Gift Giving 101

As the saying goes, it’s better to give than receive. But not all kids would agree! Just as you want to instill a sense of giving back at this time of year, it’s also important to teach your children how to give to those close to them.

This helps your child understand that they have a role in the family. It helps build more independence and responsibility over time. And your child practices perspective taking, trying to understand what someone else would like and what is important to others.

There are many ways to get your child involved. Here’s a few:

  • Have kids help wrap or decorate gift tags. But don’t expect perfection! Let their creative side reign. Who cares if the bow doesn’t match or the card is shedding glitter! Enjoy it and they will too.
  • Have kids make homemade cards and gifts. Use easy crafts and keep the list manageable.
  • Create a checklist of people your child wants to give gifts to (and maybe encourage one or two that were forgotten!). Go to a dollar store and let your child pick out the gift for each person and then check them off the list. If they can help wrap the gifts, great, but if not, let them write their name or decorate the gift tag so they know who gets each present.
  • As your child gets older, have them use their own money (allowance or birthday money) to buy for some people on their list. This gives them a sense of responsibility and pride.
  • Remind your child of some of the rules of gift giving – don’t tell the recipients what the gift is before they open it, don’t announce what the gift costs, say “you’re welcome” or talk about why the gift was chosen for this person, and don’t expect a gift in return – giving is a selfless act and it’s ok to give without getting something back.
  • If your child has spent time, creative energy and possibly his/her own money on a gift, make sure there is time for recipients to give enough attention to opening the gift. Their attention, praise and gratitude will go a long way in reinforcing that it truly is better to give than receive!

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

Gift Getting 101

We’ve all gotten those gifts. The turkey salt shakers, the book you already read, the sweater circa 1970, the slippers that look like farm animals, the bright blue cordial glasses you’ll never use, the mini-donut maker when you’ve given up sugar.

The thing about getting a gift is that it’s not as straightforward as it seems. At times, we need to demonstrate excitement when we aren’t that excited in order not to hurt someone’s feelings. There’s other skills involved as well, like taking turns, saying thank you, paying attention to one gift before ripping into the next, watching other people open their gifts, not saying things like, “I really don’t need more dish towels.”

Imagine how hard all this is for a child who has trouble with attention, reading social cues, perspective taking and impulse control. Opening holiday gifts will go more smoothly if you put a few strategies in place and teach your Complex Learner some of the unspoken rules.

  • Explain to your child that everyone gets gifts they may not like but it’s important not to hurt the “givers” feelings. Role play what to do and say when your child gets a gift they either don’t care about, or don’t like very much.
  • If you can, arrange the order of presents from less interesting to most interesting so your child doesn’t open the first gift and get so involved with it he/she doesn’t want to open anything else.
  • Teach your child the way your family open gifts at different gatherings or times. Does everyone take turns at Grandmas, do kids go first all at once at your house, or is someone in charge of handing gifts out? Letting your child in on the “structure” of gift giving will help them understand what happens when and how he/she should behave.
  • If your child gets restless while other people open gifts give them a job like gathering all the wrapping paper in a trash bag or finding a present for the next person.
  • If opening gifts is a noisy affair at your house, you may want to let your child open a gift or two and then go to a quieter space to play or watch a movie.

Watch from year to year how your child manages getting gifts as his/her abilities and focus may change. You will learn where there’s potential for problems and what works well and be able to apply what you’ve learned the next time.

What have you learned that might work for other kids?

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

 

Sweet Dreams

You have heard this before. From doctors and therapists and articles in waiting room magazines. From mattress salesmen and your mother. It’s the cure all and the game changer.

That’s right – sleep!

And everything you’ve heard goes double for children with learning and attention issues. Sleep effects mood, organization, memory and attention – areas that Complex Learners already find challenging.

Therefore, it’s worth repeating at the holidays – sleep is key. Of course, there will be parties and activities that push bedtime back for the night, but as much as possible, try to stay with your regular sleep schedule. This is important for Complex Learners who will be facing increased sensory stimulation, excitement and changes in routines. If children are rested they have more resiliency to handle disappointments or situations that don’t go as planned. And with all the change in routine, having a bedtime schedule stay the same will actually feel comforting and safe to your child (despite the protests!).

Here’s a few general strategies you probably know, but keep them in mind during this busy time of year:

  • Exercise, exercise, exercise! Yes, you want to wear kids out so they will sleep – but more than that, children with sensory issues need that “heavy work” of movement to get their nervous systems regulated. If you see your child is restless at certain times of day, that may be a good time to introduce movement.
  • Unplug before bedtime. No screen time, watching television or even reading in bed. All these things may cause arousal, not sleep.
  • Use soothing sounds, music, and light. Experiment with different calming supports until you find ones that work for your child.
  • Weighted blankets can be helpful for some children. Lighter or warmer pajamas, different pillows and room temperature can make a difference as well.

And don’t forget about you! There’s a lot you are juggling, a million things to get done, and you’re going to need rest as much as anyone! So, my advice this holiday season? Get your sleep!

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

The Gift of Reading

Yes, the toys and video games and electronics are cool, but why not take advantage of the holidays and give your child a book? You could suggest a book you know your child will like to your relatives that ask every year what to get. Or create a tradition – perhaps giving your child a special hardcover book or a new book series every year. You can also give your child a book you’ll read to him/her – you’d be surprised how much even older kids like to be read to.

By combining that special feeling of holiday giving with books, you’re encouraging and supporting reading for your child. But of course, you don’t want it to feel like getting socks or underwear. You probably have a sense of what your child enjoys reading and learning about and may have some ideas in mind. There’s also a lot of “Best Of” lists at this time of year where you might find something new. Here’s a few to get you started:

 

Kirkus Review Best Middle Grade Books of 2016 by Category (ages 8-13)

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/best-of-2016/section/middle-grade/lists/

 

Kirkus Review Best Picture Books of 2016 by Category (ages 2-8)

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/best-of-2016/section/picture-books/lists/

 

GeekWrapped 100 Best Science Books for Kids

https://www.geekwrapped.com/science-books-for-kids

 

NPR’s Book Concierge Guide to 2016’s Great Reads for Kids

http://apps.npr.org/best-books-2016/#/tag/kids-books

 

New York Time’s Notable Children’s Books of 2016

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/books/review/notable-childrens-books-of-2016.html

 

New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2016

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/books/review/best-illustrated-books-of-2016.html

 

Publishers Weekly Holiday Gift Guide 2016: Don’t Forget the Kids

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/new-titles/childrens-announcements/article/71643-holiday-gift-guide-2016-don-t-forget-the-kids.html

 

Entertainment Weekly’s 12 Best Children’s Books for the Holidays

http://www.ew.com/article/2016/12/07/best-childrens-books-christmas-hanukkah-kwanzaa

 

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

 

Give Me a Break!

What’s better than a week or two off from school in the middle of the winter?!

Nothing! If you’re a kid. Maybe oral surgery if you’re a parent.

Because as excited as your child is to have time away from school, the magic of structure disappears. After a few days without it, any kid starts to get fidgety and bored, but for children with sensory and learning issues, the stakes are higher. Behavioral problems, anxiety, inattentiveness and frustration can resurface and/or intensify. Suddenly, what’s meant to be a relaxing time away from the routine becomes a lot of long and difficult days.

You want your child to have fun. You want a stress-free, memorable holiday vacation. So, how do you make sure your winter break doesn’t bring everyone to the breaking point?

The best way to deal with your child’s loss of structure during time off is to create a new one. Proactively plan the rhythms and routines that help support their needs. Lise Faulise, OT extraordinaire and Director of Research and Clinical Programs at The Wolf School, has the following tips:

  • Create some simple activities and structure your day with them. Keep daily routines as close to your child’s regular schedule as possible. Let your child know when activities will happen and for how long.
  • Include about an hour of time daily for activities that are interactive, not just passive. Watching a movie is passive. Doing puzzles, playing with modeling clay, role playing, finding objects in hidden picture books, are all interactive. This supports cognitive endurance. It doesn’t need to be school work, but it should require some kind of brain work to keep your child thinking and/or problem solving.
  • Create a safe play space for indoor active play that can meet sensory needs like jumping or climbing. Structure this into the day when your child needs to reenergize and focus.
  • Include time to wind down or put a pause on the day. Yoga, breathing exercises, mindful minutes, are all good options. Look for apps and YouTube videos for help.
  • Get outside! Nature is one of the best ways children (and adults!) can recharge and improve emotional and physical health. Even if your child resists, you can create a successful experience by dressing warmly, making the outing short and incorporating something motivating (seeing a cool bird or going with a friend).
  • Space out more social/stimulating activities such as family gathering, parties or playdates, across the week with home time for recharging in-between. Recognize the signs of overload and adjust the schedule accordingly!
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    Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

The 3 P’s

Get out your calendar, the holiday parties are coming. Office parties, family parties, neighborhood parties, school parties, friends from college parties, Boy Scout parties, Dance Class parties, and the list goes on.

Most people enjoy these gatherings, or even if they dread going they often have fun once they get there. One reason for this (besides the people and food and the adult beverages!) is that they actually know what to do. They understand and can follow through on the basic social experience of a party.

Imagine if you had to go to all these parties and you didn’t know how to behave? Children who have challenges with social skills may not understand what’s expected of them, or may not have the ability to engage in ways most of us take for granted. Something as simple as saying hello to the host or knowing how to answer a question can make parties difficult and create anxiety. Here’s where the 3 P’s can help:

  • Preview: Let your child know what to expect. Who will be at the party? What happens first? Will there be a meal? A kid’s table he/she will sit at? Is there a place kids will be able to go to play or a movie they will be watching? Is the party an hour long or 3 hours long? What happens when it’s time to go? The more your child has a sense of what will happen and when, the better prepared they will be to manage the situation.
  • Practice: Review with your child how to say hello and how to say thank you when leaving. Role play what to say if an adult asks “How’s school?” or “What have you been up to?” Talk about how to join the group of kids and see if your child will need your help. Practice what to say at the dinner table – maybe a few ways to start a conversation or how to say no to food he/she doesn’t like without offending the host.
  • Patience: There are a lot of social rules at parties your child has to negotiate. In addition, parties can be loud and overstimulating. Learning what to do and having the strategies to manage socially will take time. Check-in throughout the party to see if your child needs help and find him/her a quiet place they can use if it gets too overwhelming. Compliment what’s done well to help your child feel good about the experience and to reinforce what to do the next time.

How do you help your child at a holiday party?

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

What are you wearing?

It’s itchy.

I don’t like it.

It’s too tight.

It feels funny.

Sound familiar? Children with sensory issues often struggle with clothing. They hate tags, bumps in socks, sneakers tied too tightly, rough materials. Maybe they want to wear the same shirt all the time or mix and match clashing colors and patterns. If you find yourself arguing with your child about clothes on a regular basis, the stakes only get raised when it’s time to dress up for the holidays.

The thing about clothing is you have to pick your battles. So, here’s a few ideas:

  • Find clothing lines that cater to your child’s needs – no tags, no bumpy seams, and material that is soft to the touch.
  • If dressing for an event or photo is important to you, bring comfortable clothes that your child can change into as soon as the special activity is over.
  • Order clothes online and have your child try them on at home. You can easily return something and it’s better than struggling at the store.

Your child is unique and clothes are an expression of the person. Yes, there are times you may have to be clear about clothing boundaries (no pajamas at school unless it’s pajama day!) but whenever possible, let kids be comfortable. It will take some of the stress out of holiday activities and your child will literally, feel better.

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

The Gift of Giving

It’s the season of giving, but unfortunately, many children (and adults too) think of the holidays as the season of getting. It’s important to teach gratitude and instill a spirit of giving in your child – a lesson you hope to convey the whole year through. At the holidays, it’s especially important to find ways to balance all that getting with ways to give back.

The thing about helping others is it helps us too. For children with complex learning differences who struggle with low self-esteem, giving back to others is a way they can feel good about themselves. Instead of always being the ones who need help, they can use their talents and time to assist in the community or provide clothing or toys to families who don’t have as much. It’s also a way for children to engage in the world, think of themselves as a good citizen, and realize they can make a difference.

You can begin with a few simple activities, and then integrate more involved traditions into the holiday season. Here are a few examples:

  • Your child can make homemade cards or crafts for teachers, your postal worker, babysitters and relatives.
  • Start a holiday good deed jar. Put a quarter or a dime in the jar when anyone does something nice for someone else. Then after a few weeks, deliver the money to a local food bank or shelter.
  • Choose a child’s name off of a Giving Tree. Let your child purchase an item with his/her own allowance or birthday money and let them wrap the gift. Local hospitals, retailers and family shelters will accept gifts for the children they serve.
  • Help your child research charities and then request that one gift they receive this year is a donation to that charity. A “certificate” or card describing the donation can be wrapped for the child to open with the other gifts.
  • Volunteer as a family at a local nursing home, animal shelter or other organization.
  • Adopt a family through a children’s organization and have everyone in your family contribute to making your adopted family have the best holiday ever.

What are your favorite ways of teaching your child gratitude and giving back during the holidays?

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

Sugar Plum Scaries

It’s everywhere. School parties, friends’ houses, gifts from neighbors, special displays in all the stores. It’s there before, during and after the holidays. It makes you feel wonderful and then terrible. It’s your holiday frenemy.

Sweets.

During the holidays, you come into contact with more sugary goodies than any other time of year. Cookies, candies and special desserts go with the territory, and you may find yourself and your whole family indulging in ways you don’t normally do. So, what does this mean for my Complex Learner? Will he/she become more hyperactive, anxious, distracted, overwhelmed?

There is conflicting research on how sugar effects behavior, but for most kids, and especially Complex Learners, judging for themselves when they’ve had enough sweets is difficult. When overloaded with holiday treats children may be too full to eat healthy foods, experience stomach aches, have blood sugar surges and crashes, and find themselves craving other sugary foods. These things in turn have the potential to make kids feel tired and cranky.

You more than anyone sees how your child reacts to sugar, so given the abundance and indulgence at this time of year, take some time to think about how you want to manage all the sweets. It helps to have lots of healthy snacks and foods easily available. And talk to your child ahead of time about limits that they agree on as well.

What do you do to help your child handle all the treats available at this time of year?

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

Food Glorious Food

One of the most enjoyable parts of the holidays for many is the family dinner. Special foods, recipes handed down for generations, a beautiful table setting and a gigantic feast of food for the eyes, nose and stomach.

Lovely!

Unless your child is a picky eater. Or can’t sit still at the table. Or says “yuck” when Aunt Sally’s special Jell-O salad makes its way toward him/her.

As with many situations in the life of a Complex Learner, preparation is key. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Bring something you know your child likes and will eat – either a dish everyone can share, or if need be, the standard chicken nugget fare.
  • Let your child eat appetizers for dinner as a special holiday treat.
  • When the wiggles hit, your child can walk around the table passing rolls or taking dessert orders.
  • Teach your child polite ways to refuse food.
  • Agree on an amount of time your child needs to sit at the table and then let him/her get up and have some quiet time or watch a movie.
  • Don’t worry if you get a few raised eyebrows from grandparents or relatives you rarely see. You know your child best and need to choose your food struggles wisely – holidays are probably not the best time.

I’m sure you have a few stories from the holiday table! Feel free to share below or give us your tips for making the holiday meal enjoyable for all.

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.