A “reactive” parenting style focuses on a child’s observable behavior with a tendency to incorrectly assume negative motives for academic problems, behavior issues or social challenges. This is a mindset that is easy to fall into but it reduces your child’s challenges to intentional choices he or she is making, a perspective that will leave you feeling frustrated, angry and confused. In this state, you are more likely to react intensely and/or punitively. When talking with parents and teachers, I frequently hear them use terms like “lazy,” “defiant,” “attention seeking” and “bossy.” By using these terms, they are labeling a child’s observable behavior and making negative assumptions about his motives. Instead, what a child’s problematic behavior usually indicates is an issue with environmental demands (ie: home and school) exceeding their capacity to succeed. So, how do you make a shift in parenting style to help your child? The first step is trusting that children will do well if they can. Remember, children with learning differences, in particular, lack the skills to consistently meet environmental demands. Ask yourself why your child would choose to do poorly if they possessed the skills to do well. The human brain is not hard wired to work that way. Develop some curiosity about why your child is struggling. Is too much being asked of him? As a “reflective” parent, you can help your child feel that their thoughts, emotions and experiences are understood, considered and accepted. You might not agree with a child’s perception of an experience; however, you can still take the time to listen and try to understand. Assisting your child with describing his experience and learning how to name emotions helps him to tolerate and effectively manage challenging feelings. Listening to your child’s feelings without judgement allows him to experience you as a resource for coping with any challenge that arises.
Summer’s a good time to get a little extra support for your learning disabled high schooler. In addition to therapy services, we can pair your teen with a college grad/ mentor who will steer your child toward college readiness. We’ll tailor our program to fit your child’s needs. Some services we offer include:
- Academic tutoring
- Help with organization and planning
- Shoring up life skills and independence
- Nutrition and exercise regimes
Call or email for more information: Julia@MilestoneMentoring.com * Julia Murphy (818) 388-1526
“Genes are rarely about inevitability, especially when it comes to humans, the brain, or behavior. They’re about vulnerability, propensities, tendencies.”
-Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
- Most children with learning differences are affected by multiple challenges.
- Learning challenges often surface when there is a mismatch between the child’s abilities and the demands of the environment. For example, an academic curriculum may be accelerated beyond the developmental level of the child (or many of the children) in a particular classroom.
- People with verbal learning disabilities have difficulty with words, both spoken and written
- People with non-verbal learning disabilities may have difficulty processing abstract concepts, abstract reasoning and conceptualizing concepts.
- A visual processing or perceptual disorder refers to a hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes.
- An auditory processing disorder interferes with a person’s ability to make sense of information taken in through the ears.
(To be continued)
What follows is a moving poem by Mary Oliver called The Journey, which may be an inspiration to those of you facing a period of great change or difficult decision making.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
We’ve added Divorce Support Groups to our menu of services. Led by Tara Boerner, LMFT and Julia Murphy, LMFT.
1. Begin Again: A Healing Group for Women
This group will meet Wednesdays 1-2:30 pm in our Tarzana offices. An initial assessment is required for admission.
2. Helping Teens Cope with Divorce
These groups will meet 1x/week for 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon or early evening. Members will be grouped separately according to age: 13-14, 15-17, 18+.
Contact: Julia Murphy, LMFT 818-388-1526 or Email: Info@MurphyPsychologyGroup.com
Tara Boerner, LMFT Julia Murphy, LMFT
“When am I helping my child too much and when should I step back?
“Am I enabling my child by providing help with homework or other responsibilities?”
Parents, as well as teachers, often struggle with this conflict. Understanding that children will do well if they can and that all children possess the natural human drive for mastery will help to resolve this conflict. My advice to parents? If your child is struggling, chances are demands are exceeding the capacities he possesses right now. Work with him to complete certain tasks, rather than doing the work for him. We all learn new tasks by watching others or by collaborating with someone who has more skill. Why should this process be any different for learning new academic concepts or completing tough assignments?
The truth is, when you don’t provide support for tasks that are over your child’s head, you run the risk of disabling him. If you insist your child complete his work independently when he is not ready developmentally, how is he going to make sense of this struggle? Most children will assume that if they are experiencing difficulty, somthing must be wrong with them. This is not the belief parents want their children to internalize about themselves. This belief not only undermines a child’s confidence in his ability to learn, but it also contributes to feelings of frustration, anxiety and discouragement, which further interfere with learning.
Healthy dependence promotes independence in children. If we teach our children how to approach difficult tasks and guide them through the learning process, ultimately they will acquire the necessary skills and be able to do their work on their own.
Have you found ways to decide when to let your child learn on their own and when to help them?
November 6, 2013 Campbell Hall
Homework is an important topic on the minds of most parents today. On November 6th, I am looking forward to speaking to the parents of Campbell Hall, one of Los Angeles’ premier private, college preparatory schools for students K-12, located at 4533 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91607. I plan to share my insight and experience on the subject with more area schools.
Schools place a heavy emphasis on children completing homework independently. While most of us would agree that this is a worthy objective, we might not all agree on just how to move children toward this goal. Children have a natural drive for mastery over appropriate developmental tasks. With mastery comes confidence that allows them to take on the next challenge. However, when challenges confronting children exceed their developmental capacities, they become vulnerable to frustration, discouragement and potential failure, unless they receive some assistance to develop the skills they need to succeed. Many kids experience these homework difficulties, especially when you consider the volume and complexity of the work they are expected to complete.
In this workshop, I will help parents:
- understand the various reasons students struggle with homework
- learn when and how to assist with homework
- understand the difference between collaborating with a child and enabling him to be overly reliant on you
- discuss strategies for setting up an effective homework structure
- identify when tutoring support is needed
I have yet to meet a child who does not want to succeed. We all possess a natural drive for mastery over appropriate developmental tasks. There is a robust pleasure for learning built into our brains. We are driven to create connections between neurons and to master skills under the right conditions. This concept is well supported by neuroscience research. It is up to us as parents and other adults working with children to engage our curiosity about why a child sometimes has trouble in school or with friends and at other times seems to function so smoothly.
All adults working with children have a responsibility to communicate confidence in a child’s capacity to learn. We also have to let children know that we are committed to helping them master whatever challenges stand in their way. This approach will help these children develop resiliency and self esteem. With encouragement and support, a child will learn to tolerate feelings or frustration and discouragement that sometimes come with the learning process.
When we observe our children struggling, we sometimes make assumptions about their motives in the form of character labels. “Lazy,” “manipulative,” “self-centered,” “oppositional,” and “disrespectful” are a few of the common labels used to interpret poor performance. When bright kids struggle it may seem to be the only way to make sense of their difficulties. Learning differences can be confusing to observers because they are invisible, unlike physical disabilities.
A typical question I hear from parents is “Why can he play video games for hours but not focus on his homework?” The truth is, video games activate the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain that enhances focus. Most homework assignments don’t provide the same kind of stimulation for the brain. It can be very stressful for an intelligent child to engage in a tedious academic task in the classroom or at home.
When we reduce our child’s struggles to character flaws, we are not considering the demands placed on her in different settings and whether or not she has developed the capacities and skills to meet those expectations. Also, our understanding as to why she struggles is going to influence the way she understands her own difficulties. For example, I often ask children with learning differences whey they think they are having problems in school or with homework. It is not uncommon for them to respond, “It’s because I am lazy.” Such a response tells me that adults in these children’s lives have fostered this belief in them. If we are curoius about our child and willing to broaden our understanding of her struggles, we will help her develop a broader understanding of her strengths and challenges. This mindset allows both parent and child to work together to consider many more potential solutions to the problem at hand.
Finally, character labels limit our capacity to help. What are we left to do if we determine that our child is lazy? This mindset increases the likelihood that we will become more frustrated and possibly punitive about getting your expectations met. In response, our child may become frustrated, angry and therefore resistant to doing what is asked. A narrow perspective on our part sets up a negative dynamic with our child.
(Peter Murphy, Ph.D. To Be Continued)