Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sleep, Beautiful Sleep

I recently posted this article to the Sincerely facebook page.  It summarizes a recent study that found irregular bedtimes are directly linked to behavioral difficulties at home and at school.  The researchers found irregular bedtimes disrupt natural body rhythms and cause sleep deprivation, undermining brain maturation and the ability to regulate certain behaviors.  That lack of regulation leads to hyperactivity, conduct problems, problems with peers and emotional difficulties

On the facebook page, I sassily commented (I rarely comment any other way) that I wish we could require regular bedtimes and a full night’s sleep as a Tier I intervention. Tier I interventions, for those who have not been inducted into Response to Intervention lingo, are proactive academic or behavioral strategies that are implemented universally across a school setting with the goal of preventing academic failure and behavioral challenges.  Oh, if only all kids had a consistent sleep routine.

A fb follower made the astute observation that, as a parent, it’s not always easy to enforce regular bedtimes.  The psychologist in me was all, “You’re the mommy!  You need to take control!”  The parent side of me was all, “Amen, sister!” 

I have kids ages 7-17.  I have a whole gaggle of kids.  Sometimes I wonder where all these kids came from and if I can give any of them back.  Bedtime was actually way easier when they were littler.  And by littler, I’m not talking baby-little.  When they were babies I was constantly worried I was ruining them forever by a) letting them peacefully fall asleep while nursing, b) putting them in their cribs, all alone, while they were awake c) picking them up when they cried, and d) not picking them up when they cried.  That first year was a single-subject case study in maternal neuroticism. I am not even kidding.

It was when they became toddlers and preschoolers that things were relatively easy.  We established bedtime routines and made choices about technology that saved our sanity.  Our kids had an 8:00 bedtime – all of them.  We had a snack and bath routine, stories for everyone – read-alouds even as the kids got into the older elementary years – and rules for turning off the TV a few hours before bedtime.  They could read in their rooms if they weren’t sleepy, but we had zero technology in their bedrooms.  No televisions, computers, game boys, Kindles, or iPods.  Our kids were all morning people, waking up refreshed and happy.  We were a Hallmark commercial.

Then some of them had the nerve to start junior high.  And need* cell phones (and in high school, their own laptops).  Suddenly, they needed technology to do well in school.  And homework wasn’t limited to a few hours after school.  There were sports and music lessons after school.  There were class facebook pages and websites they needed to check to keep up on homework and notes.  And did I mention we have a gaggle of kids?  They couldn’t all do homework at the kitchen table anymore. They needed to Skype with study groups or watch videos as part of their “flipped” classrooms.  The technology crept into the bedrooms of the older ones.  And, despite routines and rules, bedtime wasn’t so easy anymore.  I have actually found my eldest has fallen asleep with the cursed cell phone next to her head, which I am sure is causing brain cancer, you don’t even have to tell me that.  Our kids are no longer morning people.  Except the little ones, but only on Saturday mornings.  And then it’s not like a Hallmark commercial.  It’s like ohmyfreakinghead whyareyouupsoearly andcanyoupleasegobacktobed andnoyoumaynotplayontheipad.

So I hear you, fb follower.  There are no easy answers to getting bedtime back.  But there are plenty of tips for not losing it in the first place.  Or at least keeping control of it as long as possible.
  1. Routines, routines, routines.  Bath routine, story routine, kiss goodnight routine.  Establish them young and keep them going. 
  2. Start routines at the same time each night.  The more consistent you are with the actual in-bed time, the better.  This means weekends too. 
  3. Cut the cord.  Do not put a television in your child’s room.  Period.  I am not even kidding.  Don’t go there.  And if you want to sleep better, consider getting rid of the one in your room too.
  4. Establish technology bedtimes.  Put all technology to bed at least an hour before you start the kid bedtime routine.  The light from cell phones, laptops, iPads, and televisions can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone needed for good sleep.  Insist technology gets charged overnight in a central location, away from the bedrooms. 
  5. Avoid caffeine within 3 hours of bedtime.  For little kids, try to avoid it entirely.  This means avoiding most colas, many root beers, Mountain Dew, even chocolate.  Read labels.
  6. Finally, you might want to explore your own issues regarding bedtime and/or technology.  Were your own parents harsh about bedtime?  Were you scared of the dark or not allowed to get up to use the bathroom?  Do you work late and feel like nighttime is the only time to have quality time with your child?  Do you think your child is different regarding bedtime?  For example, your child doesn’t need as much sleep as other children or can only fall asleep if dead tired?  Do you want to watch your own shows, so it only makes sense to have a second television for the kids?  None of these are bad things, but they might be getting in the way of establishing routines and are worth thinking about. 

Here’s wishing all the people in your home a good night!


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Musings on Classroom Dojo and Other External Motivators

I think the most important thing a teacher can do is build relationships with their students, and build a classroom community where respect and contributions are valued and expected.  I think we need to use careful language with students that encourages positive behavior and builds identities for students as contributing members of the class.  I think we need to teach students that feelings, good and bad, are normal and ok. They can handle these feelings appropriately and safely, and they can set goals to improve...Teaching without tricks, or virtual tasers, or marbles in a jar, or color cards, is harder.  It takes longer.  It is not easy.  But teachers are up to the job.  Building children that are self motivated, that do the right thing simply because it is the right thing, and that treat others with patience and respect is a long, complicated job.  So let’s start doing it properly, because they are worth it.   --   Thinking About Classroom Dojo - Why Not Just Tase Your Kids Instead by Teaching Ace
Oh, Teaching Ace.  You got in my head.  Is is scary in there?  I bet it's dark.  Since you are in there, you KNOW I am all about the data. You probably see the little pleasure center in my brain that is related to numbers and tracking progress and watching growth. I love me some numbers when it comes to changing behavior.  And, come on. Slick things like Class Dojo make collecting the numbers so eeeasy.  But you nailed it when you said this program, when publicly administered, is shaming, pure and simple.  And you're right, we also use other, less-fancy shaming tools  --  charts, clips, names on the board.  They are all well-meaning attempts to "motivate" students from the outside in. Even our cutesy pom pom jars, magic sprinkles, and power pellets are guilty of this outside-in thinking.

So why do we continue to use these?  Why do I -- the psychologist who is supposed to KNOW about these things, who has studied the literature on motivation, who laments the mental health effects of our externally-driven society -- why do I sometimes encourage their use among some teachers in certain classes? 
True confession time...Sometimes I'm in a school or under an administration that requires the use of a visible classroom management system.  And let's be honest, when we research (cough, search Pinterest) such systems, these are the things that come up.   And they're colorful!  And most kids love them!  And they're cute!  And, honestly, when the goal for your classroom is quiet, in-seat, hands-raised behavior, these things can work for a lot of kids.  Like magic.  Dark magic, but magic.
Or sometimes I'm working with a teacher who is resistant or, for whatever reason, unequipped to do the work it takes to foster intrinsic motivation.  And in those situations, when the class is out of control and nobody is learning and something has to be done lickety split, these kinds of things can be the easiest, quickest ways to gain control and take back learning.  Yes, sometimes I get sucked into the quick and easy.
And sometimes I have a great teacher who has the kid.  You know The Kid.  The Kid for whom nothing works.  The Kid who makes the great teacher question her timeline for retirement.  The Kid who, for whatever combination of past history, internal workings, and peer dynamics, thrives on the external.  The Kid who doesn't respond to our best.  And sometimes I have a great teacher who has (gasp) more than one Kid.  

So, in those cases where using external motivators are necessary, we have to do it in the least harmful way.  If at all possible, keep the Dojo off the Smartboard.  Whisper to a child when a clip is to be moved.  Good grief, keep the sarcasm and snark out of your voice.  Live by the 5:1 positive-to-negative magic ratio (but be careful not to get sucked into thinking positive comments aren't crack for most kids).  And use a variable rather than fixed interval if you have to use "stuff" -- it's the easiest to fade.  

I encourage you to read Teaching Ace's post and the comments it generated.  Some of them are rather passionate.  Follow the links she shared.  Think about it.  And when you're ready to step away from marbles, skittles, and colored cards, know that you can do it!  But it won't be easy; sorry.  Teachers are awesome.  You are awesome.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

This letter is hateful.  But it basically comes down to the I-don't-want-my-kids-growing-up-next-to-your-weird-kid attitude.  Which, ironically, I heard again and again today, in less vitriolic ways.  The first was in a district meeting where we learned of several parents pulling their children from an integrated special needs classroom in the first week of school because their kids "could not learn" in such an environment.   The second was from a group of special education teachers who believe we need to develop more self-contained programs because it's not fair to have the "normal" kids in with the kids with special needs.  The last was from an adult education teacher in an elite special program, who was incredulous that a person with a mental illness could pass medical clearance for entrance to her program.  These parents and teachers are not hateful people.  They are dedicated and hard working people who love their children and students.  It just goes to show how the whole everyone-in-their-place attitude permeates society.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Parents, keep thy child's records

The first week of school is always a stressful time for this school psychologist.  In our smallish, lower-SES district, there are a lot of new enrollments at the beginning of the year.  Families from within the district move from one home, mobile home park, or apartment complex to another; kids with high needs are "encouraged" to return to their home school from charter schools; new students move in from surrounding communities; and parents move their children across the country to join extended families.  Figuring out which kids have special needs and receiving those kids' records in a timely manner is a struggle.  We start school at the beginning of August.  Some of the surrounding charter schools don't start for a few weeks.  Some states don't start until after Labor Day!   Our struggle is more difficult when parents are less than honest, knowledgeable, or forthcoming about their children's needs.  Some parents neglect to tell us their child had special services.  Others insist the kids have all sorts of maladies, none of which were ever documented in their previous school(s).  Even when parents know their child received special education, they rarely have their own copies of IEPs or evaluations to share with us.  So here is my plea to parents.  You know that 15-page document we give to you after every annual 2-hour meeting?  Yeah, that's kinda important.  Put it with your kids' immunization records.  When you move to a new school, that document will help the new school give your kiddo exactly what is needed from the first day.  Don't pretend your child never had an IEP just to give him a "fresh start."  And don't yell at us when we haven't provided your east coast kiddo speech therapy before Labor Day, especially when you left the "Does your child have an IEP, receive special therapies, or participate in remedial classes" question blank on the enrollment form.  I'm a psychologist, not a psychic. And if you are a parent who keeps records and registers your child prior to the first day of school, bravo.  I love you.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dear Twitter,
What is wrong with me?  Why can't I figure you out?  Too bad it's summer -- I need a kid to teach me the ropes.
Until Fall,
School Psychologist

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dear Little Sister,
I am so sorry for making you eat the last hot dog so I didn't have to wrap it and put it in the fridge.  After reading about this study on sibling bullying, I feel awful.  Please forgive my 10-year-old me.
School Psychologist

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dear Me,
I wish you had taken this advice your first year. Live and learn.
School Psychologist