Category Archives: mental wellness

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!





Summer Self-Care

Practicing self-care is filling your own cup.

It is important to remember that you cannot fill someone else’s cup without first filling your own.

Every time we fly the flight attendants provide a friendly reminder “Please put your oxygen mask on first.” In every day living how do we do this?

Is there enough time? Short answer…..yes.

Self-care can be as small as reading 10 pages of a book you’ve been wanting to read, walking past your favorite courtyard at work, treating yourself to a coffee, calling up a good friend.

In essence….reaching out.

Practicing self-care professionally and personally helps us to continue with our drive and focus. Thinking about what we need throughout our day (which is often different every day) helps us to become more self-aware reflective, and capable of regulating our emotions. What do you need before a big meeting? What do you need before going home to your family? It can be as simple as a 5 minute break listening to a favorite song, or even sitting in silence, reflecting on a powerfully positive memory.

Fill your cup throughout the day….all day.

Some days we need more brain breaks than others….

This is true for people of all ages.

We can teach our children self-care and self-reflection by teaching them things they can do or ask for to help fill their own cups. We can also provide verbal feedback that helps them fill their own cups.

  1. Have healthy snacks where they can reach. Helping them to understand that when they are feeling hungry or tired they can solve that feeling (in a healthy way) on their own.
  2. Children thrive on structure, but also need down time to help them to regulate their ever changing systems. Schedule unstructured down time. Have an impromptu dance party, act out a favorite book, paint, build a fort, share a book. Give them time to exercise their imagination.
  3. When your child has excess energy avoid telling them to stop, and give them strategies for calming down instead. Go for a walk or scooter ride, incorporate movement breaks into homework, have them help you carry things while at the store.
  4. Point out the positive! When your child tries something new, shares, or works through a problem help them fill their cup! Give them specific compliments, “You worked really hard and stuck with it to finish that puzzle!”, “You are so caring and thoughtful of others when you share.” Give them words that they can identify themselves as in their self talk and identity. “I am hard working, I am kind.”

Big picture: take time for self-care! The time you spend on yourself is your most important investment. Schedule 5-10 minutes 5 to 10 times a day to practice self-care, or take 30 minutes to yourself 2 times a day. The little moments that we allow ourselves to meet our needs, and fill our cups, result in a larger appreciation of ourselves, and a greater ability to help others.


Saying Yes to Saying No

“No” is not a negative word.

The word “no” from a very young age can be difficult to hear. Especially as children develop language as a form of communication, and realize the power it has. As adults we can get so excited that our children are talking, requesting, and commenting that we get caught up in the “yes” moment. We also, as human beings, would rather cultivate happiness in others than disappointment (and maybe a tantrum or two). Enter the “no” stigma. At work we may struggle to say no to a boss, out of concern that one “no” could change their perception of us for the rest of our career. At home we may struggle to say “No” to a child or partner out of fear of an argument. However, what if our negative perception of “no” is actually costing us? Over committing, unable to deliver, personal stress, professional stress…

“No” is not about taking away or losing….

“No” is about CREATING and RESPECTING boundaries.

Learning to accept the word “no” and setting boundaries from an early age helps build delayed gratification, problem solving, and the ability to ask for help. Social Emotional Competencies that are strong indicators for future career and relationship successes.

When you HEAR the word “No” how do you feel physically? How do you feel mentally? How do you feel emotionally?

When you SAY the word “No” how do you feel physically? How do you feel mentally? How do you feel emotionally?

Eliminating the negative emotions around “No” (if you have them) means changing your definition or perception of the word.

Using the word “no” means you are setting clear boundaries, you are saying “yes” to what you know you can do at your highest level, you are learning to delegate, you are learning to admit what you do not know, what you want to learn, you are helping a child learn realistic expectations.

You are being respectful of yourself and others.

Teaching children to accept and use “No” is important for their emotional and intellectual growth. It helps them manage relationships, accept direction, and increase their ability to stick with the things that may be difficult for them in order to receive the ultimate reward at the end. It is an element that leads them to develop perseverance and the ability to understand another person’s perspective. People have different thoughts and expectations. You will not always hear “Yes”. In fact, “Yes” will not always be best.

If you have a child who constantly uses “No”, start asking them “Why?” Then take it a step further. Ask them how they feel, how they are making others feel. Ask if there are any other options you could use to meet both of your expectations. Reflect on how often you tell them “No”. Is it all the time? Are we asking the child to be flexible when we are not? In certain instances “No” is not an option. In these cases it can be helpful to give children a choice of two things you want them to do, where either is acceptable. Not starting with “Do you want…”, but a statement “Should we put on your shoes first or your coat?” Practicing hearing “No” in play, as a problem solving game, can also be helpful. For example, painting with different colors and having your child request them. When they ask for orange you can say “No. We can’t use the orange today, but we could see if two colors make orange!” Then let your child mix the paint colors and take guesses! They are practicing hearing and accepting “No”, as well as learning logic!

Saying and hearing “No” is not about highlighting denial or negativity. Its acceptance represents positive growth. It encompasses the ability to set boundaries. It provides the opportunity to practice flexibility and perseverance in navigating road blocks to success. It is a valuable tool in cultivating respect in ourselves and others.



Freedoms of Choice

Learning to make decisions begins with learning to recognize and respond to provided choices.  As parents and mentors we can cultivate decision making skills, as well as leadership mentalities from a young age.

Confidence in your choices.

Trust in your decisions.

Learning that you are capable of making competent and successful choices results in FREEDOMS.  Freedom to explore new interests, freedom to solve new problems, freedom to grow through the uncomfortable and into successes. 

For young children, even toddlers, we can provide them with opportunities to make choices, while still providing parental or adult guidance.  This may require us to step out of our own comfort zones or add time into our routines (relinquishing control so that our children can exert some in a productive way).  We can lay out different clothing in the morning, and allow them to choose what they want to wear.  When we pack lunch we can lay different snacks out, and ask them which they would like to have.  If it’s family movie night allowing our children to select the movie, and explain WHY they think it’s the best choice for the FAMILY, not just for them.  With my older students, we work on decision making in accordance with time management.  We make a list of what needs to be done, but they can choose the order we complete the tasks.  We trial doing what is harder for us first, or starting with what is easy for us first.  We have a motto in our sessions that “the choice is yours…and the consequence is yours.”

As an adult, and with my older students I am a big fan of the 3 Cs.


Reflecting on our actions and decisions.  What was your Choice?  What was the Consequence?  How could and couldn’t you have Controlled it?  Journaling using these can be helpful for children or adults.  Would you make the same decision again for a similar problem OR are you thinking of another decision that you will use for a similar problem next time?  With children, you can talk about the 3 Cs right after they make a choice, whether that choice was expected (had a pretty good outcome) or unexpected (didn’t really work out as planned).

This kind of mapping or connection helps teach that making decisions is an important skill, but we also need to understand the outcomes, and take ownership of our actions.  How great that we as people get to own our actions!  It is a FREEDOM.  We have the opportunity to grow and learn from our consequences, failures, and successes!

As adults we model decision making skills for our childrenWe also model our reactions to our decisions.  Do we make excuses OR do we make connections and corrections?  Do we stress over every little choice OR do we model positive dialogue and self-trust?

We all need structure and guidance in all stages of life.  Moreover, teaching our next generation that there is time for choices, and that they are capable of great ones, helps light the minds of our next great leaders.   

Surfing the Mind

This Summer….Surf’s Up: Brain Beach


 They are a lot like waves.  They go in and out of your brain.  Some deliver you calmly to shore, and help you learn how to navigate the mental ocean a little more. While others shake you up in mother nature’s washing machine and spit you out with your bathing suit half off.  In short, thoughts have power, power to change your mood, change your relationships, change your health, and change your goals.  What it can be hard to recognize is that you have power over your thoughts.  When the emotional portion of your brain takes over and tells you it’s hopeless (thanks a lot Amygdala) it is hard to re-connect and logically manage your expectations.   Practicing certain mental habits can help with gaining re-connection to our logical or controlled thought processes.  One of these is through scheduled mindfulness practices.

For example, meditation.  (For those who are already SMH) you do not necessarily need a mantra, or even to sit still.  The idea is to draw focus inward, and calm the mind.  During meditation thoughts are bound to pop into your head.  In these cases, you accept them, and let them exit just as they entered (like a wave)! 

Believe it or not, there is a neurological reason you do your best thinking when you’re in the shower or right before bed.  You have reduced competing stimuli that your brain has to focus on.  This enables the parts of your brain that communicate for complex problem solving to increase your attention and ability to channel a very important human gift: INTUITION and mental flexibility. 

I have a current podcast that I love for this called: Mindfulness in 8 Weeks: 20 Minutes a Day Program

For children, I like to use the term “Brain Break”.  When one of my children or teens is really stuck we take time to let their mind “wander off”, and then we come back to the problem.  There’s no technology involved….maybe drawing, “fidgeting”, or movement.  We specifically discuss what may help our brain “wander” (ex: movement, coloring, music, jokes, etc.)  Before we return to the problem we check in on how we are feeling (ex: relaxed, calm, still fidgety, stuck).  Creative problem solving is often cultivated during times of boredom or “down time”.

Another child friendly tool is a great book called “What is a Thought? A Thought is A Lot” by Amy Kahofer and Jack Pransky

Schedule brain breaks for you and your family this summer.  Allowing ourselves to be bored enables our minds to return to flexibility and creativity.  Both are valuable tools for success. 

What’s on Your Mental Plate?

Diet is a popular topic no matter what age we are.  We are consistently being reminded to be mindful of what we and our families eat.  It’s important and we know it!

“You are what you eat.”

But you are also what you THINK. 

Do you ever feel run down?  Like you have no time for yourself, let alone for others? So what is on your mental plate?  Are you mindful of the activities that fill, challenge, reward, or deplete your brain on a daily and weekly basis?  How much work is too much work?  How little play is too little play?  What are you doing to positively feed your brain as well as your body? We are all individuals, with individual minds and bodies, that require individual diets.  As adults it is easy to say “I’m just too busy…..”, but what that actually means is “I am choosing to focus my time and energy elsewhere”.  Ask yourself: do you know exactly where, and how much?  An activity that can help with increasing this level of self-awareness is actually tracking where and how you spend your time.   Portioning out your mental plate.  ALL of it! Move over leafy greens……time to chew on some mental game changers.

Taking a simple planner and jotting down the activities during your day and the time they took can help you have that Aha! Moment where you realize it is possible to exercise for 30 minutes! You do have time to do something that brings you JOY.  You are spending way too much time in an area that doesn’t need it, or too little in an area that does! Take that opening that you can now SEE in your calendar (there you are 15 extra minutes!) and schedule that goal you have had on your mind!

Throughout the day we need time to let our brains experience emotional learning through those things that make us feel good!  Your time is your most valuable asset, and you can make choices to make the most of it!

I teach this concept of time awareness and “giving back to your brain” to my students.  I want them to know they can choose to reward themselves with time, rather than simply spending it.  I have used an actual paper plate and I have also used a wall clock and different colored dry erase markers to teach this skill.  The students portion out the time they think it will take to complete activities, the time they need for “brain breaks”, and the time they would want to themselves. These visuals help my students see how much of their time is spent in different areas.  When they visually see what they need to get done, and set a time goal, they are typically excited to find out they have more time for themselves at the end of a session!  A double win: intrinsic motivation and learning executive functioning and organizational skills!


Take a look at your mental plate and take time BACK for yourself.  Give your mind a healthy and BALANCED mental meal… deserve it!