize work. By actively learning about the applications one student uses successfully, I can more effectively coach other students with whom I work. I wanted to share with you my new top 3 Executive Function apps to answer the question “What are good apps to get on my phone?”

1.) Google Keep

I have an unhealthy obsession with sticky notes, so much so that I bring a little bag with me full of different color and size notes for my students to choose from. I used to love the sticky note feature built in on my computer, but I had so many that they covered my desktop. When a student introduced me to Google Keep as his way to record homework assignments, I was immediately hooked.

Google Keep is one of my top executive function apps to develop time management, planning, and prioritizing skills. It is linked to your google account and is accessible on your computer, smartphone, and tablet. Other helpful features include color coding notes for different categories and setting reminders to complete a task.

No more excuses that your child ignored or lost her to do list!

2.) ToDoist

Another one of my students introduced me to ToDoist. (You read that correctly, it’s ToDoist, not another To Do List). I was so impressed with how he used ToDoist to create folders for each class, as well as add, reorder and break down assignments that I knew other students would have success with this tool.

Recently, I introduced this tool to one student as a way to help him record his daily assignments and prioritize work. He hadn’t yet established a consistent method for recording assignments, but as he set up his classes, he said, “This is easy! I really like that you can type in 'tom' and it schedules the task for tomorrow.”

I knew I had some buy-in, and following that, his consistent use of this tool will help him reach his academic goals.

3.) Habit List

I discovered Habit List through a fellow Beyond BookSmart coach as a “New to You” tool presented during monthly group supervision. Habit List is a tool to help build positive habits and track trends over time.

Initially, I was skeptical. Why would I encourage my students to pay $3.99 for an application when there are plenty of adequate free applications?

Because it works!

Keeping track of my New Year’s resolutions seemed like the perfect reason to try out this application and build positive routines for myself before modeling the skill for my students. It is pretty exciting to check off an item and see trends grow on the monthly calendar.

The reminders to complete a habit really helps build accountability. I’ve never been more motivated and successful crossing going to the gym off my list!

I am always looking to fill my coaching toolbox with effective strategies — and my students and colleagues are rich sources for new ideas. So now I ask you: “Does your child have any good apps you should download on your phone?”

Lindsay Schelhorn, M.S., CCC-SLP is an Executive Function coach and a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. She currently works as a Speech-Language Pathologist at the Clearway School in West Newton, MA.

After completing her bachelor's degree in Psychology at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, Lindsay completed a graduate certificate in Autism Studies at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. She graduated from Mass General Hospital’s Institute of Health Professions with her degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders.

She feels passionately about guiding teenagers and young adults to becoming more independent by increasing their confidence in functional skills, and teaching them strategies to increase their understanding and awareness of the relationship between social skills and executive functioning skills.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nine Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try

From PsychCentral

By Renee Jain, MAPP
November 9, 2014

"Research shows that anxiety is often the result of multiple factors (i.e., genes, brain physiology, temperament, environmental factors, past traumatic events, etc.). Please keep in mind, you did not cause your child’s anxiety, but you can help them overcome it."

As all the kids line up to go to school, your son, Timmy, turns to you and says, “I don’t want to take the bus. My stomach hurts. Please don’t make me go.” You cringe and think, Here we go again. What should be a simple morning routine explodes into a daunting challenge.

You look at Timmy and see genuine terror. You want to comfort him. You want to ease the excessive worry that’s become part and parcel of his everyday life. First, you try logic. “Timmy, we walk an extra four blocks to catch this bus because this driver has an accident-free driving record!” He doesn’t budge.

You provide reassurance. “I promise you’ll be OK. Timmy, look at me… you trust me, right?” Timmy nods. A few seconds later he whispers, “Please don’t make me go.”

You resort to anger: “Timothy Christopher, you will get on this bus RIGHT NOW, or there will be serious consequences. No iPad for one week!”

He looks at you as if you’re making him walk the plank. He climbs onto the bus, defeated. You feel terrible.

If any of this sounds familiar, know you are not alone. Most parents would move mountains to ease their child’s pain. Parents of kids with anxiety would move planets and stars as well. It hurts to watch your child worry over situations that, frankly, don’t seem that scary.

Here’s the thing: To your child’s mind, these situations are genuinely threatening. And even perceived threats can create a real nervous system response. We call this response anxiety and I know it well.

I’d spent the better part of my childhood covering up a persistent, overwhelming feeling of worry until, finally, in my early twenties, I decided to seek out a solution. What I’ve learned over the last two decades is that many people suffer from debilitating worry.

In fact, 40 million American adults, as well as 1 in 8 children, suffer from anxiety.

Many kids miss school, social activities and a good night’s rest just from the worried thoughts in their head. Many parents suffer from frustration and a feeling of helplessness when they witness their child in this state day in, day out.

What I also learned is that while there is no one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety, there are a plethora of great research-based techniques that can help manage it — many of which are simple to learn. WAIT! Why didn’t my parents know about this? Why didn’t I know about it? Why don’t they teach these skills in school?

I wish I could go back in time and teach the younger version of myself how to cope, but of course, that’s not possible. What is possible is to try to reach as many kids and parents as possible with these coping skills. What is possible is to teach kids how to go beyond just surviving to really finding meaning, purpose and happiness in their lives. To this end, I created an anxiety relief program for kids called GoZen.

Here are 9 ideas straight from GoZen that parents of anxious children can try right away:

1.) Stop reassuring your child.

Your child worries. You know there is nothing to worry about, so you say, “Trust me. There’s nothing to worry about.” Done and done, right? We all wish it were that simple. Why does your reassurance fall on deaf ears? It’s actually not the ears causing the issue. Your anxious child desperately wants to listen to you, but the brain won’t let it happen.

During periods of anxiety, there is a rapid dump of chemicals and mental transitions executed in your body for survival. One by-product is that the prefrontal cortex — or more logical part of the brain — gets put on hold while the more automated emotional brain takes over.

In other words, it is really hard for your child to think clearly, use logic or even remember how to complete basic tasks. What should you do instead of trying to rationalize the worry away? Try something I call the FEEL method:
  • Freeze — pause and take some deep breaths with your child. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system response.
  • Empathize — anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it.
  • Evaluate — once your child is calm, it’s time to figure out possible solutions.
  • Let Go – Let go of your guilt; you are an amazing parent giving your child the tools to manage their worry.

2.) Highlight why worrying is good.

Remember, anxiety is tough enough without a child believing that Something is wrong with me. Many kids even develop anxiety about having anxiety. Teach your kids that worrying does, in fact, have a purpose.

When our ancestors were hunting and gathering food there was danger in the environment, and being worried helped them avoid attacks from the saber-toothed cat lurking in the bush. In modern times, we don’t have a need to run from predators, but we are left with an evolutionary imprint that protects us: worry.

Worry is a protection mechanism. Worry rings an alarm in our system and helps us survive danger. Teach your kids that worry is perfectly normal, it can help protect us, and everyone experiences it from time to time. Sometimes our system sets off false alarms, but this type of worry (anxiety) can be put in check with some simple techniques.

3.) Bring your child’s worry to life.

As you probably know, ignoring anxiety doesn’t help. But bringing worry to life and talking about it like a real person can. Create a worry character for your child. In GoZen we created Widdle the Worrier. Widdle personifies anxiety. Widdle lives in the old brain that is responsible for protecting us when we’re in danger.

Of course, sometimes Widdle gets a little out of control and when that happens, we have to talk some sense into Widdle. You can use this same idea with a stuffed animal or even role-playing at home.

Personifying worry or creating a character has multiple benefits. It can help demystify this scary physical response children experience when they worry. It can reactivate the logical brain, and it’s a tool your children can use on their own at any time.

4.) Teach your child to be a thought detective.

Remember, worry is the brain’s way of protecting us from danger. To make sure we’re really paying attention, the mind often exaggerates the object of the worry (e.g., mistaking a stick for a snake). You may have heard that teaching your children to think more positively could calm their worries. But the best remedy for distorted thinking is not positive thinking; it’s accurate thinking.

Try a method we call the 3Cs:
  • Catch your thoughts: Imagine every thought you have floats above your head in a bubble (like what you see in comic strips). Now, catch one of the worried thoughts like “No one at school likes me.”
  • Collect evidence: Next, collect evidence to support or negate this thought. Teach your child not to make judgments about what to worry about based only on feelings. Feelings are not facts. (Supporting evidence: “I had a hard time finding someone to sit with at lunch yesterday.” Negating evidence: “Sherry and I do homework together–she’s a friend of mine.”)
  • Challenge your thoughts: The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is to teach your children to have a debate within themselves.

5.) Allow them to worry.

As you know, telling your children not to worry won’t prevent them from doing so. If your children could simply shove their feelings away, they would. But allowing your children to worry openly, in limited doses, can be helpful.

Create a daily ritual called “Worry Time” that lasts 10 to 15 minutes. During this ritual encourage your children to release all their worries in writing. You can make the activity fun by decorating a worry box. During worry time there are no rules on what constitutes a valid worry — anything goes. When the time is up, close the box and say good-bye to the worries for the day.

6.) Help them go from what if, to what is.

You may not know this, but humans are capable of time travel. In fact, mentally we spend a lot of time in the future. For someone experiencing anxiety, this type of mental time travel can exacerbate the worry. A typical time traveler asks what-if questions: “What if I can’t open my locker and I miss class?” “What if Suzy doesn’t talk to me today?”

Research shows that coming back to the present can help alleviate this tendency. One effective method of doing this is to practice mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness brings a child from what if to what is. To do this, help your child simply focus on their breath for a few minutes.

7.) Avoid avoiding everything that causes anxiety.

Do your children want to avoid social events, dogs, school, planes or basically any situation that causes anxiety? As a parent, do you help them do so? Of course! This is natural. The flight part of the flight-fight-freeze response urges your children to escape the threatening situation. Unfortunately, in the long run, avoidance makes anxiety worse.

So what’s the alternative?

Try a method we call laddering. Kids who are able to manage their worry break it down into manageable chunks. Laddering uses this chunking concept and gradual exposure to reach a goal.

Let’s say your child is afraid of sitting on the swings in the park. Instead of avoiding this activity, create mini-goals to get closer to the bigger goal (e.g., go to the edge of the park, then walk into the park, go to the swings, and, finally, get on a swing). You can use each step until the exposure becomes too easy; that’s when you know it’s time to move to the next rung on the ladder.

8.) Help them work through a checklist.

What do trained pilots do when they face an emergency? They don’t wing it (no pun intended!); they refer to their emergency checklists. Even with years of training, every pilot works through a checklist because, when in danger, sometimes it’s hard to think clearly.

When kids face anxiety they feel the same way. Why not create a checklist so they have a step-by-step method to calm down? What do you want them to do when they first feel anxiety coming on?

If breathing helps them, then the first step is to pause and breathe. Next, they can evaluate the situation. In the end, you can create a hard copy checklist for your child to refer to when they feel anxious.

9.) Practice self-compassion.

Watching your child suffer from anxiety can be painful, frustrating, and confusing. There is not one parent that hasn’t wondered at one time or another if they are the cause of their child’s anxiety.

Here’s the thing: research shows that anxiety is often the result of multiple factors (i.e., genes, brain physiology, temperament, environmental factors, past traumatic events, etc.). Please keep in mind, you did not cause your child’s anxiety, but you can help them overcome it.

Toward the goal of a healthier life for the whole family, practice self-compassion. Remember, you’re not alone, and you’re not to blame. It’s time to let go of debilitating self-criticism and forgive yourself. Love yourself. You are your child’s champion.

Simple tools can help alleviate your child’s anxiety. Start teaching your child coping skills with animated lessons here.

About Renee Jain, MAPP

Renee Jain is an award-winning tech entrepreneur turned speaker and certified life coach. She also holds a masters in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Renee specializes in cultivating skills of resilience in both adults and children. Her passion is taking research-based concepts and transforming them into fun and digestible learning modules. For children, she has created one-of-a-kind anxiety relief programs at GoZen! delivered via engaging animated shorts.

Monday, February 22, 2016

How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behavior

From the Child Mind Institute

By Caroline Miller
March 26, 2013

Kids who seem oppositional are
often severely anxious.

A 10-year-old boy named James has an outburst in school. Upset by something a classmate says to him, he pushes the other boy, and a shoving-match ensues. When the teacher steps in to break it up, James goes ballistic, throwing papers and books around the classroom and bolting out of the room and down the hall.

He is finally contained in the vice principal's office, where staff members try to calm him down. Instead, he kicks the vice principal in a frenzied effort to escape. The staff calls 911, and James ends up in the Emergency Room.

To the uninitiated, James looks like a boy with serious anger issues. It's not the first time he's flown out of control. The school insists that his parents pick him up and take him home for lunch every day because he's been banned from the cafeteria.

But what's really going on? "It turns out, after an evaluation, that he is off the charts for social anxiety," reports Dr. Jerry Bubrick, director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute.

"He can't tolerate any—even constructive—criticism. He just will shut down altogether. James is terrified of being embarrassed, so when a boy says something that makes him uncomfortable, he has no skills to deal with it, and he freaks out. Flight or fight."

James's story illustrates something that parents and teachers may not realize—that disruptive behavior is often generated by unrecognized anxiety. A child who appears to be oppositional or aggressive may be reacting to anxiety—anxiety he may, depending on his age, not be able to articulate effectively, or not even fully recognize that he's feeling.

"Especially in younger kids with anxiety you might see freezing and clinging kind of behavior," says Dr. Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, "but you can also see tantrums and complete meltdowns."

A Great Masquerader

Anxiety manifests in a surprising variety of ways in part because it is based on a physiological response to a threat in the environment, a response that maximizes the body's ability to either face danger or escape danger. So while some children exhibit anxiety by shrinking from situations or objects that trigger fears, some react with overwhelming need to break out of an uncomfortable situation. That behavior, which can be unmanageable, is often misread as anger or opposition.

"Anxiety is one of those diagnoses that is a great masquerader," explains Dr. Laura Prager, director of the Child Psychiatry Emergency Service at Mass. General Hospital. "It can look like a lot of things. Particularly with kids who may not have words to express their feelings, or because no one is listening to them, they might manifest their anxiety with behavioral dysregulation."


The more commonly recognized symptoms of anxiety in a child are things like trouble sleeping in his own room or separating from his parents, avoidance of certain activities, a behaviorally inhibited temperament. "Anyone would recognize those symptoms," notes Dr. Prager, who is also an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School, and co-author of Suicide by Security Blanket, and Other Stories from the Child Psychiatry Emergency Service. But in other cases the anxiety can be hidden.

"When the chief complaint is temper tantrums, or disruption in school, or throwing themselves on the floor while shopping at the mall, it's hard to know what that means," she explains, "but it's not uncommon, when kids like that come in to the ER, for the diagnosis to end up being a pretty profound anxiety disorder."

To demonstrate the surprising range of ways young children express anxiety, Dr. Prager mentions a case she had just seen of a young child who presented with hallucinations, but whose diagnosis she predicted will end up being somewhere on the anxiety spectrum.

"Little kids who say they're hearing things or seeing things, for example, may or may not be doing that. These may not be the frank hallucinations we see in older patients who are schizophrenic, for example. They might be a manifestation of anxiety and this is the way the child expresses it."

Problems at School

It's not uncommon for children with serious undiagnosed anxiety to be disruptive at school, where demands and expectations put pressure on them that they can't handle. And it can be very confusing to teachers and other staff members to "read" that behavior, which can seem to come out of nowhere.

Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a Harvard Medical School professor who specializes in mental health care in school settings, sees anxiety as one of the causes of disruptive behavior that makes classroom teaching so challenging.

"The trouble is that when kids who are anxious become disruptive they push away the very adults who they need to help them feel secure," notes Dr. Rappaport. "And instead of learning to manage their anxiety, they end up spending half the day in the principal's office."

Dr. Rappaport sees a lot of acting out in school as the result of trauma at home. "Kids who are struggling, not feeling safe at home," she notes, "can act like terrorists at school, with fairly intimidating kinds of behavior." Most at risk, she says, are kids with ADHD who've also experienced trauma. "They're hyper-vigilant, they have no executive functioning, they misread cues and go into combat."

When a teacher is able to build a relationship with a child, to find out what's really going on with him, what's provoking the behavior, she can often give him tools to handle anxiety and prevent meltdowns. In her book, The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, Dr. Rappaport offers strategies kids can be taught to use to calm themselves down, from breathing exercises to techniques for distracting themselves.

"When a teacher understands the anxiety underlying the opposition, rather than making the assumption that the child is actively trying to make her miserable, it changes her approach," says Dr. Rappaport, "The teacher is able to join forces with the child himself and the school counselor, to come up with strategies for preventing these situations."

If it sounds labor-intensive for the teacher, it is, she notes, but so is dealing with the aftermath of the same child having a meltdown.

Anxiety also drives a lot of symptoms in a school setting that are easily misconstrued as ADHD or oppositionality.

"I'll see a child who's having difficulty in school: not paying attention, getting up out of his seat all the time, asking a lot of questions, going to the bathroom a lot, getting in other kids' spaces," explains Dr. Busman. "His behavior is disrupting other kids, and is frustrating to the teacher, who's wondering why she has to answer so many questions, and why he's so wrapped up in what other kids are doing, whether they're following the rules."

People tend to assume what's happening with this child is ADHD inattentive type, but it's commonly anxiety. Kids with OCD, mislabeled as inattentive, are actually not asking all those questions because they're not listening, but rather because they need a lot of reassurance.

How to Identify Anxiety

"It probably occurs more than we think, either anxiety that looks disruptive or anxiety coexisting with disruptive behaviors," Dr. Busman adds. "It all goes back to the fact that kids are complicated and symptoms can overlap diagnostic categories, which is why we need to have really comprehensive and good diagnostic assessment."

First of all, good assessment needs to gather data from multiple sources, not just parents. "We want to talk to teachers and other people involved with the kid's life," she adds, "because sometimes kids that we see are exactly the same at home and at school, sometimes they are like two different children."

And it needs to use rating scales on a full spectrum of behaviors, not just the area that looks the most obvious, to avoid missing things.

Dr. Busman also notes that a child with severe anxiety who's struggling in school might also have attentional or learning issues, but she might need to be treated for the anxiety before she can really be evaluated for those.

She uses the example of a teenager with OCD who she's "doing terribly" in school. "She's ritualizing 3-4 hours a day, and having constant intrusive thoughts—so we need to treat that, to get the anxiety under control before we ask, how is she learning?"

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Early Behavior Therapy Found to Aid Children With A.D.H.D.

From The New York Times

By Benedict Carey
February. 17, 2016

Children with attention-deficit problems improve faster when the first treatment they receive is behavioral — like instruction in basic social skills — than when they start immediately on medication, a new study has found. 

William E. Pelham helped lead a new study about treatment
options for children with attention-deficit problems. Above,
Dr. Pelham at a summer camp focusing on social skills training.
Credit: Florida International University

Beginning with behavioral therapy is also a less expensive option over time, according to a related analysis.

Experts said the efficacy of this behavior-first approach, if replicated in larger studies, could change standard medical practice, which favors stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin as first-line treatments, for the more than four million children and adolescents in the United States with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D.

The new research, published in two papers by the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, found that stimulants were most effective as a supplemental, second-line treatment for those who needed it — and often at doses that were lower than normally prescribed.

Jacqueline Vaquer of Miami and her husband took their son Alec, who received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at age 5, to a behavior-modification course and learned, among other things, how to reduce his wandering in class.

“We created a boundary around his desk with tape, and the teacher kept track of how often he crossed it,” Ms. Vaquer said. Each week, she said, “if he reduced the number of checks, he got a small reward, like a toy or his favorite dessert — frozen yogurt with M&Ms,” she said. Alec, 6, is now able to sit still for long periods in class and has not gone on medication, his mother said.

After two months, the yearlong study took an innovative turn. If a child had not improved, he or she was randomly assigned one of two courses: a more intense version of the same treatment, or an added supplement, like adding a daily dose of medication to the behavior modification. About two-thirds of the children who began with the behavior therapy needed a booster, and about 45 percent of those who started on medication did.

But the behavior-first group had an average of four fewer rules violations an hour at school than the medication-first group.

One likely reason, the study authors wrote, was parents of children who started on drug treatment were less interested in following up with the behavior classes, which involved eight group sessions over the year and one individualized lesson.

“The behavioral modification is a lot of work, and they may have thought, ‘Well, it won’t make that much difference,’” Dr. Pelham said.

In a separate paper, Dr. Pelham and a different set of authors compared the costs of the different treatment sequences, taking into account the price of drugs, doctors’ time and parents’ time.

Having children and their parents begin with behavioral treatment and follow with medication, if needed, cost an average of $700 less annually per child than treatment as usual, in which a doctor writes prescriptions and periodically monitors behavior, the team found.

The analysis did not account for the psychological cost to parents — in terms of a child’s tantrums, slammed doors and hurled tableware — of carrying out behavioral techniques.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

School Records of Settlements with Parents are Not Completely Protected Under FERPA, Mass. High Court Rules

By Tara Jeffries
November 2, 2015

"... the public has a right to know the financial terms of these agreements, which necessarily reflect the use of public monies, partially or fully, to pay for out-of-district placements..."

A Massachusetts school district that withheld records of the district’s settlements with parents of special-needs students must make the records accessible to the public, as long as personal identifying details are redacted, the state Supreme Court ruled.

The opinion by Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Margot Botsford concludes parts of the settlement records containing student information are shielded from public access under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal student privacy law.

But, if the school district redacts the personal identifying details of students involved in the settlement documents, she ruled, it must release them to the public.

The high court vacated a state Superior Court ruling that nixed the school’s claim that the settlement records were private education records. The case grew out of a 2012 public records request by district resident Michael Champa, who requested access to Weston School District records from the previous five years detailing how the district settled claims with parents of special-needs children.

Although the Supreme Court ultimately reached the same general conclusion as the lower court — that the public has a right to know how public money is allocated toward education — it contended that the lower court’s interpretation was too narrow, although Botsford agreed with lower court judge Angel Kelley Brown that personal details should be redacted from the records.

Brown had ruled that the public-records exemption applied only to education records directly related to academic progress. But Botsford’s ruling found that the records fell within two exemptions to Massachusetts disclosure law, one for student records and one that protects private personal information.

"Notably, once personally identifiable information is redacted, the financial terms of such agreements, which necessarily reflect the use of public monies, partially or fully, to pay for out-of-district placements, do not constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; indeed, the public has a right to know the financial terms of these agreements," Botsford wrote.

The opinion also cited Massachusetts student-record law, which shields students’ “temporary records” — those that contain student information separate from the academic transcript but significant to the educational process.

The ruling said the settlement records contained such information, but that the private details could be blacked out of the documents to make them accessible to the public.

“The record before us, limited as it is, indicates that an agreement is likely to contain information regarding a student's disability, progress, and needs — information that is unquestionably of importance to the student's ‘educational process,’” Botsford wrote.

“However, like FERPA, the Massachusetts student records law and regulations protect student records only as they pertain to certain information — not entire documents.”


For more on FERPA and public records, check out the Student Press Law Center’s legal white paper. The SPLC also debunks improper uses of FERPA exemptions on our FERPA Fact blog.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Workshop in Natick February 23rd with Dr. Brian Willoughby: Accommodating the "Slow Processing" Profile

From SPaN
The Special Needs Advocacy Network

February 16, 2016

Dr. Brian Willoughby of Mass. General Hospital will help to demystify processing speed, and show us how to help students catch up in this key area of development.

Learn how to obtain needed support at school, what to expect from a professional evaluation, and how you can make daily routines more efficient--while promoting a child's social and emotional well-being.

Dr. Brian Willoughby is an Instructor in Psychology in the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) within the Department of Psychiatry at Mass. General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, specializing in neuropsychological assessments of children and adolescents with learning, emotional, and behavioral concerns. He has a particular interest in the evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Two Upcoming Special Events: IEP Workshop Weds., February 24th; Special Education Rights Talk Tues., March 1st


February 15, 2016

Presented by the Watertown SEPAC
6:30 - 8:30pm Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Cunniff School Library
246 Warren Street, Watertown, MA

Presented by the Westborough SEPAC
6:00 - 8:00pm Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Gibbons Middle School Auditorium
20 Fisher Street, Westborough, MA

Monday, February 15, 2016

How to Raise an Emotionally Resilient Child

From Lion's Roar
Buddhist Wisdom for Your Life

By Krissy Pozatek
December 3, 2015

Emotional health, says Parent Coach Krissy Pozatek, means accepting the full range of human emotions, both the painful and the positive. For parents who wish their children nothing but happiness, that can be difficult.

When my daughter was four, she said to me, “Mommy, I’m worried.” She had tension in her voice and fear in her eyes.

Concerned, I asked, “Sweetie, what are you worried about?”

With mounting frustration, she replied, “I don’t know.”

My first instinct as a parent was to get in there and try to fix it, as if I had the power to remove the painful emotion from her body. I wanted to tell her that everything was okay and there was nothing to worry about, then make her some popcorn, put in a movie, and give her an extra snuggle.

But with my background in wilderness therapy and now as a parent coach, I knew I needed to resist my first impulse. Trying to fix kids’ feelings or distract them from their emotions doesn’t work. It can even create more problems, because it encourages kids to look to us for emotional rescue and disrupts their ability to process their feelings naturally.

So I pulled my daughter onto my lap and said, “Worry is okay, honey. Worry is a normal emotion, just like being happy, sad, and mad. I get worried too.” She didn’t seem terribly satisfied with my response, but she did accept it and she moved on.

A few days later she said, “Mommy, I am worried again.”

“What are you worried about, sweetie?” I asked.

Now more frustrated—“I DON’T KNOW!”

I continued with the same answer. “Worry is okay, it’s a normal feeling.” I added a few more things this time.

“It’s just a feeling in your body that we all have. I know worry is uncomfortable. Why don’t you give your worry a hug, like you do your doll?” She nodded. I even asked (probably due to my own worry) if there was anything she’d like me to do, and she said, “No, thank you.”

It reminded me that as a parent there is nothing to do except listen and be present. Kids actually don’t want their emotions fixed.

This continued every few days, and I continued to give the same answer. Her sister even joined in. “Mom, she’s worried again.” Because she couldn’t identify it, I wondered if it was a more existential worry. Was she starting to learn about death? Did she observe a child get picked on at school? Was she learning more about the inequities in society, as she has seen how some kids have a lot more than other kids?

I didn’t know where this was going. No parent does. But I did know from my Buddhist studies that anxiety is a normal feeling and part of being alive in an impermanent world. Pema Chödrön writes about the natural upwelling of shakiness or edginess that happens when we are fully present, because none of us knows what is going to happen next.

I knew there wasn’t a pretty pink bow I could put on her worry. I also knew from my work as a therapist that if I don’t respond specifically to the emotion, she might escalate to acting it out. All acting-out for kids (and adults) has emotions underneath. Luckily, she showed me the emotion first, not a behavior like refusing to go to school or escalated anger, which is more frequently the case.

Emotional resilience has become a buzzword in parenting. Yet most of us want our children to feel only one emotion: happiness. Children’s happiness has become the primary project in our parenting culture today.

As Buddhists, we may realize that emotional pain is an opportunity for awakening, but with our children we are quick to shield them from any emotional discomfort.

Instead of happiness, I believe our parenting goal should be emotional health. Emotional health means that we can be with all of our emotions without reactivity. When parents steer children toward happiness, we are on some level indicating that other emotions are not okay.

Though not intentioned, this disrupts children’s natural ability to feel the normal spectrum of human emotions, which inevitably includes anger, anxiety, embarrassment, fear, and so on.

Resiliency means learning to be with discomfort, frustration, disappointment, worry, sadness, and even boredom. The exciting news is that it can be taught and learned. Teaching kids to be with their emotions isn’t a quick fix, but it creates the conditions for long-term contentment.

Like the maple tree in the backyard that has grown resilient and strong after years of storms, we can normalize and validate the storms of life and help children cultivate their inner strengths and ability to process emotions naturally.

One day a few weeks later we were in the car, and my four-year-old said in a sing-songy voice, “Mooom, I’m woooried and I know it’s oookaaaayyyy.”

I looked back and she was smiling. She seemed brave and triumphant. She had learned to meet her anxiety with acceptance and equanimity. As I shed a tear in the front seat, I also felt brave and triumphant. She showed me that we can let our kids experience their emotions fully.

Not fearing emotions, they can learn to be with them until they pass. Because emotions, like all things, are impermanent.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Students Who Lose Recess Are the Ones Who Need It Most

From The New York Times' Parenting Blog

By Jessica Lahey
February 13, 2014

Despite overwhelming evidence that periods of unstructured play and social interaction are a crucial part of children’s cognitive, academic, physical and mental wellness, schools continue to take away recess privileges as a penalty for academic or behavioral transgressions.

I’ve done it, many times. When students fail to hand in assignments or when a child acts up in class, I’ve taken their recess privileges hostage. I did it both as a way of punishing for bad behavior or as a way to carve out a few extra minutes of learning time in an otherwise packed day.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone. According to a Gallup poll commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 77 percent of school principals report that they withhold recess as punishment, even as they simultaneously sing the praises of recess as a factor in academic, cognitive, and social development.

In that same report, eight in 10 principals acknowledge that time to play has a “positive impact on achievement,” and two-thirds of principals state that “students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.”

In response to this common disciplinary practice, as well as the overall declining rates and duration of recess in this country, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a policy statement, The Crucial Role of Recess,” to set the record straight and make recommendations to schools.

Their stance is unequivocal: “Recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it.”

In other words, schools should keep recess on the schedule, and teachers like me shouldn’t take it away.

The physical benefits of recess to all students, particularly the 17 percent of American children who are classified as obese, are clear. In our increasingly sedentary society, it can be a challenge to ensure that children get the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, and recess can help bridge that gap.

Recess also plays an important role in the ability to maintain self-control during class time. Self-control is not an unlimited resource, and by the time unstructured play rolls around, most children have depleted their reserves. They have had to resist the temptation to wiggle, eat the piece of cookie someone left on the carpet or talk to their friends in favor of focusing on math facts.

Recess provides an opportunity to refill children’s reserves of self-control through play and expression that’s free from structure, rules, and rigorous cognitive tasks. The pediatrics academy explains:

“Optimal cognitive processing in a child necessitates a period of interruption after a period of concentrated instruction. The benefits of these interruptions are best served by unstructured breaks rather than by merely shifting from one cognitive task to another.”

Several studies have found that students who enjoy the benefit of recess are more attentive, more productive and better able to learn when they return to the classroom from a period of free play.

Memory is also enhanced by breaks, because cognitive rest after learning new material allows that material to be retained for longer periods of time. For optimal cognitive processing and memory consolidation, therefore, children need a period of unstructured free time, even if it is simply in the form of socializing or daydreaming.

Finally, recess helps young children develop social skills, such as negotiation, social dynamics, and the use of subtle verbal and non-verbal communication cues. As our children’s schedules become more regimented and structured, and free-play time retreats indoors in favor of video games over kick the can and stickball, recess is the only opportunity many children have to learn these skills.

When I asked Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and former teacher, about the implications of withholding students’ recreational time, she was adamant in her support of recess as an essential educational activity. “The highest correlation to school success is a kid sitting in a seat, focused and eager to learn, but kids who lose recess lose that, and a lot more.”

According to Ms. Borba, students who are kept in at recess stand to lose:

1.) Brain power. Instead of being refreshed and ready to learn, they are brain-drained, as they have lost out on the opportunity to regain the energy needed for focus.

2.) Connection with peers. Not only does the benched kid gain a reputation of being a “bad kid,” they lose out on the opportunities to practice social skills, make new friends and strengthen existing friendships.

3.) Relationship with teachers. When a teacher holds a student out of recess, she undermines her relationship with that student. Consequently, student will tune that teacher out just when she should be tuning in and learning.

4.) Opportunities to learn a different behavior. Being left out of recess “doesn’t help a child understand what she did wrong, and even more importantly, doesn’t help her learn how to make it right the next time. Without that instruction, she becomes a repeat offender, and a self-perpetuating cycle of bad behavior and punishment takes over.”

If we truly want our children to function at their academic, physical and mental best, teachers need to stop withholding recess, and schools need to protect it. Cutting into or taking away recess time is counter-intuitive and self-defeating.

When we deprive our children of the cognitive rest and physical activity they need to perform at their best, teachers undermine the very education we seek to impart.

And parents, if you see your child getting repeatedly “benched,” you might want to choose a tactful moment and suggest that another method of discipline might lead to more classroom success — or just click the little blue envelope, send this link to the school principal and suggest (nicely!) that it be passed along.