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Conquer the Back-to-School Blues

Summer is winding down, and school is fast approaching.  While this time of year brings excitement, it also triggers stressors in parents and children alike. Children wonder so many things: What classroom will they be in? Who will be in their class? How will their teacher handle their idiosyncrasies? Parents also have their own set of questions regarding their children’s return to school. Follow the tips below to help ease the whole family into the new routine of school and to help everyone conquer the back-to-school blues.

Steps to Conquer the Back-to-School Blues:

  • List the positives of each possible classroom assignment and teacher. The mere mention of your child’s classroom placement may cause him, and you as parents, concern. Instead of worrying about it, come up with a list with your child about the positives of each classroom option. Be creative and help your child explore the small (but potentially positive) details of being in every classroom available to him. For example, one classroom may be closer to the washroom, or one might have a door to the playground. Listing the positives of each potential teacher/teacher’s aide is also recommended. This can help put you and your child at ease by recognizing that there are great things about any classroom possibility.
  • Remember that there are opportunities to see friends outside of the classroom. When the class list is posted and you and your child find out that he may not have many friends in his classroom, remind him that he can see his friends before and after school, at lunch, at recess, and in elective-type classes.  Also, if there are children of concern in your child’s classroom, it is also helpful to remember that there will be some opportunities throughout the day to mingle with other kids. Listing the positives of some, or all, of the kids in your child’s class is also recommended here. This will prepare your child for the school year and for how he can get along with the peers in his classroom. Read more

Executive Functioning Skills- Critical for School Success

The task of being a middle or high school student has become overwhelming.  In addition to demanding academic work, students have many extra activities, sport and other obligations to balance. Even the most engaged and focused students can become overwhelmed and miss important work or commitments due to weak executive functioning skills:  the skills that allow us to manage ourselves and our time with the resources we have. These skills are critical for school success, but are often not taught in the classroom.

The following are the Executive Functioning skills:Little girl sitting on a pile of books

  1. Emotional Control– the ability to regulate emotions in order to stay productive and complete a task
  2. Initiation– the ability to start a task independently
  3. Planning/Organization– the ability to plan and organize one’s time, assignments and activities effectively
  4. Shift– the ability to move from one task to another
  5. Working memory– the ability to hold information in the mind for completing a task
  6. Inhibitions– stopping impulses at the right time in order to stay focus and accomplish the task at hand

If you find your child struggling in any of these areas, consider a specific course or tutor to teach these important tools for classroom success. North Shore Pediatric Therapy offers both one-on-one tutoring sessions and an Executive Functioning Skills for School Success workshop (9:30-11:30 a.m., August 13-17) to help your child learn these critical skills.

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Girl Power!: How to Empower Middle School Girls

MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRLS. What comes to mind when you hear those words? Moody? Self-absorbed? Preoccupied with peers? I often hear parents ask, “What happened to my sweet little girl?” or “Why doesn’t she open up to me?” As a parent, you may feel frustrated, confused, or sad about your daughter’s behaviors, especially if she did not act this way before.

The transition from childhood to adolescence, marked by the shift from elementary to middle school, is a challenging time. In fact, this transition marks one of the peak times when self-esteem decreases. These “tweens” may feel caught in the middle-given more responsibilities and expectations and no longer treated like a child, yet not treated like an adult. These changes they go through in the adolescent transition can challenge their self-esteem levels-how they think and feel about themselves and how they think others perceive them.

3 Challenges to Self-Esteem:

1. Shifts in academic expectations:

Middle School introduces multiple teachers, different classes, and an increased homework load that students are responsible to juggle and middle school girlbalance. Students may struggle with these changes, which can impact how they view their intelligence and ability to succeed. If they viewed themselves as good students in elementary school, this transition can be especially challenging to their academic self-esteem.

2. Shifts in social expectations:

Middle school involves students from multiple elementary schools, and girls navigate the transition from having the same best friends in elementary school to determining which groups they belong to in middle school. With more focus on cliques and popularity, girls may feel confused, isolated, and anxious about fitting in and feeling accepted. The emphasis on who is “in” and “out” can create a heightened sense of awareness in girls about how their peers view them. With the constant shifts of what behaviors, attitudes, activities, and clothes are accepted and rejected by, girls may feel the need to reinvent themselves, which can create instabilities in self-esteem levels.

3. Shifts in physical appearance:

Middle school marks the beginning of physical changes (ex. Puberty, acne, weight and height changes, braces, glasses, etc), which can feel scary, overwhelming, and embarrassing. These uncomfortable feelings can stop girls from reaching out and discussing these changes. Because of this, it is possible for girls to feel very alone, as if they are the only ones having difficulties with these changes.

So, how do we address these challenges to girls’ self-esteem? We empower. While the adolescent transition is a challenge to self-esteem, it is also an opportunity to improve and build high self-esteem. Teaching girls tools to explore who they want to be; take care of themselves; reach out for support; and create meaningful, positive relationships can help strengthen self-esteem.

4 Tips to Address the Challenges and Empower

1. Create an open space for conversation. Girls transitioning to adolescence may feel isolated, as if they are the only ones going through difficulties. Acknowledging to your daughter, “Middle school brings lots of changes for everyone” and asking open ended questions, such as “What have you noticed that is different about middle school?” can show her that these topics are on the table. Even if she does not want to answer right away, knowing that her parents understand that changes exist can help her open up in the future.

2. Listen and provide empathy before problem solving. As a  parent, you may want to help your daughter by giving advice and problem solving. Before these steps, however, your daughter needs to feel heard. Show that you are present with your daughter by nodding, asking open-ended questions (“What happened next?” or “How did you feel?”), and checking in to make sure you understand (“So you are saying that your friend said something that made you feel embarrassed?”). Demonstrate empathy by acknowledging that she could feel this way (“I could understand why you would feel angry”), even if you disagree with her behaviors or would feel differently yourself. Once you listen and provide empathy, empower your daughter by helping her problem solve. Ask questions, such as “What do you think you should do?” and “What do you think would happen if you did that?” Problem solving can help your daughter explore what type of student, friend, sister, daughter, and person she wants to be. Guiding her through this process can help your daughter feel supported and effective, which can increase the likelihood of her opening up to you in the future.

3. Begin potentially uncomfortable conversations.  There are many conversations (peer pressure, romantic relationships, puberty, etc.) that can be potentially uncomfortable or awkward to have with your daughter. Beginning these conversations, however, is important so that your daughter knows she can talk to you about these issues. These conversations can also serve as an opportunity to discuss the importance of self-care, which can improve self-esteem levels. Bring up the conversation in a gentle, matter-of-fact way (“There are many physical changes you will be going through that can feel confusing. Let’s talk about them together”). Acknowledge, normalize, and empathize with possible discomfort and awkwardness. Beginning the conversation can show your daughter that you are there to support them through this time.

4. Create opportunities for positive relationship building.  Because girls transitioning to adolescence can feel isolated, opportunities for meaningful, positive connections are vital. This can include enhancing already-existing relationships or seeking new ones. One way to build relationships is to join a social group. North Shore Pediatric Therapy is offering a 10-week group for middle school girls to strengthen their self-esteem levels. Click here for more information.

Strategies For Smooth Sailing Into Middle School

We are at that time of year-school supply lists, the cooling down of summer, and the fall wardrobe advertisements can only mean one thing: it is “back to school” time! Transitioning back to school can seem overwhelming as it is, but the shift Middle School Boy On Near Lockersfrom elementary to middle school can create unique changes and challenges for students and parents. Knowing what changes to expect, anticipating the challenges they may bring, and brainstorming strategies to address the transition can help children sail smoothly into their middle school years!

Below are some common middle school transition challenges and strategies for smooth sailing.

Middle School Schedule Changes:

One of the biggest schedule changes is the frequent transitioning from class to class during the school day. Transitioning from a summer to school schedule is challenging enough, but adding a school schedule that is completely new can be overwhelming. Your child will experience multiple firsts: first time taking multiple classes; meeting multiple teachers; and navigating between classrooms. These firsts can understandably create anxiety about being on time, going to the right class, and remembering which teacher teaches what! Since starting middle school means starting a new school entirely, another schedule change to anticipate is a different start and end time than what your child is used to.

Middle School Transition Strategies:

  • Talk to your child about her new school schedule for a couple of weeks beforehand so she knows what to expect on the first day.
  • If possible, schedule a visit with the school to familiarize your child with the building and classrooms. Take advantage of new student orientations, and find out where schedules are distributed before school starts. Then, help your child practice going from class to class.
  • Review with your child when her new school will start and end. Listen to any concerns and help come up with a plan to address them. For example, if your child is nervous about getting up on time for an earlier start time, brainstorm ways to tweak bedtime and morning routines so that your child can feel well-rested and ready for school in the morning.

Middle School Peers:

In middle school, your child is likely to see and meet children in her class that attended different elementary schools. This change can create anxieties about whether she will know students in her classes, have friends to eat lunch with, maintain old friendships, or meet new ones. Additionally, new middle schoolers make the transition from being “big fish in a little pond” in their elementary schools to “little fish in a big pond.” Shifting from being the oldest to the youngest students in school can be scary, and your child may have fears about these unknown upperclassmen.

Middle School “Friend” Strategies:

  • Acknowledge the big change in peers. Listen to your child’s fears, concerns, anxieties, and excitements and validate your child’s feelings as normal and okay.
  • Use a buddy system on the first day. Plan for your child to compare schedules with a friend and meet at school on the first day to go through their day together.
  • “Once school starts, create a space for your child to talk openly about her social experiences and listen to your child for any hints of bullying.

Classes and Homework Load:

One of the challenges I hear most is the homework load increase from elementary to middle school. Students have homework from multiple classes with varying due dates, which can create organizational difficulties. They may feel anxious about keeping track of assignments and due dates and feel overwhelmed by the increased work load.

Middle School Homework Strategies:

  • Help organize your child’s school work by creating one binder or multiple binders with a different divider for each class.
  • Use color-coded folders (ex. Blue for science homework, red for math homework, etc) so your child can transport her homework to and from school and keep track of her assignments.
  • Use a planner to write down which classes have assignments due on specific dates. You can teach your child how to use her planner before school starts so that she is not overwhelmed when teachers announce assignments.
  • Check in with your child about homework to see the areas in which your child may struggle. If your child is experiencing difficulties, reach out to teachers about peer tutoring, after-school help, or homework club.

Extra-curricular Activities:

Compared to elementary school, middle school offers many more opportunities to engage in various activities-community service, social clubs, academic clubs, and sports during and after school. These new activities can be very exciting but can also create some scheduling challenges. With an increased homework load, incorporating every activity your child is interested in may interfere with homework, already existing activities, and his sleep and rest!

Middle School Extra-Curricular Activity Strategies:

  • Encourage your child to go to informational meetings to learn about opportunities. You can talk to your child about which activities she is most excited about and help her make a list to prioritize.
  • Flexibility is key-“Why don’t we try soccer and community service club and see how you feel in a few weeks? If we need to take something out or add something, we can.”
  • Creating a visual schedule with your child is a fun way to help her stay organized and accountable for her schedule.

Anticipating the changes and potential challenges that come with middle school can help parents and children work together to ensure a smooth transition!

Please let us know, what transition strategies have you used that have worked?

*North Shore Pediatric Therapy, Inc. (NSPT) intends for responses to the blogs to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; all content and answers to questions should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). Questions submitted to this blog are not guaranteed to receive responses. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by NSPT to people submitting questions. Always consult with your health professional first before initiating or changing any aspect of your treatment regimen.

Francis Parker, Latin, University of Chicago Lab, Chicago City Day, Anshe Emmet, Sacred Heart or Somewhere Else? Which school is best for my child?

How do I pick the best school for my child and what if my child has special needs?

IBack To School Chalkboardf you have a baby and you live in a big city like Chicago, then soon enough you will be thinking, “Oh boy, what activities do I sign him up for? Where do I register for preschool? When? Is today too late?”. For some parents, you will have now discovered your child also has some learning or attention need. Now, which school is best?

Consider the following when deciding where to send your children to school:

  •  There are always the suburbs, but keep in mind, you will still need to do a lot of research on which is best because each suburb has something different to offer.
  • Make a list of what is important to you in a school. One may be very competitive, one may be less so, one may be in a better neighborhood, one may go all the way up to high school, and one may stop at eighth grade. If you decide which characteristics are most important, you can narrow down your list.
  • If you child needs services, will the school have them? What do they look like? Remember, you will still need to supplement school services but you do need the support.
  •  How competitive do you want the school to be and in which areas? One may be more arts based while another may place high importance on math and science.
  • What kind of friends do you want your child to have? Each school has a different sort of parent body, different values taught to children, etc.
  • If you need financial aid, will they have it? How does the application process work to get in and to get assistance?

Enjoy the process and start very early. Talk to and seek advice from many people but in the end base your decision on who you and your family really are and who you hope your children will turn out to be.

Please feel free to leave a comment below with your own experience in choosing a school!

Cliques in Middle School: Dangerous or Healthy?

Even though it feels dangerous to have your middle schooler committed to the rules of a clique, it is an important part of their development of a sense of belonging. If you’re starting to get worried, you might want to get more information before you take action. Do you communicate well with your child? It will be very important to empathize with your child’s desire to fit in with a group as this is a very normal part of their development. Cliques In Middle School

Cliques tend to have strict rules about how to act, who to socialize with, and even what to wear. This can be fun and lead to strong connections with their peers. If you find yourself wondering if it’s gone too far or if you should intervene, first consider your child’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors as you determine what kind of impact their friendships are having on their daily life (inside and outside of school). Read more