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Play and Child Development

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

As many people are now aware, recess and physical education in schools have been greatly reduced in recent years to the detriment of children. Play is an important part of human development and can teach children important skills that they can carry into adulthood. Many of the developmental milestones of school-age children can be accomplished through play and interacting with peers. With more research and more acceptance of this need, I am hopeful that more schools will increase the amount of time school-age children have in their daily schedule for play.

Once children reach elementary school, they have gained stronger and smoother gross motor skills, such as running or standing. They also continue to develop their fine motor skills, which include skills such as grasping or holding small objects. Activities on the playground can help further develop and strengthen these skills. They can participate more regularly in some of these activities and develop mastery over their skills. In addition to developing these physical skills, children at this age require a minimum of one hour of physical activity every day.

Academic achievement is a major focus for school-age children. In early elementary school, children’s curriculum focuses on learning the fundamentals. Around third grade, the curriculum evolves to focus more on finding content in the material presented to them. In addition to these important academic milestones, children begin to increase their ability to focus for longer periods; however, many children need active breaks between long periods of focused attention. By age 6, children should be able to focus for up to 15 minutes at a time. Having a shorter attention span at this age points to the fact that they should be moving around more and physically interacting with their environment. Their brains are not developed enough at this age to focus on something uninterrupted for longer periods. By age 9, children are able to focus for up to an hour but still need play breaks throughout their school day as well.

Another reason to increase play is to help children further develop the social skills required for developing close peer relationships and learning about societal norms and expectations. At this age, children are also likely to test these expectations and may start lying, cheating or stealing. Learning the rules of our society on the playground at this age will be a much safer place to learn the consequences of these actions, instead of learning them as an adult when the consequences are much harsher and more serious. Children need to gain feedback from peers and this can happen more readily on a playground at school.

Most importantly, mixing active play into a person’s day has also shown to increase productivity, even in adults. A recent study has shown that playing a collaborative game can increase productivity by 20 percent. The reasons for this include an increase in creativity, encouraging teamwork, teaching individuals how to set common goals for all those involved, and helping people relax and “blow of steam.” Play has many benefits that will carry into adulthood, such as increased learning capacity. For this reason, play needs to continue to be a constant part of a child’s school day.


References

Brower, T. (3 March 2019). Boost Productivity 20%: The Surprising Power of Play. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2019/03/03/boost-productivity-20-the-surprising-power-of-play/#bffc7197c05b

School-age children development. (n.d.) In MedlinePlus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002017.htm

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Laughter as Medicine

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Is laughter the best medicine? Whoever could have created this proverb may have been onto something. Everyone enjoys a good laugh, whether from a joke or sheer happiness. Research has found that it may have benefits other than simply entertainment. Laughing is a lighthearted way to reduce stress levels, among several other benefits.

Laughter is a natural way of producing endorphins, which act like hormonal painkillers, and can increase one’s pain threshold by up to 10 perfect (but don’t test it!). It also provides good exercise and reduces the risk of respiratory infections. What’s more, laughter can lower blood pressure and stress hormones, as well as to reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Dr. Hunter (Patch) Adams, the founder of the Gesundheit Institute, initiated the creation of numerous care clowns whose mission is to bring love and laughter back into hospital environments. Laughter is attainable for everyone. Being able to laugh frequently does not mean one has to be happy all the time; that’s impossible. When stressed or upset, hearing a well-rounded joke or viewing a particularly amusing Internet meme is the way to go.

In short, laughter has not only mental but also physical benefits. It is just another source of simple happiness capable of leading to a happier life. Wellness does not have to be so serious all of the time; an amusing break from the daily grind we all go through will do anyone good. Life is not always a drama — there’s plenty of comedy too!

How many psychotherapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one, so long as the lightbulb wants to change.


References

“Laughter Therapy as Stress Relief.” SkillsYouNeed, SkillsYouNeed.com, 2019, http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/therapeutic-laughter.html.

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Hakomi: Taking Over

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Taking over is a Hakomi intervention technique, developed by the creator of Hakomi Ron Kurtz, where the therapist assumes there is inherent wisdom in a client’s defenses and helps out by “taking over” for her what she is already doing (Barstow & Johanson, 2015; Lavie, 2015).

Normally this is done in a state of mindfulness, except for the times when riding the rapids to support spontaneous behavior (Barstow & Johanson, 2015; Kurtz, 1990). Through this technique, the therapist assists the client by “making the work of self-discovery easier, safer and clearer” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 104).

As Kurtz began adapting his approach to therapy from earlier training in bioenergetics and Gestalt, among other modalities, he realized the importance of experimenting with mindfulness and supporting, rather than resisting, a client’s defenses (Lavie, 2015). When an “offer to take over is accepted,” a lot of the effort is taken out, lowering the noise and bringing blocked feelings into awareness (p. 102).

If a client responds to a probe with an inner voice, then the therapist can take over the voice and vocalize it for a client. Taking over can accomplish several things: 1) supporting a need for safety; 2) lowering the noise, thus increasing sensitivity; 3) creating distance as well as control of reactions; 4) supporting the healing relationship; 5) shifting awareness from defensiveness to the underlying “feelings, impulses, images and memories being defended against” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 102).

For example, if the client shares the thought, “I won’t cry,” the therapist can then ask the client to relax and notice what occurs for them when the therapist repeats the phrase out loud for them with a similar volume, intensity, and tone (Kurtz, 1990; Lavie, 2015).

Taking over occurred once with a woman who did a workshop with Kurtz. The woman’s daughter had been assaulted by a stranger in their home, and the daughter would stare at the door in her room and could not sleep at night. The mother tried to reassure her to no avail, so she finally said that she would watch the door and sit there all night without going away. Eventually, the daughter closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep. The mother’s statement, “I’ll watch the door for you” is a good example of “taking over” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 110).


References

Barstow, C. & Johanson, G. (2015). Glossary of Hakomi Therapy Terms. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 295-299). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

Lavie, S. (2015). Experiments in Mindfulness. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 178-193). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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How to Minimize Stress and Master the Holidays

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

It goes without saying that the holidays are a busy time. In addition to typical daily life, there’s partying, traveling, spending, socializing, and the list goes on. Many would say the chaos of it all is worth it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to minimize the stress and relax. Whether it means reducing or increasing one’s social interactions, there are ways to feel fulfilled rather than drained by the time New Year’s comes around.

Firstly, what exactly are your sources of holiday stress? One source may be simpler than you’d think: doing too much. Yes, it’s obvious, but let me explain. Naturally, when met with a rather exciting or interesting activity, we often opt to participate in it. While doing good and fun things are, well, good and fun, having too many good things going on can lead to stress and a lack of time to decompress.

Another stressor may be the overwhelming obligations and the temptation to overindulge, such as excessive eating, drinking, and spending. Too much of any of these things could lead to debt, weight gain, or embarrassing memories.

Furthermore, balancing alone time with together time becomes significantly more difficult for many during the holidays. Family time is a wonderful thing, but being around others for too long without proper rest takes some of the enjoyment out of being with loved ones.

On the other side are those who are not with family during the holidays. While many are getting together with those they love, some might become more aware of their loneliness and feel left out.

During this time of year, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may occur. While it can come on subtly with the season’s transition from fall to winter, more time spent indoors because of colder weather brings out this form of depression, invoking seemingly sudden bursts of unhappiness and/or stress.

Despite these concerns, there are still ways to be on top of one’s mental health during this time of year. Here are some useful tricks for mastering the holidays, stress-free:

Keep a Journal

Keep a journal, or at least write things down, an age-old trick to maintain healthy stress levels. Keeping track of finances, plans, and obligations is a surefire way to stop stress dead in its tracks.

Remain Disciplined

Remaining disciplined is key to mastering holiday overindulgence. Remind yourself not to have eggnog and cookies with every meal. This saves us from guilty feelings later on. There is nothing wrong with saying “no” to tentative plans or an extra drink. Staying fit and leaving space for alone time is worth it in the long run.

Balance is Key

Being burnt out halfway through December sucks, even if it means sacrificing potential plans with friends and family. They can wait for another day. No one is fun to be around when they are tired or stressed. Besides, spending a day during the holidays to curl up with a warm blanket and a book is a fun idea in itself.


References

Scott, Elizabeth. “How to Manage the Inevitable Holiday Season Stress.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 24 June 2019, www.verywellmind.com/understanding-and-managing-holiday-stress-3145230.

“6 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress.” Healthline, Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/holiday-stress#tips.

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The Science of Calm

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

In therapy, there are many techniques that I often suggest to clients to help them come back to a calmer state. Many of these techniques are connected to biological reactions to triggers that induce a calmer state. There is a science to these exercises, which have been proved useful for when we need help managing emotions. Here are a few of the more common calming techniques to help you relax and de-stress:

Breathing Exercises

One of the most common practices I have shared with my clients regards learning the proper way to breathe. Fortunately, there is an easy routine you can follow to help you breathe to feel calmer and relaxed.

First, try breathing in twice as fast as you breathe out. For example, breathe in to the count of three and breathe out to the count of six. When we breathe in, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated. This is the area of our brain that is responsible for our fight-or-flight or stress response. When we breathe out, our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is activated. This is the area of the brain that is responsible for relaxation. When we breathe out longer than we breathe in, we will slowly calm ourselves down, over time.

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth with pursed lips. This practice also activates the PNS area of the brain and can help us reach a calmer state.

Make sure you are breathing diaphragmatically, which means to breathe from your stomach or diaphragm instead of your chest. When we take shallow breaths (chest breaths), we activate a panicky sensation that can increase anxiety in moments when we may not need to be anxious. Breathe from your stomach regularly, so you do not trigger this response.

Test if you are breathing from your diaphragm by feeling the temperature of your out-breath on your hand. If your breath feels cold, your breathing is shallow; if the temperature is warm, you are breathing diaphragmatically. You can also put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. The hand that rises as you breathe in is where your breath is coming from. If your breathing is shallow, practice breathing from your stomach so that you begin to breathe this way more naturally.

Cold Water

When you splash cold water on your face, take a cold shower or drink cold water while holding your breath, you activate the “dive response.” This response tricks your brain into believing you are underwater, which slows down your heart rate and redirects the majority of your blood to the brain and heart. After exposure to cold water, your body and mind will slowly start to calm down so you can manage these intense emotions more easily.

Floating

Floating in water has many health benefits. Floating increases our blood circulation and allows oxygen to be distributed more efficiently throughout our body and helps the brain to function more effectively. Floating can also cause the brain to release endorphins, which can improve our mood.

Conclusion

I encourage you to try these calming techniques when you are feeling stressed or having trouble managing emotions. But for these skills to be most effective, it is important to practice them regularly. In doing so, you are preparing yourself for difficult times when you might need them most.


References

Kallevang, B. How Floating Can Change Our Brains Incredibly, According To Science. Retrieved from https://www.lifehack.org/446442/how-floating-can-change-our-brains-incredibly-according-to-science

Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

McKay, M., Wood, J. C. & Brantley, J. (2007). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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Hakomi: Experimenting with Probes

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

“A probe is an experiment in mindfulness, an example of evoked experience, assisted meditation, if you like. We take time to prepare. We set up mindfulness, introduce a stimulus and study the reaction. We’re looking for clues to the organization of experience” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 91).

Clients are asked to notice whatever reactions spontaneously occur for them in response to a potentially nourishing statement (Barstow & Johanson, 2015). When the client is aware of his or her reaction, then she is not reacting. Instead, she is responding as noticing a reaction is different from reacting itself. “With mindfulness, consciousness is self-reflective, able to study itself” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 91).

Probes can be nourishing, but nourishment is not the main objective. With probes, we give the client a chance to “either take in something that’s needed or to see clearly that he or she rejects what’s offered. From there, we can explore how and why that nourishment is rejected. We offer precisely the nourishment that we think the client needs and wants most and will have the most difficulty taking in. That’s where the growth potential is” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 95).

Before delivering a probe, the therapist asks the client to relax into a mindful state by closing the eyes and bringing full attention to the present moment. The therapist waits until the client is ready. When the client is ready, the therapist offers a brief, concise statement. For example, “Notice what happens for you when I say…”

“It’s safe here.”
“All of your feelings are okay.”
“You’re welcome here.”
“I’m here for you.”
“You’re a beautiful person.”

The client could respond with a feeling, thought, memory, or tension in your body, and it’s okay if nothing happens. For example, let’s say the therapist says, “You’re a beautiful person” and the client responds, “I don’t think you really mean that.” In that case, the therapist could try asking for a description of what came up, which could be expressed like, “I hear what you’re saying, however, I don’t believe you said what happened for you. Did you notice a thought, feeling, memory, or anything?” If this doesn’t work, then create more safety or help the client get into a deeper state of relaxation. Then, deliver a probe again.

Probes are delivered slowly and with a pause between the part about noticing what happens and the probe statement itself. This pause helps the client remain in a mindful state. Probes are also delivered in a neutral tone of voice without trying to convince or pressure the client to accept or reject the statement. Probes are also not ordinary conversations, and the therapist should avoid making unrealistic statements, such as: “nobody will feel anger toward you ever again.”

As a therapist works with a client, they will often refine the probes until it is more catered to that particular client. Also, it is not ideal to use first-person statements, such as: “I love you.” Instead, say something like, “you’re lovable.” With first-person statements, it’s easy to interact “based on transference” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 95).

The client could begin acting like you’re having an ordinary conversation. If this happens, then be clear that “the probe is an experiment and not necessarily a true expression of your thoughts and feelings” (p. 95).

Finally, it is possible to turn a contact statement such as, “some sadness huh” into a probe like, “all your feelings are welcome here” or “tired, huh” into “it’s okay to rest” (Kurtz, 1990).


References

Barstow, C. & Johanson, G. (2015). Glossary of Hakomi Therapy Terms. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 295-299). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

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The Perfect Morning Routine

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

Mornings are not always easy. If you need to get up early for work or other commitments or were up late and did not get much sleep, mornings may be your worst enemy. Developing a healthy routine in the morning can help you feel ready for the day ahead, even when your body is telling you to go back to bed. Not everyone’s routine will look the same, but there are a few practices you should follow that will allow your body to wake up and be ready to tackle the day.

Practice Mindfulness
Incorporate at least one mindful activity into your routine each day. Mindfulness means bringing awareness to the present moment. Your focus should be centered on your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment through a nurturing lens. Doing one routine activity mindfully each morning can help shift your attention away from any ruminating thoughts and into the present moment. Being more present can help you increase positive emotions and reduce negative emotions. By focusing your attention on something positive, we are allowing ourselves to let go of stress and feel prepared to face the day.

To practice mindfulness, choose one activity and complete that activity mindfully. You could brush your teeth; take a shower or bath; or get dressed while focusing your full attention on that activity. Making mindfulness part of your daily routine will allow the skills associated with mindfulness to grow stronger so you can more easily access those skills when needed in other capacities.

Slow Down
Another important concept to include in your morning routine is to not multi-task. If you are like many people, your daily routine is already fast-paced and stressful. One way that I incorporate slowing down into my morning routine is by sitting down to eat my breakfast. I used to grab my breakfast and eat it on my way out the door, which caused me to feel stressed and rushed before even getting to work. By slowing down my morning activities like eating breakfast, I can better manage my mood and feel more in control of my emotions.

Give Gratitude
One of the most important things you can do for yourself each day is to practice gratitude. In the morning, before getting out of bed, list two to three things you are currently grateful for in your life. It may seem inauthentic at first, but there is science that supports the many positive benefits for your mind and body that practicing gratitude will bring. Incorporating a regular gratitude practice to your routine can significantly increase well-being, life satisfaction, quality of sleep, immune health, compassion, and kindness. The more regularly you give gratitude, the stronger gratitude will grow. Giving gratitude each morning will help you start the day with a positive mood, even when you may be dreading the day that lies ahead of you.


References

Mindfulness Defined. (n.d.) Retrieved July 31, 2019, from
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition

Carpenter, D. (2019) The Science Behind Gratitude (and How It Can Change Your Life)
Retrieved from https://www.happify.com/hd/the-science-behind-gratitude/

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Ways to Overcome Procrastination You Won’t Want to Put Off

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(Photo Credit: GoodStudio)

By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Procrastination is a problem dealt with daily by people of all ages. It can be said that many of us have been through at least one period when we did not manage our time well. Recent studies have shown that roughly 20 percent of adults in the U.S. are chronic procrastinators (Cherry).

There are many reasons why the number is high, but also just as many ways to help us manage our time more effectively, which we’ll explore below.

Deeper mental health issues may contribute to poor time management. Depression, ADHD, OCD, and chronic stress are all capable of worsening procrastination (Wiebe). These issues can work to shift the focus onto other tasks and activities, leaving important “to-dos” for a later time, which may or may not ever come.

Developing good time management skills has more benefits than the obvious boost in productivity. Cutting down on procrastination has also been shown to reduce stress significantly and can improve our overall quality of life (Mayberry).

Depending on the situation, talking with a therapist, or just taking a mental break, can reduce symptoms, such as stress and procrastination.

It is far easier to accomplish the tasks at hand with a clear mind. Keeping a planner or list of priorities, as well as evaluating our time usage, can help us stay organized and motivated (Mayberry).

Finally finishing a seemingly endless or daunting task typically gives us a great sense of relief and satisfaction. When time is well-spent and the “to-do list” shrinks, we experience fewer stressful thoughts that can put us on edge.

Putting into practice these time management skills can help us not only to finish tasks efficiently, but help us live a happier life.


References

Cherry, Kendra. “Psychology Behind Why We Wait Until the Last Minute to Do Things.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 30 June 2019, www.verywellmind.com/the-psychology-of-procrastination-2795944.

Mayberry, Matt. “Time Management Is Really Life Management.” Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur Media, Inc., 13 Feb. 2015, www.entrepreneur.com/article/242855.

Wiebe, Jamie. “Struggle with Time Management? Here’s What It Says About Your Mental Health…” Talkspace, Talkspace, 3 Oct. 2018, www.talkspace.com/blog/time-management-mental-health/.

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Hakomi: States of Consciousness and Establishing Mindfulness

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

States of Consciousness

In Hakomi psychotherapy, there are four states of consciousness:

  1. Ordinary consciousness, which includes open eyes with direct eye contact, a conversational tone and pace of speech, and low or controlled emotions.
  2. Mindfulness where eyes are generally closed; speech is slower, softer and quieter in general; breath is gentle; the body is still; and which includes all components of a light trance.
  3. The child state with childlike voice; a sense of wonder; simple sentence structure; youthful facial expressions and gestures; younger-looking body; shy in a childlike way.
  4. Riding the rapids wherein there is excitement; a high level of emotional expression; labored breathing; and wavelike body movements (Kurtz, 1990).

“In teaching and inviting clients to turn their awareness inside to notice whatever their present awareness is, we are deliberately encouraging our clients to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness” (Barstow, 2015, p. 142).

Establishing Mindfulness

“Before attempting to evoke experiences in mindfulness, mindfulness itself must be established” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 85). Mindfulness is an open, vulnerable, non-ordinary state of consciousness where rapport and safety are already established. Before using techniques like probes or taking over, some things need to be in place including the relationship. All signs of cooperation, including cooperation of the unconscious, are there. Also, the clinician needs to conceptualize what would be a meaningful, interesting experience for the client.

Additionally, when the client is talking, it’s important to wait for the client to finish saying whatever they need to say. Even if the therapist has some valid ideas regarding what to do, it is nevertheless important to give the client time to finish. When the client is finished talking, she will then wait for the therapist to respond. When this happens, then the therapist can ask the client if she wants to try something that might be interesting like, for example, a probe (Kurtz, 1990).

The therapist doesn’t know how much the client needs to discuss her “story in ordinary consciousness” to feel safe, so a way of responding to a talkative client might be, “‘Why don’t we hang out with this sense of cautiousness, and maybe it will tell us more about itself?’” (Gaskin & Cole, 2015, p. 133). Another intervention might be to ask the client how she experiences the caution in her body.

Ron Kurtz found that nearly everyone he worked with could get into a state of mindfulness. Even the briefest moments of mindfulness can reveal significant, evoked experiences that can be utilized for accessing emotions, core beliefs or the child state (Kurtz, 1990).

If the therapist has listened to the client and has conceptualized some possible ways of responding then she can use a probe, a little experiment, an acknowledgment, or take something over for the client. These techniques can be combined in elegant ways. “Probes, acknowledging, contact statements, little experiments, and the various forms of taking over are the main interventions in Hakomi Therapy” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 90). These are the “core techniques,” just as mindfulness and nonviolence are the “central principles” (p. 90).

According to Kurtz, the closest precursor to probes would be Carl Jung’s use of “word association techniques” created by Wilhelm Wundt (p. 90).


References

Barstow, C. (2015). Ethics: right use of power. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 139-148). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Gaskin, C.L. & Cole, D. (2015) Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 129-138). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

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Five Fun Ways to Get Your Child to Do Homework

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(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

It’s that time of year again. School has started and weekly homework struggles have begun. This struggle is not just difficult for the little ones in our lives. It’s also a challenge for us parents to motivate our kids to do their homework. As a parent who has struggled to get through homework with my little one, I have realized how much patience and persistence are necessary to overcome homework resistance. Through this experience and research, I have discovered five simple strategies to make homework more manageable, creative and fun.

1. Set a time

Instead of planning for homework to be done right after school, give your child some time to settle down after a full day. Homework time should be about an hour long and can be a time for everyone in the family to complete their “homework” together. Parents can also choose to work on something at this time and everyone can do their homework together in a common area, such as at the dining room table. If you are working on something at the same time, you are modeling appropriate work ethic and are also more available to help with any questions your child may have about their homework. If a full hour is too long for your child to complete their homework, and it will be for younger children, break the time up into shorter periods. Have your child work on their homework for 10 minutes and take a 5 to 10-minute break. Then repeat this a couple more times until you are through the assignment. Your child will let you know when they have reached their limit, so try to work with them to figure out a timeframe that best suits their abilities.

2. Give out rewards 

I am a believer in using a token economy to get through an assignment and there are several ways you can do this. Sticker charts can be modified to fit each assignment. Parents may choose to use a basic chart in which the child receives a sticker for every question they answer. I have included an example of a basic sticker chart, labeled as Handout 1. Make sure to have stickers that interest your child, so that they are interested in earning the stickers!

Download Handout 1

3. Play a game

You can turn the sticker chart into a fun activity or game to help motivate your child to get through the assignment. For example, in Handout 2, I created a “slide” that I broke up into components, each representing a question that needs to be answered. As the parent, I would explain that the boy wants to go down the waterslide, but he needs water on the slide to reach the pool at the end. The child will color a box every time they answer a question until the boy reaches the pool. This tool can be modified and should be adjusted to match your child’s interests. You can include favorite cartoon charters and a familiar story they enjoy to engage them more in the activity.

Download Handout 2

4. Be mindful

Be aware of when you’ve both reached your limit and need a break from homework. If there’s too much stress involved, your child could begin to associate homework with stress, which is the opposite of what we want. As professor of psychiatry and author Daniel Siegel says, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” When homework is paired with stress, homework begins to be viewed as a stressful and unpleasant activity. The goal is for homework a be part of your child’s routine. Adding an element of fun can help decrease their stress and dread when sitting down to complete homework. Be a calm presence during homework time since you are an example for them on how to handle stress and frustration.

5. Stay creative

Be open to your child’s suggestions on what would motivate them to complete an assignment. My son was able to help me improve the “waterslide” handout by adding coloring to the activity, which made the activity more fun for him. Try to be open to modifying the process over time. These strategies may not work forever so you will need to be prepared to have another strategy lined up when one stops working.


References

Barish, K. (2012 September 5). Battles over homework: advice for parents. Psychology
Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pride-and-joy/201209/battles-over-homework-advice-parents

[Boy on a water slide]. Retrieved September 1, 2019, from:
https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-boy-water-slide-little-slides-down-waterpark-image39798538

[In Ground Swimming Pool]. Retrieved September 1, 2019, from:
https://www.shutterstock.com/image-vector/ground-swimming-pool-271444649

Siegel, D. J. and Bryson, T. P. (2014 August 20). No Drama Discipline. New York: Bantam Books.

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