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Daily Dose

Assessing Learning Difficulties

It is that time of year where parents are going to teacher conferences and learning about their children's progress in school. For some parents there will be discussions about difficulties their children are having in school. With 2/3 of the school year behind us and planning in place for school placement next fall, it is an important time to assess any learning differences a child may be exhibiting.

The sooner a child is suspected of having any difficulty with learning, whether it be reading, auditory processing, writing or listening and attention, the sooner the diagnostic testing may be done to diagnose the problem. As a parent, it is often difficult to "know" if your child is having problems with learning. Sometimes it is just a gut feeling and you should discuss those feelings with the teacher. If your teacher thinks there is a problem, listen to her/him, as they spend 8 hours a day with your child and they are there to teach your child and watch them succeed. Teachers are not trying to "label your child", but they too are trying to teach your child to be academically successful and competitive in within school. If they see problems with learning, applaud them for addressing it. The earlier diagnosed the better the remediation and resources will be for their continued academic success. Ideally, if your child is having learning issues speak with your pediatrician about resources for academic testing. There are options for testing both within the public school system or privately with an educational diagnostician. The information that you glean about your child's learning style, strengths and weaknesses will be invaluable throughout their education. That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Dealing with Tragedy

1.30 to read

I cannot stop thinking about the horrific tragedy in Newtown Connecticut.  As a parent, my heart is broken for the families in Newtown whose children, brothers, sisters and mothers were killed.  There really are no words to express the emotions we all have. 

At the same time, I worry about the many children who have seen or continue to see the images of this massacre.  Unfortunately, there continue to be mass shootings and tragedies that monopolize the news on air, online and in print making it hard to “shield” young children.  The news never stops and these events are all too common. 

But a parent’s job continues to be to try and make sure that children feel safe and secure.  Although it seems to be harder and harder to do these days, parents must continue to protect their children both physically and emotionally. This means telling your child to wear their seat belt, lock the door when you leave the house, wear your bike helmet, and to never play with matches...the list goes on and on.  

It also means having age appropriate discussions with your children about “stranger danger”, weather related disasters and now school lockdowns.  The discussions surrounding this latest national tragedy should be tailored to the age of the child, but regardless of their age, I think the discussion should always end with, “mommies and daddies are here to love and protect you and that will never change.”  

There is no way to process this tragedy nor is there a guide as to how to go forward.  Despite all of the news stories there are no answers, but only questions as to why? 

Hug your children, maybe grab an extra kiss and be thankful for your  family.  Let us also say a prayer for the community of Newtown, both those who were lost and for the living, for their grief is unimaginable.

 

Daily Dose

The Joy of a "Snow Day"

What a wonderful feeling to wake up and find that you and your kids have an unexpected holiday due to "inclement weather". That is still a vivid memory of my childhood too. While growing up in the northeast, the quiet of a snowy morning, only interrupted by an occasional snow plow, and hearing your parents tip toe into your room to let you know that you can snuggle back into bed for a little extra sleep, courtesy of the weather.

We are having one of those rare "snow days" in our area today, and no matter where you live, a day that you are stuck at home, forced to just "hang out" due to mother nature may be one for the memory books. These are the days to let your children sleep in, snuggle in your bed to watch cartoons together and stay in your pajamas until noon. You don't even feel lazy, or rushed or "guilty" because you just have to stay home due to snow and ice. Forced relaxation! Fixing a big breakfast together with the children or gathering everyone together to see what kind of soup you can concoct with whatever is in the pantry is always a must on a snow day. Children think chicken noodle soup or vegetable soup made with their help tastes so much better than anything you prepare for them. Snow days at my house mean soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, which are still one of the "grown kids" favorite foods, and they know how to make it too! Take advantage of this extra day with your children, as it really is a gift. Go outside for sledding in the neighborhood, or build that snowman together even if it is only 1 foot tall, and make sure to take pictures. These are days that memories are made. No pressure, no pre-planning, just another weather event, but maybe "MOTHER" nature knew how special this day could be for families. That's your daily dose for today, we'll chat tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Back to School

1:30 to read

Schools around the country have opened their doors and some will be starting soon. This is the first week of school for most students in my area and parents have been busy in the last few days attending “back to school” and “meet the teacher” nights in preparation for a new school yea

So…every school has different rules, expectations and strategies for helping their students evolve into their “best” selves and as you get older the “rules” often change in hopes of making students more independent and responsible. I other words, getting ready for the “real world ‘ one day.

Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas has recently been highlighted in the news and on social media for the sign that is posted on the entrance to the school. It reads “If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment etc, please TURN AROUND and exit the building”  Your son will learn to problem solve in your absence.”  The school posted the same message on their Facebook page as well.

According to the principal of the school, this has been a Catholic High rule for quite some time…it was also a rule at the high school my boys attended.  While some feel that this is unjust and that the students should be allowed to “phone home” if they have forgotten something, the school’s explanation is really fairly simple…allowing your child to have some “soft failures” and to learn both problem solving skills and responsibility will ultimately mold them into functioning members of society as they reach adulthood.  Sounds reasonable to me.

I know that as my boys went from elementary school, on to middle school and then high school their father and I had greater expectations that they needed to be responsible for getting their “stuff” to school.  We started off the school year with a game of sorts where you were given 3 “hall passes” for the year. I guess this started from something at school where they were given a hall pass to go to the bathroom or the office, and some teachers would hand out homework passes that allowed you to “skip” an assignment. So, each child ( this probably started in about 3rd or 4th grade) had 3 passes/year  where they could call and have us “rescue” them if they forgot something. Once you used up your “hall passes” you had to suffer the consequences of no lunch or turning in an assignment late.  Interestingly, each child was a bit different….one would use them up pretty quickly, another would “hoard” them for late in the year.  One wanted to know if they could be accrued? 

By the time they reached high school it was not a SHOCK when they were told the school rule that they could not call their parents.  It seems they figured out how to borrow money for lunch, or share with a friend, how to borrow a tie or jacket for an assembly and that turning in assignments a day late usually meant 10 points off. Not only did it help them become more organized and responsible, it also made me a working Mom “feel less guilt” that I really was not available to rescue them sometimes, even if I wanted to.  Do you think you would appreciate waiting in your pediatrician’s office (any longer than you may already) while they tried to run a homework assignment to school??  

You might try starting off the school year with a few hall passes and see if it works for your family!  

Your Child

Early Childhood Trauma Tied to Learning, Behavioral Problems

2:00

When children five years old and younger experienced a traumatic event in their lives, the fall-out from that event can show up in learning and behavioral problems by the time they enter kindergarten, according to a new study. 

Traumatic events, also known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), can range from physical, sexual or psychological abuse and neglect, substance abuse, mental illness, violence in the home to a family member in jail; anything that causes a great deal of stress or fear in a young child’s life.

The study, "Adverse Experiences in Early Childhood and Kindergarten Outcomes," in the February 2016 online edition of Pediatrics, includes data on more than 1,000 children in large U.S. cities whose teachers rated school performance at the end of kindergarten.

Students who'd experienced one or more previously reported ACE were significantly more likely to struggle in the classroom, displaying below-average language, literacy and math skills, as well as aggression and social problems.

The more adverse events a child experienced, according to the study, the more academic and behavior problems increased.

While it’s often said that children are resilient, and they are to a certain extent, when they are exposed to continuous traumatic situations, their body’s natural way of dealing with stress changes and the stress becomes toxic resulting in a higher risk of behavioral challenges, sickness and mental health problems.

Children who experience traumatic stressors will often look to the adults who care for them for reassurance that things will be okay and that they will be protected.

The most important adults in a young child's life are his/her caregivers and relatives. These adults can help reestablish security and stability for children who have experienced trauma by:

•       Answering children's questions in language they can understand, so that they can develop an understanding of the events and changes in their life

•       Developing family safety plans

•       Engaging in age-appropriate activities that stimulate the mind and body

•       Finding ways to have fun and relax together

•       Helping children expand their "feelings" vocabulary

•       Honoring family traditions that bring them close to the people they love, e.g., storytelling, holiday celebrations, reunions, trips

•       Looking for changes in behaviors

•       Helping children to get back on track

•       Setting and adhering to routines and schedules

•       Setting boundaries and limits with consistency and patience

•       Showing love and affection

Sometimes professional help is needed for children to learn new coping skills. In some cases family therapy is desirable. Parents or caregivers may wish to consult their pediatrician, their child's teacher, and/or their childcare provider for suggestions of professionals who specialize in early childhood mental health.

The authors of the study said they hope the findings encourage policymakers and practitioners to find ways for early childhood professionals like pediatricians and educators to work together to support at-risk children and their families. 

Sources: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Early-Traumatic-Experiences-Tied-to-Learning-Behavioral-Difficulties-in-Kindergarten.aspx

http://www.nctsn.org/content/helping-young-children-who-have-been-exposed-trauma-families-and-caregivers

 

Your Child

Why Kids Should Learn Handwriting

1:45

I think it’s fair to say that handwriting is becoming a lost art. Computers, tablets and phone keyboards have made actual writing with a pen and paper almost obsolete.

What was once an integral part of a child’s daily school lessons, today, gets about one-fourth the instruction time. What is surprising is that in the not too far future, some kids may never learn penmanship at all.

If keyboards become the most popular form of communication, is there really a need for printing and cursive skills? Yes, according to some educators. Not only will children lose the personal touch of handwriting but will they also lose the benefits learning penmanship offers the developing brain.

Putting pen to paper stimulates brain circuits involved with memory, attention, motor skills, and language in a way punching a keyboard doesn't.

"There is this assumption that we live in the computer age, and we don't need handwriting anymore. That's wrong," says Virginia Berninger, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington.

Indiana University psychologist Karin James, PhD, recently published a study looking at brain scans of preschoolers before and after they learned to produce letters, either by printing or typing. Before the lesson, the children couldn't decipher between a random shape and a letter, and their brains responded similarly to each. After they learned to hand-draw a letter, brain regions needed for reading lit up at the sight of the letter like they do in a literate adult. Learning to type a letter yielded no such change.

Other studies have shown that preschoolers that practice handwriting read better in elementary school.

Handwriting also requires concentration and teaches brain circuits responsible for motor coordination, vision, and memory to work together. "If in the future we were to take away teaching handwriting altogether, I worry there could be real negative impacts on children's development," James says.

Timed right, cursive also comes with some unique advantages. Berninger's research suggests kids who link their letters via cursive get a better handle on what those words look like and end up being better spellers, she says. Cursive also allows them to compose their thoughts faster than in block handwriting or via typing (at least until about seventh grade, when their brains become mature enough to manage two-handed typing quickly).

Berninger says parents can offer their children extra guidance with learning handwriting even before their child begins school and through their early years. Some children may learn these skills quicker and some may need a little more practice. But on an average:

Preschoolers can strengthen motor skills by playing with clay, stringing beads, working through mazes, and connecting dots with arrows to form letters.

From kindergarten through second grade, children should master block letters.

Third to fourth grade is when kids can begin and master cursive.

By fifth grade, children should continue to write by hand while being introduced to typing by touch (not just hunt and peck.)

As I’ve become more accustomed to using my computer or phone to communicate with others, I’ve noticed that my own handwriting skills are beginning to suffer. Cursive isn’t as fluid and readable as when I handwrote more often and my eye, hand and pen coordination isn’t near as comfortable as it used to be. 

I hope future generations will not lose the art of handwriting, not only because of the developmental benefits it offers, but because each person’s handwriting is unique to them.

Story source: Lisa Marshall, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/handwriting-matters-kids#1

Daily Dose

The Morning Clothes Battle!

Tired of arguing with your kids about what to wear to school? Dr. Sue has a few tips to end the morning clothes battle!"I don't want to wear that! I can dress myself!" Ah, the morning clothes battle.  Demmeke sent me an email via our  iPhone App and she said she is not ready to surrender in the "what to wear to school" war with her kids.  She has girls!

Actually, the struggle over choosing clothes may be a struggle for either gender and interestingly may start at young ages.  The best time to begin good habits and decrease “the morning clothes struggle” is when your children are young. One of the first things I learned as a  parent was that it was easier to lay out the clothes the night before.  If you let each child help decide the night before and have the “rule” that once chosen that is what will be worn in the morning, everyone knows what to expect. I do remember one of our children always wanting to wear one of 2 favorite Nike sweat suits. He had a blue and a red one. We did go through some struggles about his choice of school clothes until I decided that a “slightly worn” nylon sweat suit was not the worst thing in the world and he managed to wear them for 5 days and only required 1 washing.  Some times you just have to choose your battles and that was one that I finally decided was not worth fighting. After about a year of blue and red “suits” as he liked to call them, I think he moved on to other choices. I also think that school uniforms make everyone’s life easier.  Once our children were required to wear a school uniform (in both public and private schools) I realized that it would be pure genius to have all school children in uniforms. I know that some feel that making all children wear a uniform” stifles their creativity” or something along those lines, I disagree. Uniforms are a great equalizer and put everyone on the same playing field. It is analogous as to why we don’t serve soft drinks in school. If you want to let your son or daughter wear t-shirts with weird messages on the front or inappropriate shorts or tank tops after school while drinking soft drinks, that is a parental decision. But to make teachers and principals spend time “policing” clothes choices seems to be a huge waste of teaching time, especially when our schools are in dire need of academic improvements. There have been numerous studies to show that children actually behave better in school and also have improvement in grades when uniforms are worn.  I thought my own children were creative enough choosing either a white or blue shirt and life seemed easy. I also think it is far cheaper to buy uniforms than to try to stay up with the latest trend in often expensive items. Lastly, I do recall some parents telling me that by sending your child to school in pajamas when they don’t want to get ready in the morning often “fixes” the clothes battle.  Fortunately that is one parenting experience I never had to do, but let me know if that works for you! That's your daily dose for today. We'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose

Kids And Headaches

1:30 to read

A recent study suggests teens and chronic headaches go together. This interesting study revealed about 1-2% of adolescents have chronic daily headaches, defined as more than 15 headache days per month for greater than 3 months.

When school begins, teens stress levels increase with each week of school, and with that come more complaints of  chronic headaches.  It is not unusual for me to see several teens a  week  who complain that they have headaches every day. Despite these persistent headaches, the majority of se adolescents continue to participate in their school activities, sleep well once they fall asleep and spend their weekends doing whatever it is that teens all do. I see very few teens who look like they are in “severe” pain, although they state that their head is “killing” them while they chatter away about where it hurts, and how often it hurts etc. It is quite reassuring to watch their faces and expressions as they go into detail about their headaches.  In these cases it is important to obtain a good history to rule out any underlying pathology, as well as to inquire about family history of migraines. In this study, the authors followed adolescents ages 12–14 years who met criteria for chronic daily headaches. They followed the group after both 1 and 2 years, and then again after 8 years. The results showed that after 1 year, 40% of adolescents still complained of chronic headaches.

After 2 years, only 25% reported headaches.  After 8 years, only 12% reported chronic headaches. Most participants reported substantial or some improvement in headache intensity and frequency during the 8 year follow-up. The most significant predictor for ongoing problems with headaches was onset of chronic headaches before the age of 13 years.  For the most part 75% of adolescents with chronic daily headaches improved over the 8 year period which is quite reassuring. This study just seemed to confirm that teens and headaches go together.  If a good history and physical exam is performed and there seem to be no underlying problems that contribute to their headaches, it is best to discuss the natural history of chronic headaches.

I think it is important to spend time with adolescents to explore ways to alleviate stress as a trigger for chronic daily headaches. Basic changes in lifestyle such as healthy eating, regular exercise, and a good night’s sleep will often help reduce headaches.  Relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy may also be utilized. At least we know that the headaches reduce with time, maybe just a maturational process, like many things!

That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow! Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue! Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

Your Teen

Schools Start Too Early, Teens Sleep Deprived

2:00

It’s a battle that is picking up steam, whether to start school a little later so teenagers can get the sleep they need or keeping schedules as they are for the sake of planning before and after school activities.

Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that teenagers are biologically programmed to go to bed later than most adults and sleep later in the morning.

Last year, the AAP issued a set of guidelines recommending that school schedules are modified across the U.S. to start at 8.30 a.m. This way, children and teens would be able to meet the recommended sleep hours per night during school days.

Fewer than one in five middle and high schools in the United States start at 8:30 am or later, as recommended, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The same recommendations suggested that indeed, the biological rhythm of teenagers particularly is very different than that of adults. While they need 8 and a half to nine and a half hours of sleep per night, their circadian rhythm doesn’t allow them to go to sleep before midnight or a little after.

School nights are particularly difficult for adolescents because in order to get the rest they need, they have to go to bed earlier than their minds and bodies are set to fall asleep.

The CDC released a new study supporting the recommendations of the AAP. According to the findings, 83 percent of U.S. schools still start before 8:30 a.m. On average, the starting time was calculated at 8:03 a.m., based on data collected from 39,700 combined schools, middle schools, and high schools between 2011-2012.

Depriving teens of that sleep could wreak havoc on their academic performance, the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"Getting enough sleep is important for students' health, safety, and academic performance," said Anne Wheaton, lead author and epidemiologist in CDC's Division of Population Health.

"Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need."

The issue is driving a heated debate between supporters of later school start times and school administrators.

Safwan Badr, former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine stated:

“It makes absolutely no sense. You’re asking kids to learn math at a time their brains are not even awake”.

On the other hand, Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the School Superintendents Association stated with regards to changing school starting time:

“It’s a logistical nightmare. This has been going on forever, and kids have been graduation from school and going to college. It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt them all these years”.

Some experts note that the long-term consequence of sleep deprivation is hurting our teens and has been for quite some time.

Judith Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Boston’s Children Hospital suggests that chronically sleep deprivation characterizes the majority of today’s teens. This results in increased risk of onset depression, substance abuse, unhealthy BMIs. Long-term effects of sleep deprivation result in type 2 diabetes or heart diseases.

There are things that parents can do to help their teens at least rest better if they can’t fall asleep earlier. The first and foremost agitator for sleep is viewing or being on a computer or smartphone right before bed.

Recent studies have shown that the use of any electronic device in the hour before bedtime was associated with an increased risk of taking longer than 60 minutes to fall asleep. In particular, the use of a computer, smartphone or MP3 player in the hour before bedtime was strongly linked with taking longer to fall asleep.

Make your teen’s bedroom a quiet place that can be a retreat at night from busy schedules and social media.

Your teen can take a hot bath or shower before bed to boost deep sleep. Then keep his or her room cool (about 68 F) to cool down the body. One study showed that sleep happens when the body cools. Wakefulness occurs when the body temperature warms up.

Aromatherapy helps some people fall off to sleep. Certain scents are shown to be relaxing such as orange blossom, marjoram, chamomile, and lavender. You can apply these oils before bed or put them on pillows, sheets or in potpourri. If candles are used, make sure they are put out before getting in bed. 

Having a regular schedule can help the body adjust. Going to bed at the same time each night can assist in adjusting the body’s circadian rhythm.  

More high schools are considering changing their schedules to a later start time, but currently most schools are keeping with the typical earlier schedules. You may not be able to convince the school board to start school at little later, but you can help your teen find what works for them at night to help them get the amount of sleep they need to function at their best.

Sources: Bonnie Gleason, http://www.trinitynewsdaily.com/chronically-sleep-deprived-teens-need-schools-starting-time-changed/3209/

http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/u-s-teens-start-school-too-early-need-more-sleep-study-1.2506322

http://teens.webmd.com/features/8-ezzz-sleep-tips-teens

 

 

 

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