Category Archives: education

Starting the School Year in a Mindful Mindset

School is back in session and with that comes lots of firsts, lots of changes, and lots of new emotions for our children.  New teacher, new room, new rules, new expectations.  Even as adults, starting a new job comes with lots of new thoughts, some positive and some riddled with worry.

This time of growth and change is a GREAT time to help our children (and ourselves) build our toolbox of relaxation and coping skills!  Working together on our social and emotional skill sets shines a light on the positives and lessons of each moment rather than fears of the “what if”.

ABC Mindful Me  By: Christiane Engel

This is a wonderful book and teaching tool for us as parents (and as people!)  Each letter in the Alphabet highlights an aspect of Mindfulness, and the book gives an easy to understand definition of Mindfulness at the beginning and end.  Each page gives one important way to practice mindfulness throughout the day.  You could even read a page a morning (or week) and reflect on how you will use that concept in your household!

For example, A is for Awareness.  In kid speak: PAYING ATTENTION TO YOUR WORLD and all that is BEAUTIFUL in it!

Activity for Children: For little ones pick a shape of the day.  Then, go on a walk around the house, the neighborhood, etc. and try to notice anything that is shaped like a circle.  If your child can touch it have them trace the circle with their fingers.  This can be done for shapes, colors, animals, textures, you name it!  You are not only teaching your child an academic skill, but most importantly you are teaching them to be OBSERVERS and forming mental relationships and categories.  Furthermore, they are learning to be IN THE MOMENT, fully present in their environment…and their learning!

Activity for Adults:  Monkey See, Monkey Do!  Take a walk, either by yourself or with your family, and put your phone away where it is just slightly inconvenient to get out.  (ex: I put mine in the zip compartment in the bottom of my stroller so I am less likely to take it out.)  Next, pick a focus visual, tactile, or auditory.  For example, how does your foot feel when you place it on the ground?  What sounds are around you?  Are the leaves moving today in the breeze?

Our children view our behavior as model behavior…modeling being present in the moment is such a gift to them in so many ways.

The book highlights: breath, kindness, compassion, feelings, energy, gratitude, and so much more!

Thank you for reading!

Supporting the WHOLE Child: Exceptional is not the Exception

A large part of my goal with collaborative minds is to provide parents and professionals with resources and support.   Recently a parent provided questions regarding: how to receive school support, advice for parents at home, and support for parents of children with high functioning autism, ODD, ADD, and exceptional academics.

This parent’s questions are so very important for professionals and administrators working with these children to read, reflect, and answer.

Exceptional should not be the exception when we think of providing support.  Success in academics is not the key determiner in being successful in life.  In fact, research has shown that emotional intelligence actually has a much larger impact on life “success” than academic intelligence. 

Social Emotional Learning should not be looked at as soft skills.

Teaching Social Emotional Learning and Character Development are KEY to providing all children, but especially those who struggle with social competencies, anxiety, ODD, etc., with a toolbox they can use to facilitate forming relationships, coping with anxiety, and building a STRONG inner coach (that voice inside of us that encourages us!) Professionals, let’s TEAM up with parents to care for the WHOLE child, each child, individually!

(*Following the Q and A are a short list of resources and a parent group I often recommend parents take a look at)

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce to the blog Jillian D. Clayton, Ph.D., NCSP

A school psychologist by trade, She has worked in districts as large as 18 buildings, to a district as small as one. She currently works in a county vocational school with high functioning students, however she has a great deal of experience in self-contained classrooms working with children and adolescents with Autism, ODD or who have multiple disabilities. In addition to her work in schools, she has also worked as a psychiatric screener in a hospital setting, where she  worked with children, adolescents and adults in crisis. She feels very strongly about educating parents and community members on working with exceptional children because there is a continuity of care that needs to transition from home to school to community for a child to reach their fullest potential. Working together as a whole will only benefit the child, and in turn, their families.

“As a parent how can you best support your child academically? How do you help them handle the anxiety that comes with higher functioning?”

This is a delicate balance, and in my professional opinion, it should be treated as such. First of all, you want to be able to push your child academically, regardless of their abilities (most parents lose sight of this because they are overcompensating, and that’s okay!). But knowing when to still recognize that their anxieties are real, no matter how seemingly ridiculous, is going to be something you should be continuously mindful of. I wish I could give you a magic equation for this, but it doesn’t exist. The best advice I could give you is to always gauge how your responses impact them (e.g. Are they more anxious? Less? What have you suggested? How does this response compare to other suggestions you’ve made?). This may seem like a simple suggestion, but often we do one of two things: 1) push children too far and exacerbate their anxieties or 2) become their crutch. I think most would agree that you want to land somewhere in the middle, and in order to do so, you have to be sure you are validating their emotions while not promoting complacency.

Also —and this is a question I ask all of my students —ask your child what makes learning difficult for them. Hint: 80% of high school students cannot answer this question. Most of them don’t know why they even receive services. Leading them a little in the beginning is okay (e.g. Do you have difficulty with paying attention? Do you have difficulty understanding what the teacher wants you to do?). Giving your child insight into their disability does not upset them, it empowers them and it allows them to become a better advocate for themselves. You are not going to alleviate their anxieties, but you can give them the tools to overcome them.

In your experience what as the best adaptations for a high functioning child with autism, add, anxiety and ODD?

This is challenging because it really depends on the environment (e.g. home, school, social settings) and which behavior we are talking about (ODD is going to look a lot different than ADHD and the function of the behavior – or what is motivating them – will vary). One recommendation that I could make that will transcend across settings and diagnoses would be to not challenge or engage with maladaptive behaviors. Do not feed into tantrums or outbursts (unless of course someone’s safety is in danger), and try your best to deescalate the situation by keeping a calm tone and walking/turning away for a few minutes. Redirect your child to the preferred task by providing them with choice, and if they need, set timers to let them know when they will need to proceed. Example: They don’t want to do their homework. Once deescalated from any type of tantrum or outburst say, “I know this isn’t something you want to do, but I’ll give you a choice, you’re in charge – do you want to relax for a few minutes first or start right away and relax after? Great. We can watch tv for 5, 7 or 10 minutes, you’re choice, then we can start. I’ll even set a timer to remind us. Then, when you’re ready to start, give them more options for what subject they want to start with. Your child, and the gravity of their resistance is going to dictate how you need to implement this, but the bottom line is that they need to feel like they have regained a little control, while ultimately your desired outcome is still the end result.

How do you get the school to provide services for your child when the focus is on ‘failing’ children?

First of all, I am SO sorry that this has been your experience. Working in a school myself, I can unfortunately say that not all case managers do their job to the fullest extent. I can shed some light on how services are given to students, and some key ways you can make sure your child is getting everything they are entitled to. As a case manager, we have to be extremely mindful of giving services and accommodations to students who otherwise would not be able to sustain academically without them. This is probably the biggest misconception from parents because often, they request services that sure, may be easier for their child, but there is no demonstrated need. If your student is NOT currently receiving special education and related services, it is as simple as this —write a letter to the school’s Child Study Team and request that your child be tested. They are, BY LAW, obligated to at the very least, conduct a meeting to discuss your child’s academic needs or weaknesses to see if testing is warranted.

If your child is already classified, contact their Child Study Team and request a meeting. It is within your rights to do so and the team is obligated to meet. When discussing services for your child, be mindful of the necessity to sustain and more importantly, whether or not there is educational impact. For example: Most children would benefit from counseling of some sort, however, is there a social or emotional issue that is negatively impacting them at school? If not, then they are not a candidate for IEP driven counseling services (although, my door is open to all and often times, I see my students much more than their IEP mandates). This is just something to bear in mind when you are requesting services so that you have a better understanding as to what your child is legally entitled to. If there is a discrepancy in opinion —ask for the data! There should be some record to assist case managers in making these decisions and you should not be afraid to ask for details of how they come to make their decisions. You are their parent and just like your child, you have rights.


Books: The Whole Brain Child, The Behavior Code, Social Thinking and ME, We Thinkers! Superflex

Facebook Group: Raising Kids with a Growth Mindset– You need to join the group of parents all aiming to teach their children with a Growth Mindset.  It is a really supportive group where parents and professionals often talk about raising children who are exceptional, dealing with anxiety, and supporting each other!





School Readiness: How Can We Help PLAY a Role in Our Childrens’ Success

In beginning a new school year we want to help our little ones adjust and succeed, whether they are starting at a new school, or returning to a familiar classroom.

WHAT SKILLS DOES YOUR CHILD NEED TO RECEIVE THE MOST BENEFITS SOCIALLY AND ACADEMICALLY WHEN BEGINNING SCHOOL?  In writing this post I interviewed a local teacher to ask what she views as the most important skills for children entering kindergarten.  Her response included academic skills, but in addition focused on social-emotional skills as well.

We can think of our children’s minds as buckets we want to fill.  In order to fill their buckets and increase confidence and enjoyment of learning we need to “plug the foundational holes” in their buckets.  Having solid skills prior to beginning school enables our children to regulate, learn, and thrive.

Some pre-academic skills to consider included:

Number Recognition

Letter Recognition

Letter Sounds and Blends

Simple Sight Words

Following 1-3 Step Simple Directions

Zipping a Coat

Some Social Emotional skills to consider included:


Taking Turns

Learning to Raise Your Hand in a Group

Actively Listening while Someone Else is Speaking




Taking Turns Speaking

Sitting in a Spot for an Extended Period of Time

 Children’s Academic Skills are impacted by their Social Competencies and vice versa.

For Example: Being able to sit and attend impacts your ability to remember and integrate concepts; identifying one’s own emotions and the emotional cues of others impacts: picking up on teacher’s non-verbal cues for following directions, and managing peer relationships; and linking actions with thoughts and emotions impacts reading comprehension and personal narrative development.

Children who have difficulty interpreting social situations may have underlying lagging skills such as: comprehending the new information or situation, organizing the information into the desired response, retrieving language to express that response.

The Focus Point: So how can we help our children connect? 

How Can We Help Our Children Connect Using Emotional & Logic Learning

  • Learning Through Play: Engage in pretend play, use emotional vocabulary, incorporate numbers, incorporate letters, BUT in a way that involves engaging higher level thought processes
    • Ex: Playing Kitchen “I really want this food…but I forgot the name! It starts with an E…it has a shell….,etc.”
    • This engages children in Big Picture Thinking: Pulling Salient Detail Together
    • It also targets sound awareness
    • AND/OR “I want more than three eggs…but less than four…how would that look?”

Another Tool is Using Real Time Situations and Play Based Learning: Ex: “Mom, Can I have a juice?”, “Why do you need a juice?”

  • Teaching Reasoning, Expressing/Identifying Emotions, and Advocacy.
  • Taking pictures on family outings and placing them on a table, but out of order. Have your child arrange the photos in order, and tell you the sequence of events.
  • Shared Reading: Acting out scenes in a book, mimicking character emotion, having them predict the next part of the story (and act it out!)  *This practice has also been linked to increased comfort levels of public speaking.
  • Play pretend school: Have child sit for circle time, then you be the student.  Model HOW to sit and listen in play! Your child’s mind is typically great at generalizing play skills to learning skills (Albert Einstein knew this!)
  • MOVEMENT helps integrate the brain! Learn outside, learn through movement!
  • Go outside and HUNT for categories, hunt for objects that begin with ‘B’, or specific colors.
  • Turn Questions Around!
    • “Mom or Dad, why are the street lights red, yellow, and green?” ASK your child “Why do you think they are?” ENCOURAGE guessing, predictions, and any chances to develop and discuss logic!
    • In the morning go over the weather, and have your child pick their clothes.  Step outside quickly, and talk about whether it’s hot, cold, rainy, sunny, and what clothes go with certain weather.  (They may not match BUT they have engaged higher level thinking!)
  • Encourage story telling!  Have them repeat, pause, etc.
  • Play “What would you do?” games.  Give hypothetical situations or problems, and talk about what they would do.
  • Acknowledge and explain emotions physically and mentally, talk about what it looks like to listen!
  • Resources
    • Whole Body Listening Larry
    • The Whole-Brain Child
    • The Explosive Child

Finally, You Are Your Child’s Greatest Model

  • Talk about everything and anything! Talk about what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, what your child is doing, what you see, etc.
  • Your child is watching HOW you listen.  If you are multi-tasking, looking away, moving around, your child is going to observe that as actively listening.
  • Give them time to respond.  Children learn conversational rules from us! If we interrupt or rush, they model the same!  Show signs of actively listening (more obvious than usual): nodding, smiling, verbal acknowledgement, eye contact.
  • Teach Delayed Gratification (this skill is a very large indicator of future successes and persistence during education and in relationships.)
  • Teach Positive Self Talk: the things you tell your child about themselves, will begin to be how they see themselves.
  • Schedule mind wondering time into your routine!  Leave educational materials out, let them explore their interests in down time.