My Levels of Like: Breaking Rigid Thinking & Encouraging Problem Solving

Let’s be honest, all of us have used “I hate…” before.  We have all become so stuck in a specific mindset about an activity, person, problem, that we cannot see it any other way.  It’s black or white and it’s never going to change.  The issue with this is it stifles our ability to make positive change, seek support, or set a boundary.  One tool I was introduced to via Social Thinking is the “Level of Like Scale”.  It has become one of my favorite tools in working with clients who present difficulties with flexible thinking, social cognition, and executive functioning.  Moreover, it has also become a tool I utilize for myself, and once my daughter is older, I will utilize as a parent.

I recently had a client who insisted to me that they hated ALL MATH.  Which is why they were bored and decided to “opt out” their attention. Now, there’s multiple issues with this, some of which are now embedded in our culture.  In a changing social world where everything is instant gratification or entertainment boredom has practically become extinct!  Working through things (or a bored moment) has almost become irrelevant.  Why spend time researching online or in a book when you can simply ask Alexa?  Who is guilty of scrolling through their phones while “watching” a show or movie?  Our minds literally have whatever distraction they want AT THEIR FINGER TIPS. So, we are in a time where it’s becoming increasingly important to TEACH bored moments, problem solving, and flexible mindset.

When my client said they hated all Math I knew it was a great opportunity to work with “The Levels of Like”.  We laid the cards out in a line from “Hate It…Really Dislike It…Dislike It…Like It…Really Like It…Love It”.  Before broaching the topic of Math, I wanted to direct them to the variations of these levels.  So, we started with foods.  At first, they either hated or loved them, and nothing in between.  But, with discussion about which foods they could eat all day, which foods they could tolerate, which foods might make them vomit (for me Jello!)  We worked out how most things in life fall on a scale, and it’s pretty much never fixed!

Levels

Next, we got into it. MATH.  However, we used Math as the UMBRELLA CONCEPT!  Math is a subject that can be broken into many components. For example, using a calculator is a PART of Math.  We found out that my client actually “liked” using a calculator.  They also “really liked” manipulatives in Math.  They really disliked “math lecture” and “math word problems”.  The greatest thing about this information was that it gave us VALUABLE information into the client’s learning style and struggles.  So now instead of just trying to help them work through not “hating math” we could target tangible areas.  Making math lectures more interactive for them.  Finding appropriate times where calculators could be used. Requesting help from a teacher or peer or requesting more time with manipulatives.  Targeting how to best work through word problems.  In short, IT OPENS DOORS IN THE MIND TO SOLVING PROBLEMS RATHER THAN LIVING IN THEM!  

As an adult I have used the scale as a reflection tool for:

  1. Partner communication styles
  2. Household Chores
  3. Parenting Boundaries
  4. Household Schedules/ To Do Lists 
  5. Expectations of Myself and Others 
  6. Work and Home Relationships 
  7. Self-Care Strategies 

For example, if I am consistently thinking I feel overwhelmed by household chores.  How can I break this down?  Which do I “hate”? “Which do I “like”?  Where could I find support?  Which could I “let go” of every now and again?  What invokes balance within me in this area?  What are some potential solutions or strategies I could attempt?

Finding fault on external factors consistently only robs me of the opportunities to grow.  If I can’t look within myself or REACH OUT to try to find balance, resilience, or solutions I am really only limiting opportunities and remaining FIXED…in a mindset…that keeps me bored and unhappy.  I would personally rather live elsewhere.

Where can you practice your levels?  Where can you teach them as well?

CREATING A “PODCAST” TO CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEARNING: BOOST SOCIAL COMPETENCIES, PUBLIC SPEAKING SKILLS, NARRATIVE SKILLS, AND MORE!

(Activity Inspired by Social Thinking Methodology)

Welcome! Thanks for tuning in! 

I have used a podcast project with individuals that focuses on social language competencies that can be a struggle to understand and implement in day to day rapid conversational exchanges.  In working with individuals, I try to notice their different strengths, like visual memory. In addition, if they greatly enjoy talking on specific topics, or movement activities!  You could do this with your own child to help build narrative skills as well!  It’s an especially fun activity to boost public speaking skills, sequencing skills, recall, and more!  A great time to do it may be after a vacation, before sitting down to write a research paper or opinion piece, you name it you can use it!   

The result…..lots of motivation, interest, and self-reflection! 

Engaging in a conversation is not as simple as just talking. If you reflect upon your own experiences throughout the day, the conversation is actually the end product of a lot of other events that take place.  You must know when and how to approach someone, you must present yourself as a listener and a speaker, you must pull up information you know about that person, in order to generate questions that show them you are interested in them! All while organizing thoughts that add to the specific topic you’re discussing!  

Also, don’t forget that we need to recognize and interpret non-verbal cues to gauge our partner’s emotional state all while making sure we regulate our own! 

It is not just a mouthful…..

Some individuals can be very eager to engage in social exchanges but become deterred when they do not go the way they had hoped.  OR you may have a child that struggles to sit down and WRITE a paper, but would benefit from a FUN way to organize and PLAY BACK their thoughts before writing it out! 

So…. practice makes…..Podcast!

I went out and purchased a Snowball Microphoneon Amazon and I use Garage Band on a Mac Laptop to record.  (You could just as easily use a recorder OR a cell phone with a fake microphone).  I like the sound quality on these microphones, which is important, because we use the audio feedback to work on tone of voice, volume, and response timing! I like to start with topics that interest my clients and used a script they developed for the first “show” (the script is for a “partner” podcast that includes TWO people).  The really magical part about this project is that, over time, individuals began to ask to play back the podcast and point out when they took too long to respond (we explain that they will “lose listeners”if they take too long…so maintaining attention is important).  They will also note when they have gone “off topic” (we use the term “static”for this and explain how they will confuse and lose listeners).  Lastly, if you have a visual learner, they can use the sound waves you can see on Garageband to recognize when their voice is too loud, too soft, or doesn’t sound “interested” (less intonation).  

During this activity I have noticed participants are less likely to view their difficulties as negatives, but rather as “goals” to improving their interactions with their podcast listeners! It’s an easy and fun way to observe oneself and organize your thoughts!  Gaining self-awareness through self-reflection and the understanding of how your behaviors and responses affect others is key in developing understanding, courage, and confidence! 

I leave you with one final note: Are you tuned in today?

Signing Off! 

What’s On Your Mental Plate

What’s On YOUR Mental Plate 

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!

They say “You are what you eat.”

But you are really 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 this can means is “I am choosing to focus my time and energy elsewhere”.  Do you know exactly where, and how much time you are spending your energy?  An activity that can help with increasing this level of self-awareness is actually physically tracking where and how you spend your time each day.   Portioning out your mental plate.  ALL of it! Move over leafy greens……time to chew on some mental game changers.

Taking a simple planner jot down the activities during your day and the amount of time they take. Visually seeing openings, or fluff (40 minutes scrolling social media), can help you achieve that Aha! Moment where you can begin to realize it is possible to include valuable and INTENTIONAL time for yourself!  You do have time to do one that brings you JOY.  Maybe you can discover an area that is taking up LOTS of time, and brainstorm strategies to decrease it.  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!  It can be as simple as making a tea, and visualizing how to organize a section of your home or life in order to reduce stress. Maybe it’s a five-minute journal activity or a 10-minute workout.  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, through self-awareness exercises, to make the most of it!

I teach this concept of time awareness and “giving back to your brain” to my students and clients, from activities I have learned in Social Thinking©.  I want them to know they can choose to reward themselves with time, rather than simply passing it.  I have 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 using the different colored markers.  You can also purchase a Time Timer for yourself or child, and set the timer to the amount decided to complete the activity, or for a break.  These visuals help my students and clients 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 few skill sets are strengthened: intrinsic motivation, self-awareness, executive functioning and, organizational skills!

What are your Thinking Habits? 5 Ways to Grow Resilience and Growth Mindset

I recently completed a continuing education course targeting supporting children and their parents through mindfulness techniques in speech therapy, and at home.  I am going to be honest.  THIS WORK WILL BENEFIT ANY PERSON!

Dr. Carol Diveck, a leading researcher in the fields of personality and social psychology “suggests that children can develop a “growth mindset” through learning that successes take effort, mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow, and that this mindset encourages children to seek out new challenges.” ALSO, you can cultivate a growth mindset at ANY age!  Research shows that resilience doesn’t come from rare or special qualities, but from everyday magic of ordinary, normative human resources.  This suggests that resilience is a common phenomenon!  These skills can be learned by anyone! Moreover, thanks to mirror neurons (what wires babies’ brains to imitate your faces, etc.) YOU as a parent can model these skills for your child!  

Research indicates that people who are resilient are more likely to be healthier, live longer, be more successful at school and in their careers, feel happier in relationships, and be prone to less depression (Reivich & Shatte, 2002).  Moreover, SELF-COMPASSION bears a greater impact on resilience than self-esteem does!  In short let’s show our children, and ourselves some SERIOUS self-love!  

Here are five simple ways to encourage self-compassion, growth mindset, and positive self-talk! 

  1. Reframe “mistakes”:  If you see your child make a mistake, CELEBRATE IT! “Yes! A mistake!  This gives us a chance to practice problem solving and having a flexible brain!  It’s THE TRUTH!  Mistakes are learning opportunities; they are not something you need to “correct”; they are an opportunity!  
  2. Positive Outcomes Tower: take some building blocks and have your child stack the positive moments in their day!  It doesn’t matter what they are!  Do this before they start their homework, or before bed!  It’s a visual way to shift mindset, and practice gratitude as well! Build your own tower next to theirs, let them see you practice positive self-talk and reflection as well! 
  3. Blow bubbles with your child.  If they have had a hard day have them place a negative thought on the bubble, and then POP it!  
  4. At dinner take time to openly talk about one thing you “failed” at today, and one thing you “succeeded” at.  Ask for help on how you could maybe succeed another day with the thing that you failed at. Modeling asking for help with your child as a social competency that will serve them very well in the future! 
  5. Compliment YOURSELF and your child when you catch each of you working through something that is difficult.  It really isn’t about succeeding immediately, it’s about acknowledging the WORK! 

Visual Schedules Can Benefit the Whole Family and the Whole Child

Visual Schedules Can Benefit the Whole Family and the Whole Child 

When working with children I am a HUGE fan of a group plan and using visual aids and schedules to help them anticipate what the sessions will look like, as well as my expectations and what they can expect!  These tools can be SO beneficial in the home as well.  Children benefit tremendously from structure (which we know!) When they have a routine that they are comfortable in they are typically more regulated and generally happier!  BUT, life cannot always be structured exactly the same day in and day out.  However, we can help children find structure in the unstructured.

visual schedule
  1.  Adapted Calendars can help front load (give children information ahead of time).  Front loading can help reduce anxiety, encourage discussions of plans/gaining information, boost pre-academic/planner skills, and encourage organizational skills!  
  2. Create a family calendar using visual aids (especially for non-readers).  I personally prefer actual photos of family members/places.  I ordered this calendar on Amazon, and then adapted it with velcro and family photos!  
  3. Each night make it a family routine to “update” your calendar.  It could be as simple as School, home with Dad, Play, Homework, etc.  Make it as involved or simple as what benefits your child.  Maybe you have a child that struggles with keeping organized.  Ex: place a backpack symbol on the calendar at the end of each day to signify they need to go through their backpack.  
  4. If you have a child that needs to practice speech sounds for articulation homework put it on the calendar as 5 minutes of practice!  You don’t need anymore than that.  
  5. If you know there is going to be a big change in routine the next day go over that on the calendar with your child.  Talk about where you’re going, what you will need, what you may be able to look forward to, maybe a special treat at the end!  Make it your own! 

***Remember your child may not be super willing to engage in this activity at first, but keep at it!! Establishing new routines can be hard, but this is one that will definitely benefit them in the long run!  And maybe just maybe it will help you experience more calm and less meltdowns! 


Eggcellent Social, Emotional, & Language Practice

We are all a carton full of emotions…but none of them need to break us.

Here are 5 ways to use emoji eggs(link on Amazon) this Spring to build emotional vocabulary, practice self-regulation skills, increase receptive and expressive language concepts, encourage “thinking of others” mindsets, read nonverbal social cues, and more! 

  1. 2-5 years old is a prime time for developing understand of spatial concepts (ex: in, on, behind, under, on top, etc.)  Take the emoji eggs and hide them around the house.  Give your little one clues to where they may be using spatial vocabulary! “It’s under the chair.”  Help them find the eggs by crawling or creeping to work on core strength and muscle coordination.  Get extra fun and use toilet paper rolls to make binoculars beforehand!  
  2. Put the word for the emotional expression inside each egg.  Have your child make a guess and let them know you love how they’re “thinking with their eyes” to guess which emotion it is!  After they guess have them “crack” the egg over a mixing bowl to see the answer.  Then act out the emotion using tone of voice, facial expressions, and exaggerated body movements!  Remember emotions are felt throughout our entire body!  It’s important for children to be aware of which physical sensations go with emotions to help with learning how to calm down if needed! 
  3. Play music, and put the eggs in a bag.  Have your child reach in and pick an emotion.  Then act it out until the music stops!  Finally, practice using deep belly breaths to re-regulate before the next emotional dance-off! 
  4. Take the emoji eggs and inside each one write “I feel….when” (ex: I feel silly when).  “Crack” the egg over a pan and read answer!  “I feel happy when I play with you!” Cook up the egg in the pan, and move onto the next one! 
  5. Emotional Charades!  Put the eggs in a bag and take turns picking.  Act out the emotion to a teammate and have them try to guess how you are feeling! Added fun if you can then match a thought to that feeling, or give a strategy for expressing it, or for calming down!  

BONUS: Put the emoji egg in your child’s lunchbox with a note inside! “I feel excited when I get to see you after school!”  This is fun and is a great way to model how we can “think of others” and do kind things for them even when we are away! 

Attention Attention

What does it mean to “PAY ATTENTION”? What does it mean to give your “FULL attention”?  Attention is a complex skill for children and adults alike.  We live in a distracting world.  For some children and adults attention is a strength.  It is easy to TUNE IN.

Attention Skills

Their bodies and minds are equipped to lock down and focus in.  There are children who observe what it means to pay attention from watching others and recognizing the patterns of what it looks like to attend in a group. For these students, parents and teachers are able to clap their hands, mime for quiet, flick the lights on and off, or simply say “pay attention”; and immediately their mind’s mode switches from play to lesson plan.

But what about those who struggle to understand and activate this umbrella concept of attention?  

Attending is not a one-step wonder skill.  It is a mind-body process that can be hard to manage at times.  Especially, when learning in new environments, or if you are not as apt at observing through others. As parents and educators, it is important for our children’s future to look past what we may see as frustrating behavior, and instead view attention as a skill we want to help our children thrive in!I will often have clients I work with who will say to me “I am paying attention” strictly because they are sitting at the table.  However, they are not retaining information, frequently forgetting directions, having trouble answering questions, and are constantly in trouble for fidgeting.   They are often reprimanded in classes, but don’t appear to quite understand what it was they did or didn’t do.  We are trying to teach our plans and our materials. We are teaching the information that needs to be learned….but what if  there is a missing link in the chain. 

We may need to teach HOW to attend. What does it look like? What does it feel like? 

In my practice with my younger clients I was inspired through Social Thinkingâto utilize a wonderful program called Whole Body Listening.  These lessons break down “attention” into concrete pieces that children can physically and mentally focus on and self-monitor.  In the lessons children are taught to listen with much more than their ears, and also HOW they listen with various body parts.  Attention as a Whole Body Process. For example, listening with your eyes by looking at the speaker, listening with your brain by thinking about what is being said, listening with your mouth by being quiet, listening with your hands, body, and legs by keeping them still, and listening with your heart by thinking about others’ feelings in the group.

In short, what do our bodies look like when we are paying attention?  How do others feel when we give them our attention?  What part of our attention system do we need to redirect so that we can get the big picture? 

An activity I will use in my sessions involves just a lump of play dough.  The client and I will leave it on the desk.  We will talk about the play dough being our bodies, and when we notice that one of us is not listening with a body-part we will take a tiny piece of play dough and drop in on the floor, or move it away from the larger piece of playdough.  I usually say something like “Oh no there go my eyes! I wasn’t looking at the game! So I missed my turn!”  I then put my eyes back on what we are doing or on the student and ask if I am listening with my eyes now.  When they identify that yes, I am, they put the playdough piece back on.  It’s important to me that the client realizes that everyone loses attention now and then, even adults! It is also important to model attention.  Even simple responses like “mmhmm” or nodding and “ok” with your body turned toward a speaker while looking at them.  These are signals that we care!

If we are adults struggling with maintaining balanced attention we may need to revisit a similar lesson by practicing self-awareness.

In working with my younger clients on attention I began to notice for the amount of times I say “Ugh I didn’t remember that” I should have actually said “Ugh I didn’t attend to that.”

When I think about the times I struggle with memory, I can usually link it to attention.  I began to take a little self-reflection inventory of my own attention on instances where I would experience “forgetfulness”.  In 90% of those instances I could identify how I was functioning on split attention or even split-split-split attention (Hi adulthood, so nice to meet you!) in that moment.  “I forgot my keys”, turned into, “I decided I needed to put on a very specific podcast, kiss my daughter goodbye, and oh no I forgot my lunch!”

I was surely not attending with my whole body.  The thought of keys flashed before me, but was quickly overtaken by other more “colorful” thoughts as I was leaving.  I now try (being the operative word) to “settle” myself before I know I am going to be in a situation where I need to attend.

For example, I remove distractions when I am trying to get work done (see ya iPhone, Instagram will still be there in an hour).

I also complete a body scan to help center myself, and also bring me back to focus on the “now”. Another technique I have used is a mental “purge”: taking a journal and writing down stressor/worries or “to dos” for 5 minutes before shutting it and moving on to what I want to focus on.  I also take time to recognize what rituals or environmental changes I need to implement: noticing if I need to work with music today, get a different chair, close my door, get water, etc.  I do this prior to starting what requires my utmost attention.

When listening to others I try to make mental notes (about both what they are saying, and how they are feeling).  Connecting, so that they know I am listening.  I will often say to my younger clients “Show me your listening.”

I need to follow my own advice. 

Playing with Emotions

Teaching Big Emotions in a Cute and Cuddly Way: My Experience with Kimochis 

Kimochis-Blog

For anyone raising or working with young children (especially toddlers and preschool age) I am sure you are in the throws of emotional upheavals that a lot of times are just straight up hard to explain.  Example: Having an emotional meltdown over not being able to play with a hair dryer, or that a cookie is missing 3 chocolate chips.  It’s HARD being a toddler.  The world moves so fast and with so much agility around you, and while you’re trying to keep up your brain is also trying to balance itself.  It’s growing connections and removing them at light speed!  You are designed to push boundaries at this age to learn, yet pushing so many at once is bound to push your parent’s very last button!  You’re learning feelings are a BIG deal, especially when they overtake that logical left side brain and you literally LOSE CONTROL!  How can parents (and even professionals) help give their child a leg up, engage in play, and also gain some of their sanity back?

Teaching and modeling emotional vocabulary and coping skills!

Why is emotional vocabulary important? Here are just a few:

  1. Helps promote self-regulation skills
  2. Helps children and ADULTS identify and move toward acceptance and expression of specific feelings
  3. Academically, supports reading comprehension, character analysis, and story predictions
  4. Helps support developing social competencies and forming relationships
  5. Helps reduce challenging behaviors

Young children (especially those learning language) benefit from multi-sensory learning, repetition, PLAY, exaggerated facial expression and tone of voice, imitation, modeling, and touch.  Kimochis (which means “feelings” in Japanese) look like toys, but are actually designed to be tools to help children express emotions. The company is committed to providing resources and support for Character Education Training.   Kimochis are something I have loved as a therapist, and now as a mom!  If you visit their website you will find Kimochis for pretty much everything, but I am a big fan of the Mixed Bag of Feelings.   I paired this with their Cloud Character ,who has two faces, one that I call “comfortable”, and one that I call “uncomfortable” when I use him.

How have I used them…

  1. With my preschoolers we talked about how some feelings make our bodies feel comfortable or good, while others make our bodies feel uncomfortable.  During games, at the start of sessions, or transitions, my students could pick a Kimochi that reflected how they were feeling and place in in the Cloud Character.  What I really LOVE is that the Kimochi’s have the written word AND a facial expression that matches on them!  (emotional check in)
  2. Grab Bag Feeling and Acting!  Students would pick a Kimochi blindly from the bag, and we would all act out how our faces and bodies would look when experiencing this emotion!
  3. Picking an emotion, acting it out, and role playing a coping strategy to “walk through” that feeling!  Whether this means calming down or gaining more energy, or expressing anger!
  4. TIP:  Always teach when a child is calm/regulated.  Asking them to use a Kimochi or teaching expression when their already upset is literally going to go in one ear and out the other!  That logical left brain is losing a battle already!

My one year old LOVES to pick up the Kimochi’s and try to imitate the faces!  OR better yet watch me demonstrate the emotion for her, paired with “I feel…”  It’s learning and it’s fun!  

Their website discusses MANY ways you can use these to teach and play!  I hope you have enjoyed some of mine!

*This post is strictly my opinion, and my positive experience with using Kimochis.  It is in no way sponsored by this product.