Tag

child development

Why Kids Need to Outdoor Free Play

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

One of the best ways to make the most of your summer is to get outside and engage in lots of outdoor play. We live in a society where we tend to over-schedule ourselves and our children. Particularly during the school year, this makes it very difficult for children to get the amount of free play that they require. With this, I’m going to tell you five great reasons why you should throw away your schedule, put down the tablet, and get outside.

The first reason is probably the most obvious. Outdoor play provides great benefits to physical development. It improves motor coordination, strength, and balance, and it puts kids in an overall healthier position.

The next reason to play outside is that there are benefits for internal regulation. Not only does it make kids sleep better at night, but there is research to show that it aids attentional control and stress reduction. Being outdoors also provides kids with different sensory experiences – such as feeling the texture of sand and mud, or feeling the wind blow on your face – which will help to build children’s sensory tolerance.

The next reason to get outside is to improve cognitive development. Being outdoors provides a lot of opportunities to make observations, draw conclusions about things, see cause and effect, and be imaginative.

Next, playing outside aids emotional development. When we are over-scheduled, children do not have the opportunity to feel confident in their ability to step outside of their comfort zone or take risks. Experimenting and taking risks during outdoor play can help children understand that they have some control over what they can do within their environment, as well as begin to recognize boundaries.

Finally, the last reason to get outside is that it really bolsters social development. When there is no structure or there are no rules to follow, kids have to learn how to initiate their interactions, engage in conversation with each other, communicate, problem solve, and find ways to along, even when others have different ideas.

With all of the above benefits, outdoor free play is one of the best things you can give to your child. So as the weather is getting nicer and summer is fast approaching, if you are looking for something to do, sometimes it is best to just put down your schedule, get outside, and get dirty.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

The Holiday Blues Coupled with Covid

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

The holidays can be a time of great joy, but they can also be a time of great stress. Celebrations and merriment can be contrasted with pressure to amaze, long to-do lists, financial constraints or reminders of those we have lost. For many, it is a time of mixed emotions or strong internal conflict about why they cannot feel happy during a season that practically dictates it.

Holiday blues have been felt my many people for a long time, but now during a global pandemic, those feelings may be amplified and more prevalent than previous years. Families are trying to provide children with a positive holiday experience during a time of high stress and significant restriction. Family gatherings and holiday traditions are being cancelled, and many families are mourning the loss of loved ones. Adults are not the only ones feeling increased stress as we enter the holiday season. Children likely feel excited about the holiday but sad about not seeing family, not having holiday parties in school, and not being able to attend their traditional holiday events. This holiday season is simply different in ways that can bring great strain.

So, what can we do as adults to emotionally support children this holiday season? Do we allow them to observe our stress or do we keep it to ourselves in an effort to provide them with the happy holiday season that they deserve?

In June 2018, I wrote a blog post titled: “The Struggle is Not only Real, It is Necessary,” which discusses the importance of embracing uncomfortable, unwanted emotions as being necessary for personal growth and resiliency. By acknowledging, accepting and using unwanted feelings in a functional manner, we teach children to be competent and confident in their ability to navigate a stressful world. Of course, when I wrote the article, I could not have imagined the extent or duration of stress or discomfort that we would be facing in 2020. But does that change anything?

To put it simply, no, not really. Entering into the holidays with the expectation that we can protect our children from life’s stress is unrealistic. Attempting to do so will only add pressure while ignoring the mixed emotions that children are likely feeling as well. During this emotionally high-stakes time, acceptance of the struggles we face is even more critical. Adults and children both need “permission” to feel sad, frustrated, lonely or scared while also still allowing themselves to feel excited, thankful, and, yes, even joyful.

Here are some suggestions for how to help your family navigate the holiday blues this unique holiday season:

  • Talk about your feelings – wanted and unwanted ones – throughout the day, modeling and encouraging regular emotional discourse (e.g. “I love giving gifts, but getting all the shopping done is kind of stressful.”).
  • Help children label and interpret the emotions they may be having, as they may not have the right words or language for expressing them (e.g. “It sounds like you’re really disappointed we can’t go to Grandma’s house.”).
  • Be careful to not accidentally dismiss children’s feelings (e.g. “No need to be sad; we will find another fun way to celebrate.”), instead reflecting their emotion (e.g. “I know you’re sad that we can’t have a holiday party; I am, too.”).
  • Normalize the experience of mixed emotions (e.g. It’s okay to be excited for children while also feeling sad that we won’t see our family.).
  • Find new, safe holiday activities or events (e.g. holiday light drive, virtual gift exchange, etc.) and adapt previous traditions when able (e.g. virtual family gatherings).
  • Don’t romanticize the traditions that were lost this year (e.g. avoid such things as, “Our parties were always the most magical part of the holiday.”).
  • Help children understand new holiday plans as an opportunity to “celebrate” or “experience” the holiday, but be careful to not impose emotional expectations (e.g. “Enjoy the holidays!”) that can add pressure.
  • Reassure children that these changes are temporary, and traditions and visits will continue when it is safe to do so.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

Adapting Academic Accommodations for Return to Learning

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations, NESCA

As students with disabilities return to learning, the accommodations provided through their 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP) may no longer meet their needs within the structure and limitations of remote learning and/or return to school protocols. For example, when remote learning, teachers are not as readily available to provide “in the moment” redirection, check-ins for understanding or modifications to the presentation or length of assignments. When at school, many students are at the same desk all day, for academics, “specials,” snack and lunch, meaning teachers have to identify new ways to provide movement and sensory breaks while maintaining social distancing. For hybrid learners, teachers have to consider how to provide structure and predictability in the face of frequent transition and increased demands on independent work.

Within all return to learning plans, parents and school teams are having to be more creative than ever before, working to quickly and flexibly identify and implement new accommodations to address a range of new challenges. While this is new territory for all, there is fortunately an increasing number of online resources to aid this process, some of which are listed below. Foundational to the success of any COVID-era accommodations plan will be the team’s ability to regularly assess its feasibility and effectiveness, engage in open communication between home and school, and steadfastly and flexibly adapt the accommodation plan as individual needs and/or school instructional plans change.

See the following websites for information about how to implement accommodations during COVID-19:

In IEP Accommodations During Distance Learning, Amanda Morin of www.understood.org presents a list of many standard accommodations for presentation of information, assignment completion and daily management/organization, with ways to adapt each for remote instruction, giving specific consideration of available tools within Microsoft and Google suites.

Socially Distant Sensory and Movement Break Ideas by Katie McKenna, M.S., ORT/L, of The Autism Helper provides a range of creative solutions for meeting regulation needs for a wide range of students.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) eLearning Coalition website provides webinars and a host of information regarding the development and implementation of accessible educational materials during remote learning.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

“Can I Hug You?” – Why the pandemic has us craving closeness

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

At the end of a testing session last week, my young client and I stood looking at each other through the large glass window of our contactless, adjoined testing rooms. Our hands were newly washed; the fresh scent of antibacterial wipes emitted from the tables; and our face coverings were in place. And while looking at one another from our respective bubbles, inside this necessarily sterile setting, my client looked me in the eye and asked: “Can I hug you?”

The question hung in the air for a moment. In the 15 years that I have worked with children, I have rarely hesitated when a child asks me this. But there we were, mid-pandemic, in this brief, perhaps imperceptible, moment of uncertainty.

One thing I have become keenly aware of since starting to see family and friends for socially distanced visits is how much I, and my children, have to consciously fight the physical urge to embrace the people we love. The urge is palpable. But where does this come from?

There is a great body of research demonstrating the importance of physical touch, particularly hugging. Hugs are not just a simply a way of demonstrating your love or support for someone, but hugging actually causes physiological changes within the body. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, reduce, and the nervous system slows down. Oxytocin – a hormone integral to bonding – is released, increasing closeness and affection. Over time, close physical contact results in improved brain development, heart health, emotional health, relationship patterns and immune function.

In many ways, physical touch is a basic human need that must be met. Individuals who are deprived of these experiences, particularly early in life, can experience detrimental effects. Fortunately, some of these effects can be mitigated once opportunities for closeness are offered. As such, our bodies and brains never fully give up on the urge for closeness, even after long durations of it being unmet. And this urge has a name – skin hunger.

Most people have felt skin hunger at some point – a driving urge for human contact and connection. This may come after a particularly stressful day at work, an argument with a friend or just a general feeling of loneliness. In times of uncertainty, distress or instability, the human need for closeness increases. And yet, for so many who are enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, closeness is the exact thing that they are being deprived of. Even when we are lucky enough to still have access to our families, or perhaps a small group of close friends, our emotional needs are high. Physiologically, psychologically, we need more hugs.

The good news is, there are things that you can do to meet this need:

  • Consciously make an effort to hug those you can, and do it more often than typical.
  • Snuggle up with your dog, your cat or other pet of choice.
  • For those who live alone and do not have pets, a weighted blanket, warm bath or hugging a pillow can simulate the effects of human touch.
  • Maintain social connection through video chat, phone calls and socially distanced visits. Interpersonal contact without hugging is better than no contact.
  • Be careful to not accidentally over-associate hugs or touch with danger. Coronavirus will eventually be managed, but training our children to fear closeness could have enduring, negative effects. Choose words wisely, teaching pragmatic, unemotional caution, not fear.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

Why “Find something to do” Doesn’t Work – Teaching Independent Play Skills during Quarantine

By | NESCA Notes 2020

 

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

Nowadays, children’s schedules tend to be highly regimented. For many, free play has been replaced by extracurricular activities, sports and planned playdates. Recess hours have also been reduced in favor of structured learning activities. The reduction in free play throughout the day can delay or interfere with the development of independent play and time management skills. Unfortunately, with schools and childcare centers now closed, our children may not know how to use all of the extra time they now have.

I have two young children – a preschooler who is generally an expert at independent play, and a first grader who needs a lot of structure, support and attention to fill his time. Unfortunately, with much of our attention turning toward working from home and remote learning, even my formerly-skilled independent player is now overwhelmed with the amount of unstructured time he has, resulting in some new and not-so-fun attention-seeking behaviors.

Sound familiar? I am guessing this is the experience many families are facing. Both parents and children are trying to navigate life without any clear time boundaries (What day is it, anyway??), and this is stressful. When kids are stressed, they look to their caregiver to help them regulate – “attention seeking” behavior is their way of saying “I’m stressed out and don’t know what to do with myself – help!” The question is, how do we help them play independently (buying us time to get things done) while still supporting their emotional needs?

The experience of navigating the stress of unstructured time and teaching independent play is addressed in Kate Rope’s recent New York Times article titled “Now’s a Good Time to Teach Your Kids to Play on Their Own.” In the article, Rope discusses ways to embrace this new opportunity to teach independent play – a skill that encourages time management, executive function and self-regulation skills. Some of the strategies she outlines are similar to those that we have attempted at my house in the past few weeks. Here are some that have worked for us:

  • Get outside: My kids’ capacity to play on their own is markedly better when outdoors. Allow them to dig in the dirt, explore the woods (with supervision), build a fort and roll down the hill. This will not only keep them occupied, but the physical activity and fresh air will make them better-focused once inside.
  • Make an activities menu: Kids often have so many toys that they do not know what to pick. Slightly structure “free choice” by making a single-page picture “menu” of activities, reducing the amount of time they aimlessly roam around looking for something to do.
  • Start in their play: Children often do not know how to get started. After they pick an activity, say “I have 15 minutes to play,” set a timer, and give them your undivided attention. Comment on what they do and encourage their imagination, rather than making up the play for them. When the timer beeps, say you had fun playing but need to go do something. Hopefully, your child will continue their play without you.
  • Show your interest: Saying “find something to do” is way too vague and not particularly helpful (I’m very guilty of this). Instead, give a “challenge” and convey your interest in it. For example, say “Why don’t you go get the blocks and build the tallest tower you can. Come get me when you’re ready for me to see it. I can’t wait!”
  • Set up new ways to use toys: The same old toys can get boring, so mix things up a bit. Find a spare storage bin, bucket or large container. Each day create a new, multisensory “set-up” for some toys. For example, construction trucks can dig in dried beans; baby dolls can take a bath in soapy water; dinosaurs can play in water beads; or kids can build fine motor skills by just cutting up a bin of scrap paper.
  • Be patient and loosen up: Let your kids guide the play, take some risks and make mistakes. The more you guide them, the more they will need you later. Also, messy kids are happy kids. Use messy activities as a way to teach daily living and self-care skills (e.g. how to use the broom to sweep up beans; how to get mud out of your finger nails; etc.).
  • Make remote learning fun: The more fun your child has with you during instruction, the less attention they will seek from you later. Find way to use your child’s interests to aid teaching. For example, we used my son’s love of hockey to reinforce long A spelling skills – hit the puck into one net if the word was spelled with /ai/ and another for those with /ay/. Because he viewed this as special one-on-one time, he was able to continue playing hockey by himself afterward.

Finding the balance between providing support and teaching independence is not an easy one, but these are some ways to start. If you need guidance on how to create structure and manage your child’s needs at home, NESCA has providers available for remote consultations. Email info@nesca-newton.com for more information.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.