Many of you are probably gearing up for summer vacations which may include traveling with friends and family. You have waited all year for this time off and likely have invested this brief period when you will spend a lot of money with equally high expectations. Vacations make you…. relax, rejuvenate, reconnect, explore, right? All of these possibilities exist in our fantasy of the perfect vacation. Yet travels with children can throw a wrench in the works for parents who may find themselves frustrated and vowing never to take another vacation again. Is there a better way?
While you may have fond memories of your own family vacations as a child or a young single adult, traveling with a group of people of varying ages, skills and interests (aka a family) is a complex task. Furthermore, as your children develop, each year the cast of characters on the vacation is slightly different. Where a child may be easy going at seven or eight, that same child may be self- conscious and surly at 13.
A vacation is a break in routine and thereby creates a number of challenges in the name of change. For children with varying levels of flexibility, changes in routine can trigger tantrums, sleeplessness or other behavioral challenges. Some children (and adults) don’t handle different sleep patterns, unfamiliar foods, or the absence of preferred activities well. Travel also increases expectations for good behavior and limits options for escape into preferred activities. While travel with extended family can be fun, it can also be stressful when others may judge or try to interfere with your parenting efforts.
View “Vacationing” as a Set of Skills
Since vacations are out of the norm or routine, they likely involve skills that are less often practiced. Don’t assume that your child will be tuned in to expectations in these outings—some kids don’t pick up on expectations in situations on their own. Skills such as eating at a fancy restaurant , airplane travel, going on a tour with a tour guide, or sleeping with the family in a motel room can all be practiced in advance, in smaller steps. Talking through your expectations in advance is important.
Set a Realistic Pace
Young kids often can’t handle a full day of activity. It is easy for kids to become dehydrated or cranky when meals don’t occur at expected times. Other family members may not share your idea of what makes something a vacation. Teenagers who have very busy school schedules may seek a total “veg-out” experience, yet parents may want them to take full advantage of the opportunities travel provides. In our family, we compromised that everyone would participate in one outing a day, without complaint, and then there would be options for free time later in the day. My husband and I used the free time to explore a bit on our own (once the kids were old enough to supervise themselves).
Have Plan B in Mind
Use your imagination (and executive functions) to anticipate challenges in advance. Internet sources like TripAdvisor can help you anticipate conditions on the ground and help you identify resources and alternatives in the moment. Your children may enjoy doing some of this research themselves and it may help them to become invested in the trip if they plan a “virtual” outing. It is amazing what you can find on the Internet. A young teen I know was freaking out about traveling by train alone in Germany and was worried she would not know how to buy a ticket at the train station. It was actually possible to find a website that showed the exact ticket machine in the station so that she could review it in advance.
Set Realistic Goals for Extended Family Gatherings
Vacations with extended family can be memorable both for joyful memories and for some rather unpleasant interactions. It is important to be sure that your family members have an escape hatch—and you might need to be creative to avoid offending extended family. If you can’t have a separate living space, try to create a separate daily ritual or routine. When planning an extended family vacation, be realistic—if your child does not handle strange people and places with composure, don’t commit to a two- week vacation with grandparents and cousins. Maybe a long weekend is all your family can handle or maybe you need to stay in a nearby hotel.
And for that inevitable moment when you can’t imagine why you thought a vacation was a good idea…
On a long ago vacation, we were traveling in the UK and my daughter saw a white plush cat at a gift shop in the small Scottish town where we were staying. Being conscientious parents, we told our daughter we could not just purchase something to buy something. Fast forward to a few minutes later when she was sobbing in the rain with her face pressed against the glass of the butcher shop where I was trying to purchase dinner ingredients. The butcher looked at me like “crazy American” (or at least I felt so). As you will note in the accompanying picture, we did wind up purchasing the cat once she calmed down. Were we weak? Maybe, but sometimes you just have to cave. My daughter did not grow up to be a materialistic person for purchasing unnecessary gifts on vacation. Sometimes it is important to acknowledge a child’s need for control in a situation when he or she has limited choices.
While I would not say that I have always found vacations to be restful, they have usually been fulfilling in some manner. Check out this article for the advantages of travel. And research has found that the greatest happiness accrues from the planning stage of a vacation, no matter how the vacation actually goes!
I have worked with pre-adolescent and adolescent males, primarily African-American, but other racial and ethnic groups as well, for more than 25 years. In my 17 years at The Kingsbury Center, I have specialized in working with those who have some sort of learning disability, be it a struggle to read, despite average intelligence; or slow processing, which inhibits the ability to work in “real time”; or internal distractions, like attention or anxiety, which make it challenging to be an effective learner, both in terms of academics and in appropriate social and emotional functioning. My overarching goal is to help these boys successfully transition to manhood. What I have observed in emerging young men over the years leads me to share my personal perspective on a phenomenon that causes me great concern: too many young men are not being successfully “launched.”
I think everyone would agree that a parent’s primary directive is to prepare their young for independent, adult functioning. This is true for humans, lions, tigers, bears, and even birds. Eagles (our Kingsbury mascot) learn by instinct to nest, fly, hunt and establish families of their own. The thought of an adult eagle returning to the nest or never actually leaving would be strange indeed. Many of you may be protesting already, humans aren’t the same as other animals; we have frontal lobes, complex language and social structures. Humans don’t give birth in a nest of sticks, and we try to stay warmly connected to our parents throughout our lives. In addition, humans are, well, human, and these are tough times to be a young adult; just ask any un- or under-employed millennial. I can’t argue with that, but I still believe my concern is valid.
In most cases, young African American men are “loved” to be sure, but too few are provided the opportunity to learn the tasks necessary for flying, hunting, and building and establishing their own nest. The maternal instinct is a powerful force, to be sure. There is an old saying, “mothers rear their daughters and love their sons.” Translation: mothers teach their daughters the subtle and complex tasks needed to function as adults. On the other hand, in many cases, mothers go about the daily task of nurturing and loving their sons, and for various reasons, neglect the valuable training they consider vital for daughters.
Mothers are probably huffing with indignation about now, but please hear me out. I’ll readily admit, rearing sons is no easy task, particularly for single parents. Truth be told, many mothers, often without consistent paternal support, are charged with the task of doing double duty, and may think that “teaching him to be a man” is not within their skill set, or even their right. They love, nurture and guide their sons to the best of their abilities. Yet, generally speaking, mothers are loathe to push their sons out of the nest. I personally know this to be true; I’m the fifth of six sons. And as a father, I feel the “maternal” press to love and nurture and protect my precious son. It isn’t easy to make someone you love uncomfortable, particularly when that someone is in a highly vulnerable category. We’ve all heard the statistics: young African American males are XX% (pick a statistic) more likely to be killed/shot/incarcerated than are their white counterparts.
I see a lot of young men in a state of arrested development. They are deathly afraid of attempting to fly, even with the benefit of a safety net that extends to the ground below. Far too many can be found scurrying about on the ground, chests puffed out, boasting about what their parents have acquired or regaling all willing to endure their tales of yet to be realized po-ten-tial. Their boasting, posturing and bravado notwithstanding, the common denominator is fear. They won’t admit it, but these young men are afraid. They are afraid of failure to be sure, but they are also afraid of success. From the perspective of one who hasn’t truly developed the ability to bounce back, or even the experience of falling and attempting to get up, failure confirms an enduring sense of ineptitude. Success is equally frightening, in the sense that it establishes a standard of expected performance.
The irony is that boys, or men in training, if you will, need the very experiences that they dread. It is of course best if they have fathers or other men who model and mirror effective manhood. They also desperately need a healthy dose of trial and error, false starts and even the anxiety inherent in attempting something new. Will they experience frustration, rage and embarrassment? Of course, they will. However, helping our children learn to persevere in the face of frustration is one of the greatest gifts that a parent could ever offer.
In education, teachers look for a “sweet spot” of instruction where the level of difficulty on a given task is enough to challenge, but not so difficult that the student becomes frustrated, overwhelmed and gives up. Equally important, the task can’t be so easy that the child becomes bored and quits. Our charge as parents, educators and psychologists is to become more proficient at identifying and implementing the “sweet spot.” Once identified, it is exactly the place where love, nurturance and encouragement are needed most and have the greatest impact. Young boys need to “pursue, persevere and master” in order to become powerful, competent and effective men.
Every mother no doubt envisions her baby boy growing into a fine young man one day. This transition to successful adulthood doesn’t happen automatically, and doesn’t happen without a properly supportive parent. A mother’s role, in fact, will become more challenging, as the years go by. Whether it’s climbing, jumping, bouncing, touching everything within reach or “conquering” the last “boss” in a video game, boys “need” to be active, engaging, impactful forces in their environments. The desire to be an effective change agent atrophies or takes on less desirable forms if certain interpersonal, coping, problem-solving and self-advocacy muscles aren’t “stressed” incrementally in a loving, systematic manner.
Unfortunately, there is truth to the old sports adage: No Pain (struggle), No Gain. Sometimes, love has to be tough love. In future posts I will explore how we can provide these young guys with what they need. Here’s to our boys becoming confident, powerful, competent men!
Kingsbury’s Athletic Director Mr. Joe Moten, was interviewed following several successful seasons. Winning previous League championships was a remarkable achievement given the fact that Kingsbury lacks a gymnasium. The teams practice on the outdoor basketball court and run drills and do weight training inside the building. Our student-athletes compete in a league consisting of teams from schools that serve students with learning differences, as well as charter schools and private schools without an LD focus.
Q. What key factor do you believe contributed to your team making it to and winning the championship?
Joe Moten (JM): I’d have to say it was the fact that our players bought into our goals all the way, all season long. We bonded as a team and that didn’t happen in previous seasons. Players learned to trust in their teammates; they got the message that you can’t do it alone.
Q: What is your philosophy as a basketball coach?
JM: I make certain our players learn that they are a family first and an individual second. I also emphasize the importance of hard work and dedication. We break every huddle with these words: 1, 2, 3, Family. 4, 5, 6, Hard Work and Dedication. Also, as a coach, I have to model the right behavior. I’m an intense coach and I strive to keep the players excited and to bolster their confidence.
Q: What attributes do you consider important in coaching players with learning differences?
JM: I don’t ask my players to memorize plays. They use a “read and react” offense and a man-to-man defense. I keep it basic and let them play off of their natural abilities.
Q: What advice do you give your players when they are in the heat of a close game?
JM: I give my players the same instructions, whether we’re winning, losing or in a tie: Listen to me. During the championship game, I reminded them that this was their moment. If they listened to me and followed my instructions, it would all work out. At the end of every game, I tell them to leave it on the court. If they’ve suffered a loss, they need to leave it on the court.
Q: What do you enjoy most about coaching?
JM: The attributes you need to succeed in sports are the same ones you need to succeed in life: hard work, dedication and discipline. I’m always encouraging my players that those attributes will carry over into your everyday life. It’s very rewarding to see that come to fruition when our students go on to college, to graduate and some go on to graduate school.
Q: How do you handle your frustrations during a game?
JM: I know that I have to keep calm and model staying focused. I try not to get frustrated; if I do, I don’t let my frustration show.
Q: What do you do when the referees make unfair calls?
JM: I tell my players that it’s my job to worry about the refs. They don’t have to take on that responsibility. They need to play basketball, listen to me and follow my instructions. I’ll handle the refs.
Q: Do you have suggestions for the parents of children with learning differences regarding their child’s participation?
JM: When it comes to sports, I don’t believe parents should treat a child who has learning differences any differently than a child who doesn’t. Children with LD are constantly being told they “can’t” so it’s not unusual for them to lack confidence. Parents need to remember that LD impacts HOW the child “receives” information; it doesn’t have to impact WHETHER they receive information. Also, it’s not unusual for children with LD to have mobility and coordination challenges. If school offers a sports program, sign your child up. Be encouraging! Make sure their coach is someone who will meet them where they are, in terms of ability, and get them to where they need to be.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
JM: I started Kingsbury’s athletic program in 2002 because we had students who were athletic, but couldn’t or didn’t play on local teams. They had a love of sports and no way to practice, compete or learn to play as a team. It’s been rewarding to watch students, of all levels of athletic ability, learn to play a sport and enjoy the rewards of teamwork.
Imagine you are a teacher looking out at a classroom of students. They sit at their desks vacantly looking back at you, perhaps whispering to each other, or maybe laying their heads down. Now imagine thought bubbles rising from their heads that summarize their emotions. Among them you read, “I’m angry at my brother for touching my stuff” and “I’ll go crazy if I have to sit still another minute” and “I’m worried about my mother returning home from prison” and “I’m excited because that boy I like told my bff that he likes me too!” Got all that? Ok, now teach them grammar or math or history.
There is a huge gap between a teacher’s job description and the role s/he plays in a student’s life. In that gap sits the daunting task of managing student behaviors and dealing with their emotions. Students arrive at our schools each day feeling anxious, irritated, playful, preoccupied, tranquil, disheartened and a host of other emotions, and under these conditions they must also learn. Given that emotions are so closely tied with the learning process, it stands to reason that they fall under the blanket of our responsibility.
Educators are charged with the task of teaching students in the midst of all this emotional stimulation. It’s like trying to teach at a rock concert. How does one help students manage their emotions so that they may learn? Maybe we could tell the children to think positive thoughts, just concentrate or imagine they are somewhere pleasant. Ask any teacher, it’s been tried. We all know that children have less emotional control than adults, but we tell them to try things even we struggle to do. Perhaps we should make ourselves appear so jazzed to be at school that the students can’t help but pick up the beat! No doubt you get my sarcasm here, but the truth is that teachers are already working themselves silly to keep their students engaged. Teachers who strive to radiate positive emotion in the hope that it will be contagious often finish the day emotionally exhausted.
Social and emotional learning is more than just turning the volume down on negative emotions; it’s about using emotions –positive and negative – to facilitate learning. When brainstorming, persuading, editing, reading, collaborating or observing, for example, research shows that students who feel a specific way perform at a higher level. This information is only helpful if students can identify what they are feeling and if they have the tools to re-direct those feelings. If students are to achieve the ideal emotional state for learning, they are going to need some guidance. That’s where we – the entire community of parents, teachers, administrators, aides and therapists – come in. We can start by getting comfortable with our own emotions, building an emotional vocabulary and learning how to check in with our students.
Led by psychologist Marc Brackett, Ph.D., and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, The Kingsbury Center has begun a new journey toward a more comprehensive education that fuses social and emotional development with the core of our teaching. Throughout our training in this program – called RULER – we will share with you our challenges, our successes, and yes, our feelings. As we move through this process, we want to hear about your experiences as parents, educators or students. Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and join us in our transformation as we begin a new era in education.
In our work as a diagnostic tester at the Kingsbury Center, we have worked with many gifted students who struggle with underachievement and learning challenges. Often called “Twice-Exceptional” or referred to as GT/LD (i.e., gifted and talented with learning disabilities), these students are perplexing to their parents and teachers, and they encounter considerable frustration. These kids amaze in their insights and “out of the box” thinking, yet they can find basic skills challenging.
In the early Elementary School years, it is not uncommon for Twice-Exceptional children to struggle with reading skills, and they continue to face challenges as they progress in school. Managing complex projects, coping with complicated schedules, and juggling school and extracurricular activities all place demands on their organization and planning skills. Inconsistency is the hallmark of these early years—one day they grasp things quickly, only to seem totally unfamiliar with the topic the next day.
While Twice-Exceptional students are complex and confusing, they can also possess amazing perseverance and have unusual talents, often in nonverbal or spatial domains. We often tell parents if they can just get their child through school, their child will likely have success in adult life, if provided with the supports and accommodations needed to work around learning challenges. Some of our clients keep in touch whenever their diagnostic testing needs updating and we have had the pleasure of seeing Twice-Exceptional young people go on to higher education and lead successful and interesting lives.
Parents of Twice-Exceptional children play many roles, often conducting the orchestra of tutors, psychologists and teachers remediating and supporting their students. It can be easy to get caught up in managing these necessary details, but parents also have a more important role: providing the emotional ballast needed for their children to cope with extraordinary challenges. Parents are best suited to help their children identify and develop their personal talents that often lead to success in adulthood and help them weather the storm of frustrating school experiences.
In his book, In the Mind’s Eye, Tom West describes famous innovators who also had learning challenges. These historical figures faced their learning challenges in a dark time when disabilities were feared and misunderstood, yet West argues that each of these exceptional individuals had a parent who supported and nurtured their talents. Twice-Exceptional students thrive when parents embrace the ride with humor and a sense of adventure. “Out of the box” kids need “out of the box” parents.
Habits of Mind, developed by Arthur L. Costs and Bena Kallick, are “characteristics that are employed by successful people when they are confronted with problems.” They identify problem-solving, life-related skills that are necessary to effectively operate in society. Published in 2009, Learning and Leading with Habits of Mindcontinue to provide an effective means to promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity and craftsmanship.
There are 16 Habits of Mind, defined as:
- Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
- Managing Impulsivity
- Gathering Data Through all Senses
- Listening with Understanding with Empathy
- Creating, Imagining, Innovating
- Thinking Flexibly
- Responding with Wonderment and Awe
- Thinking About Thinking (metacognition)
- Taking Responsible Risks
- Striving for Accuracy
- Finding Humor
- Questioning and Posing Problems
- Thinking Interdependently
- Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
- Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
These habits don’t come easily to everybody. How many of us have the disposition to behave intelligently when confronted with a problem for which we don’t have the answer? As you can see from the list, many of these habits are particularly difficult for students with learning differences as they work to manage their learning styles, processing needs and stamina. Kingsbury believes it is critical to expose our students to these habits so that they may grow into confident learners.
Let’s start with the concept of Persisting. For learning disabled children and adults this is perhaps one of the most critical habits to develop. So often when learning gets difficult or complicated, regardless of the presence or type of disability, we all look to take a break from the challenge. Developing the skill of persisting means that when we are confronted with difficult, new and or challenging learning tasks, we approach the task with focus, determination, perseverance, tenacity and diligence until the task is complete. Learning how to proceed with a complicated task and successfully accomplish it helps us accept challenges more readily and provides us with references and confidence for new tasks.
In support of our children who learn differently, we must capitalize on their demonstrated achievements to illustrate the habit of persistence. We need to be careful not to cause anxiety as we gently introduce and then emphasize the idea of “stick-to-it-tiveness!” I challenge my teachers every day to take good care not to frustrate or increase anxiety among our students, but to encourage persistence as a means to help him or her develop.
We encourage our parents to do the same. You can give gentle guidance to your child to “keep at it” when he or she tackles a homework assignment; tries to master a new athletic skill; or wants to quit because doing something well “takes too long.” Becoming focused and staying focused takes practice; it doesn’t happen overnight. Those who learn persistencewill know the satisfaction that comes from completing a task and be more confident the next time they confront a challenge.
KNOW THE SIGNS OF EARLY SPEECH & LANGUAGE DISORDERS
Kingsbury Center’s speech-language pathologists recommend that parents, especially those of young children, take time during the month of May to familiarize themselves with the signs of speech/language disorders and assess their children’s communication development.
It is not uncommon for parents to put off taking any action about a speech delay until a child is age three or older, according to The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Some parents may have had concerns for a year or longer before they take action. Parents with a concern are encouraged to seek an assessment from a speech-language pathologist right away for the best possible outcome.
Between birth to four years of age is an important stage in early detection of communication disorder. The early stages of speech and language disorders are easier to spot when you know the signs. Remember: The most common language disorders that young children experience are highly treatable, when identified early!
Signs of a Language Disorder in children:
Does not smile or interact with others (birth and older)
Does not babble (4-7 months)
Makes only a few sounds or gestures, like pointing (7-12 months)
Does not understand what others say (7 months-2 years)
Says only a few words (12-18 months)
Words are not easily understood (18 months-2 years)
Does not put words together to make sentences (1.5-3 years)
Has trouble playing and talking with other children (2-3 years)
Has trouble with early reading and writing skills (2.5-3 years)
What Parents Can Do:
Listen and respond to your child
Establish daily routines in order to use repetitive language
Talk, read, play and sing with your child
Talk with your child in the language you are most comfortable using
If possible, teach one or more languages to your child; it’s good to teach your child to speak a second language
Talk about what you are doing and what your child is doing
Use many different words when speaking with your child
Use longer sentences as your child gets older
Have your child play with other children
Seek an assessment from a speech-language pathologist right away if you suspect your child has a language disorder.
Kingsbury Center Speech-Language pathologists are trained, certified and experienced at performing assessments and developing treatment plans, particularly for children with learning differences and ADHD. To request information, please contact Ms. Marissa M. Analouei, SLP, Director of Speech and Language Services, The Kingsbury Center, via email or phone (202.722.5555, ext. 2020). Parents may also visit the Kingsbury website at http://www.kingsbury.org/services/speech-language.cfm to request a speech-language assessment.
With the approach of Easter, Passover, Mother’s Day and other springtime occasions when families and friends gather together, we would like to present the habit of thinking interdependently.
Thinking interdependently is a social habit. It is a skill to be able to work in a group, listen to others and speak so that others will listen to us. Working in groups requires students to present and then justify their ideas and then be willing to accept constructive feedback.
When children learn to interact with members of a group by listening, when they are able to give up an idea to work on someone else’s idea, when they are able to demonstrate empathy and compassion, they are developing the habit of thinking interdependently.
In support of our children who learn differently, we must keep in mind that situations that we find easy – such as sitting around the table enjoying a holiday dinner with extended family members – may in fact be much more complicated for our children. Thinking interdependently requires the mastery of complex social skills that can cause our children great anxiety and confusion. To help lessen your child’s anxiety and improve their ability to manage social situations, you may want to consider the following strategies:
Whenever possible, script with your child in advance. Let them know who will be at the event; where you will be; approximately how long you will be there; and what people will likely be talking about.
Provide your child with some advance cues regarding manners. For example, does your child know how to graciously accept a compliment; politely decline an offer of food or drink; or thank the host or hostess for their hospitality?
Take good care to help your child prepare for the specific situation, whether it is a holiday gathering, birthday party or other special event. Talk about why you are going to the event; what the celebration or gathering will entail; if any travel will be involved; and, what will be on the menu. Fill them in on family rituals or traditions so they are not surprised by the unexpected.
Help him or her to develop cooperative skills. Consider beforehand how your child can assist with the special day’s events. If children have an assigned task, or can contribute in a meaningful way (perhaps by preparing a recipe or helping to set the table), they learn how to work together and experience what it means to cooperate for the good of the group.
Practice reciprocal (two-way) communication with your child. Children who insist on doing all the talking are having a one-way conversation. Encourage your child to pay attention to and really listen to what the other person is saying. He or she needs to learn to take turns in order to have a conversation.
Please know that we also support the mastery of complex social skills here at The Kingsbury Center — in the classroom, on the athletic field, at lunchtime, during Enrichment Clusters and at special school events. After all, Kingsbury’s mission is to provide a transformative educational and social experience for children and adults with learning differences. If we all work together to support the growth of thinking interdependently, we can place our children on the path to be confident and cooperative learners and, one day, adults.
Can I tell you how pleasantly surprised I was to be offered a position at the Kingsbury Center in February of 2012? After serving, for over a decade, at a law firm that represents students with learning disabilities, I am now able to see, first-hand, the amazing transformations going on at the Kingsbury Center!
I had heard great things about Kingsbury Day School. Now that I am happily employed here, I can attest to the truth of what I’d been told. I am supported by outstanding faculty and staff who serve children and adults with learning differences. I am proud to be associated with the growth and achievements of our dedicated and deserving students as I watch them transform from students below grade level in academics to mastering goals which they (and their families) had not thought possible. I see students coming here from all walks of life, struggling to cope socially and academically, and from schools where they felt like failures. It’s not long before they achieve great confidence in their abilities here at Kingsbury. I see young students advocate for themselves when they, initially, did not have the confidence to do so. Each student strives to please their teachers and to master their individualized goals.
Students are observed, supported and provided related services, such as speech therapy, counseling, tutoring, occupational therapy and physical therapy in accordance with their individualized educational plan. Students thrive with Eagle PRIDE, our positive behavior program that rewards students for being Prepared, being Respectful, having Integrity, being Dedicated and demonstrating Excellence.
Upper School students can participate in clubs and activities, enjoy school dances and prom, compete in our interscholastic athletic program, and choose to take Advanced Placement classes as they prepare for college-level work. With the strong support of the High School Guidance Counselor, seniors study for the SAT and ACT and apply to collegesthey hope to attend. They further prepare for the transition to life beyond high school by learning financial planning basics, researching careers and honing their job application skills. They can request to be selected as Student Ambassadors, who attend school fairs and Admissions Open Houses and are proud to endorse their own educational experience at Kingsbury. They are professional young adults ready to explore higher education and/or to enter the world of work.
In a matter of weeks, a new student is able to make friends here at Kingsbury. Students build positive relationships with their peers and staff that stretch beyond their current attendance to visiting us long after they have graduated. They are eager to tell us of their success in life and to thank faculty and staff for the support that made a world of difference in their lives. Our Annual Alumni Event, held each January, provides graduates with the opportunity to return to campus for an evening of food, music and socializing with classmates, teachers, related services providers and other staff members.
I believe in the power of education. I believe that people helping people is the only way to achieve greatness and peace. The Kingsbury Center provides a transformative educational and social experience to children and young adults with learning differences. Our focus is putting the student first; we are highly dedicated to providing quality education with 21st century technology! The Kingsbury Center is nestled within the beauty of a quiet residential neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C. where a wide variety of opportunity awaits our students. It’s an honor to serve them and their families.
If you desire to improve communication with your kids, empathy is a good place to start. It takes skill, patience, and... a lot of practice.
In my work as a psychologist, I frequently observe a desire among parents to directly transmit their knowledge, insights, opinions and life lessons to their children. Sometimes they bring their kids to therapy because they want me to relay some important and specific piece of information. “I just want her to know that she doesn’t have to act that way to get attention,” or “He’s got a lot more to offer than he thinks.” These messages come from a place of love and protection. Most parents see their children for the unique and intrinsically good people that they are. Unfortunately, what is delivered as a message of love is, ironically, often received as one of criticism.
Realistically, we all know there is no magic bullet to get our children – and especially our teenagers – to listen to us. However, we often bypass an important step on the way to delivering life lessons. That step is empathy. Unlike sympathy, which is the capacity to feel pity or sorrow for another’s misfortune, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, whatever those feelings may be. As a parent – or a therapist for that matter – to empathize is to fully accept and acknowledge a child’s perspective without trying to change it. Bear in mind that acceptance is not agreement, and you may empathize with a person without agreeing with her.
Here’s an example. Frustrated with his homework, your 13-year-old son exclaims that he is an idiot and a failure. You could A) warmly and genuinely disagree with his self-assessment, B) express pity for his struggle, or C) reflect in your own words that he thinks he is an idiot and a failure (I suppose there are other responses, such as berating, but let’s just look at those options that appear positive in nature.). Each is driven by the will to give hope and encouragement to the disappointed child. Parents often choose between A and B, which makes sense because they do not wish to see their children suffer or make bad decisions.
Most therapists will tell you to go for C, and here’s why. Option A is premature and will probably fall on deaf ears. The child knows you are reacting mostly out of a desire to change his feelings, and he suspects that you never really gave his perspective – that he’s an idiot – any honest consideration. Option B is kind, but offers no opportunity for change. It may even risk confirming his bias. Option C, on the other hand, creates an opening by acknowledging what the child is actually feeling, not just what you want him to feel. You affirm that he is in distress, and you demonstrate that you are willing to be present with him and his feelings at that moment. All this can be done without actually agreeing with the sentiment. The present example illustrates a situation in which you might naturally feel sorry for your child, but the same rules apply when you are in outright conflict and feel no sympathy.
Renowned clinical psychologist and researcher, Marsha Linehan, wrotethat “change can only occur in the context of acceptance of what is; however, ‘acceptance of what is’ is itself change.” Just as the child must accept the present circumstances, so must the parent accept and validate genuinely what he is experiencing. To challenge someone’s beliefs you must first appreciate them for what they are. When we fail to empathize with children, they lose faith in our motives and dismiss our offers of guidance.
In order for empathy to be real, you have to spend some time with it and go at it full-tilt. When your 13-year-old son exclaims that he is an idiot and a failure because he doesn’t understand his homework, don’t give a half-hearted response. If the first half of a sentence is empathy and the second half is change (e.g., I know you’re feeling frustrated, but…), then most likely you are giving empathy short shrift. Give it a sentence or two. No question, just a statement. “This homework really makes you feel stupid.” Maybe tack on a little more. “You feel like you’ll never get it,” and “You probably think that everybody else understands this homework.”
When there is wisdom to impart, we often take for granted that others – our children especially – are eager to receive it. When delivered without empathy, our insights and life lessons can be received as unsolicited advice masquerading as wisdom. When you find that you have mastered the art of genuine empathy, you may be surprised that your child has mastered the art of genuine listening. It is one of the most important ingredients of effective parent-child communication, and it should be applied generously.