Explaining Death to Children

In light of some very tragic recent events, I am reminded about how difficult is for adults to attempt to explain death to children, particularly when the death is traumatic and unexpected.

Many adults find it difficult to talk about death with children and it can be tempting to shield them from pain. However, it is really important that children have a clear understanding (as far as their age allows) that the person has died. Even young children need an explanation about what has happened to their family member or friend.  It is also a natural reaction to want to spare the child from learning how the death happened by making up another explanation.  You will probably prefer that the child hear the news accurately and calmly from you rather than from rumor or through his or her imagined version of the events.

It is helpful, particularly with young children, to have a simple story that they can use to re-tell and slowly make sense of what has happened. Use words that they understand.  Always ask them what they think about what you have said to check for understanding. Young children may not need to know the exact details of the event when it first happens. It will be possible to return to this as the child’s understanding develops and they seek more information.

When telling a child about a death, it is best to use the word ‘died’ rather than words such as ‘gone to sleep’, ‘passed away’ or ‘lost’ as these can be confusing to young children. Younger children may also not understand that death is permanent – that the person can’t come back to life.

Children may raise the subject when you are least expecting it or at the least convenient time, but try to stay calm and take time to listen to what they are saying and asking. You may pick up that they want to talk by being alert to the way they express emotions or how they behave.  Children grieven differently from adults.  Don’t hestitate to read more about the topic so that you have a full understanding of what to expect.  A great resource for this is www.childrengrieve.org


This entry is adapted from content provided on www.winstonswish.org.uk


ADHD Series: ADHD at School

The following is a fantastic summary of the issues faced by students who have ADHD.  It was posted on www.familyeducation.com and was orginally published by the NICHCY.

In the elementary years, ADHD usually causes these problems:

  • off-task behavior,
  • incomplete or lost assignments,
  • disorganization,
  • sloppy work or messy handwriting,
  • not following directions,
  • errors in accuracy,
  • inconsistent performance,
  • disruptive behavior or spacey, daydreaming behavior, and/or
  • social interaction difficulties.

The thinking difficulties associated with AD/HD do not have to do with intellectual ability. Instead, they arise out of problems with concentration, memory, and cognitive organization. Typically, ADHD-related memory problems arise in two areas:

  • working memory-which helps the student keep one thing in mind while working on another, and
  • retrieval-being able to locate on demand information that has been learned and stored in memory.
  • Many students also show problems in:

  • time management,
  • prioritizing work,
  • reading comprehension,
  • note taking,
  • study skills, and
  • completing multi-step tasks.
  • Clearly, a student with ADHD can have difficulty in any number of academic areas and with critical academic skills. Thus, it is extremely important that the school and parents work together to design an appropriate educational program for the student.  Consider talking with your child’s teacher or the school psychologist or school social worker if you have questions or concerns about your child’s progress.

ADHD Series: What is ADHD?

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorders of childhood. The disorder is estimated to affect between 3 to 7 out of every 100 school-aged children [American Psychiatric Association (APA), 2000]. This makes ADHD a major health concern. The disorder does not affect only children. In many cases, problems continue through adolescence and adulthood.

The core symptoms of ADHD are developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These problems are persistent and usually cause difficulties in one or more major life areas: home, school, work, or social relationships. Clinicians base their diagnosis on the presence of the core characteristics and the problems they cause.

Not all children and youth have the same type of ADHD. Because the disorder varies among individuals, children with ADHD won’t all have the same problems. Some may be hyperactive. Others may be under-active. Some may have great problems with attention. Others may be mildly inattentive but overly impulsive. Still others may have significant problems in all three areas (attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity). Thus, there are three subtypes of ADHD:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Type
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type
  • Combined Type (inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity)
  • Of course, from time to time, practically every person can be a bit absent-minded, restless, fidgety, or impulsive. So why are these same patterns of behavior considered normal for some people and symptoms of a disorder in others? It’s partly a matter of degree. With ADHD, these behaviors occur far more than occasionally. They are the rule and not the exception.

    This article is taken from www.familyeducation.com.  It was written by Mary Fowler.

    For more great information, go to

    Holiday Stress and Children of Divorced Parents

    The holidays are a happy and exciting time for many children.   The family gatherings associated with holiday celebration may be confusing, stressful or sad for children of parents who are recently divorced.  Here is a  resource for helping support children through this difficult transition.


    Here is a resource for handling the ups and downs of holiday celebrations for all children:


    I wish you a happy and stress-free holiday season!

    Establishing a Positive Parent-Teacher Relationship

    With a new school year around the corner, it isn’t too late to begin to think about beginning the year on the right foot.  A strong parent-teacher relationship seems like an obvious and simple way to begin a positive school experience, but this is sometimes easier said than done.  As adults, we are entitled to differing opinions and ideas of an ideal school experience.  Furthermore, we all have had our own positive or negative school experiences that color our perception of education, teachers and administrators.  PBS has published a great online article about fostering a strong parent-teacher relationship and provides several tips for parents.

    1. Approach the relationship with respect– Create a problem solving relationship instead of immediately confronting the teacher with what’s wrong.  A collaborative attitude will foster cooperation and respect rather than defensiveness and frustration.
    2. Let your child develop his/her own relationship with the teacher–  A young child’s relationship with her teacher is often a powerful one. Allow the child to develop her own connection with the teacher.  This will allow the teacher to develop a position of respect and admiration in your child’s eyes as well as foster his independence.
    3. Remember your own experiences in school– Your experience as a child may have an impact on your view of your child’s school experience and teacher.  If you had a negative experience as a child, try to leave your own feelings and biases behind and allow your child to begin school with a positive outlook.  Remind yourself that your child’s teacher and school are likely very different from those you experienced as a child.
    4. Find the right time to speak with the teacher– Just like you, teachers have times of the day in which they are very busy and are not available for a lengthy chat.  Keep this in mind and arrange a convenient time to talk with the teacher by sending him an email, leaving a voicemail or sending a short note.
    5. Come prepared to conferences and parent-teacher meetings– Your child’s teacher will be impressed and grateful if you come prepared to a meeting or discussion.  Make a list of the things that you want to discuss with the teacher.  Be specific and give examples.  Instead of saying, “Aaliyah always lies to me about her assignments,” say “Every afternoon, Aaliyah states that she does not have any homework or that she already did it on the bus.”  This will help you collaborate with the teacher to determine where Aaliyah is having difficulty and brainstorm solutions together.

    Information adapted from www.pbs.org/parents/goingtoschool/talking_teachers.html

    Television… How much is too much?

    How many hours a day do your kids watch television or play video games?

    How many hours should they be doing these activities?

    We know that most kids love to watch television and play video games, but these activities are not an adequate substitution for pretend play, physical activity and social interaction.  With a culture that surrounds us with various types of media, how do we limit our children’s exposure to excessive amounts of time in front of the flickering screen?  An article on NPR.org notes that children benefit from parents who consistently impose limits on television and video game access.  The article cites recent study published in Pediatrics, which notes that one major factor is whether parents are aware of the recommended amount of daily screen-time for children.   According to this study, children should watch no more than two hours of television each day.  Children under age two should not watch television at all.

    The key to limiting a child’s amount of time in front of the television is consistency.  As a parent, I know that it is sometimes very difficult to be consistent, especially when the television provides time for the parent to cook, clean or take a short break.  Children are very aware, however, if rules are only enforced periodically.  Lack of consistency in enforcing a limit will produce more difficulties for the parent when attempting to enforce that limit.  Parents can imagine the scenario where their child says “But, I got to watch t.v. for three hours last week!  Why can’t I do it today?” Enforcement of new limits is always difficult and is resisted, but after consistent enforcement for a period of time, children adapt to a new routine and set of limitations.

    See the full article at: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2010/06/11/127775196/tell-the-kids-to-turn-off-the-t-v-then-tell-them-again

    “Beyond Lazy and Unmotivated”

    If you don’t work in the field of Education, you may not have heard of executive skills.  Keep reading to learn about the various types of executive skills and how they relate to ADHD and poor school performance.

    What are executive skills?

    Executive skills are the cognitive processes that are required to plan, organize and execute activities.  They begin to develop shortly after birth and continue to develop for two decades. These skills are critical for students’ academic success and adults’ success in managing a career, personal finances and more.  In students with attention disorders, these tend to develop more slowly than in typically developing peers.

    What are some examples of executive skills?

    Executive skills include a number of cognitive processes that you may not be consciously aware of in your day-to-day life.  These include response inhibition (thinking before you act), emotional control, sustained attention (paying attention to something despite being bored, tired or distracted), planning and organizing tasks and time management.  Executive skills also include working memory, which is the ability to hold complex information in your memory while performing a complex task.  Working memory also incorporates the ability to draw on past experience to apply to a current situation or future project.

    What do weak executive skills look like in students?

    Students who have weak executive skills may experience several of the following difficulties: failure to write down assignments and/or study, frequently forgetting materials, procrastination, difficulty breaking large assignments down into manageable chunks, messy room/backpack/ locker, frequently losing or misplacing things, low tolerance for frustration and/or becoming easily overstimulated but having difficulty calming down.

    Viewing these behaviors as skill deficits rather than frustrating misbehaviors allows us access to an array of intervention strategies.

    How can I help my child?

    Until a child’s executive functions are fully developed, the parents and teacher must serve this function.

    You can help by:

    1. Changing the environment (reduce distractions, post reminders or schedules); Providing prompts or cues (reminders, verbal praise) and Modifying tasks (identify the specific steps of a task, provide frequent short breaks, add variety and choice to maintain interest).

    2. Teach Executive Skills to your child (See Examples Below)

    3. Use incentives to help your child use his or her executive skills (sticker chart, saving a more desirable activity until after a less desirable activity is completed)

    What does teaching executive skills look like?

    Example 1: Cleaning your room

    Step 1: Sample statements:

    • Let’s start now.
    • Put your trucks in this box.
    • Put your dirty clothes in the laundry.
    • Put your books on the bookshelf.
    • There are two toys under the bed . It doesn’t look like all those toys will fit in that one box; we’ll need to get another box.
    • When you finish, you can play with your friends.
    • I know you hate doing this, but you’re almost done and then you’ll feel great!

    Step 2: Provide the same information without being the direct agent: create a list, picture cues, audio tape, etc. to cue the child.

    Parent says to child: Look at your list.

    Step 3: Parent begins to transfer responsibility to child:

    Parent says to child: What do you need to do?

    Step 4: Transfer complete.

    Child now asks himself/herself.  What do I need to do?

    Example 2: Homework

    1.  Use an agenda at school.  Write down assignments and needed supplies for each subject.  Use agenda when deciding which books to put in your backpack.

    2. Go to a designated homework area (desk, kitchen table) and gather supplies.

    3. Set a timer for 10-30 minutes (depending on child’s age)

    4.  Work until timer goes off.

    5.  Put homework papers back in folder/notebook.

    6.  Take a 5-10 minute break.

    7.  Repeat until assignments are finished.

    8.  Put away supplies

    Adapted from Beyond “Lazy and Unmotivated” by Peg Dawson, Center for Learning and Attention Disorders

    To spank or not to spank?

    Note:  This is a long but very important post.  It may be of particular interest to parents of young children.

    Why is it important to know what research and experts say about spanking?

    Spanking is a relatively common punishment in many families, especially those with young children.  It is important that we examine the effectiveness and long term effects of this strategy so that we can make an educated decision about behavioral management strategies in the home.

    What does the research say about spanking?

    Research has suggested that spanking may be the least effective discipline method. Spanking does not teach an alternative behavior and can instead promote even more undesirable behaviors. Specifically, spanking is not advisable because:

    • Spanking teaches children that hitting is an acceptable way to solve problems, and particularly it teaches children that it is O.K. for bigger people to hit smaller people.
    • Spanking sends confusing messages about the parents’ attitude toward the child. Repeated spankings teach children that they are “bad” and can have lifelong negative impact on their self-esteem.
    • Spanking can also affect a parent’s self-esteem. Spanking often leaves the parent feeling guilty over the use of physical punishment and erodes confidence in his or her parenting skills. Parents who use spanking routinely may fail to develop alternative discipline strategies and enter a hard-to-break cycle of physical responses to misbehavior.
    • Spanking tends to promote anger in both the child and the parent. Even if spanking seems to work in reducing misbehavior, victims of spanking tend to feel overpowered and humiliated, which over time leads to resentment and anger toward the parent and thus undermines the parent-child relationship.
    • Spanking can quickly escalate into full-blown abuse. If parents use spanking for minor infractions, more serious misbehavior can lead to more serious physical responses. Again, spanking may prevent parents from developing more effective, alternative strategies.
    • Spanking is ineffective in improving behavior. Children who feel badly about themselves—a typical response to being spanked—are more likely to engage in inappropriate behavior rather than learn alternatives.
    • Research has identified a number of negative outcomes of physical discipline, including higher rates of antisocial behavior, aggression toward peers and family members (including child and spousal abuse as adults), and psychological disturbances.

    What are some alternatives to spanking?

    “An effective, alternative discipline system must contain three vital elements: a learning environment characterized by positive, supportive, loving parent-child relationships; a strategy for systematic teaching and strengthening of desired behaviors; and a strategy for decreasing or eliminating undesired behaviors.”

    Effective Strategies for Increasing Desired Behavior

    There are several simple methods that, when applied consistently, will increase the likelihood of desired behaviors.

    General Approaches

    Specify expectations. First, parents should be specific and descriptive about expectations and/or desired behavior when talking with their children. Tell them how you want them to behave (“Please walk.”) rather than what not to do (“Stop running.”). When talking with your child, be brief and keep it simple. Also, take time to listen to your child. Listening can help you understand your child’s perspective, especially as he or she grows older. Remember, clear communication is a two-way street.

    Establish consistency. Be consistent in setting rules and/or expectations. Although children will often test limits, they are usually doing so in order to find the bottom line. Children want and need clear and consistent limits. Clear and consistent limits are necessary for safety and help children learn appropriate behavior. Follow through is equally valuable when discussing consistency. Always make sure you can follow through on what you are saying to avoid making threats that you can not realistically enforce (“Do that one more time and you’re grounded for life!”).

    Stay in control. Parents should maintain patience and control with their children. When parents cannot control their own actions, they will likely have difficulty managing their child’s behavior. Children learn from what they see. Remember, your behavior and actions provide a model for your child to follow. Respond to stress and frustration in the same way you would like your child to respond. In fact, your actions teach your child how to respond.

    Specific Strategies to Increase Appropriate Behaviors

    Praise. Provide your child with positive feedback for what he or she has done well. Pair your feedback with physical contact (Say, “Wow, you made a really good choice,” while placing your hand on his or her shoulder.).

    Give lots of attention. Children love attention and will do whatever necessary to receive it. If you only attend to negative behavior, the child will engage in inappropriate acts to elicit your attention; negative attention is better than no attention. Attention is powerful. It can be nonverbal (physical contact) or verbal. You can give attention by listening, asking questions, and showing interest in your child’s day or experiences.

    Selective ignoring. Selective ignoring means to ignore a child’s demand for negative attention. While there are many behaviors that should not be ignored (aggression, safety concerns), many behaviors (whining and tantrums) are used to seek attention. By attending to inappropriate bids for attention, a parent inadvertently increases the likelihood of future occurrences.

    Incentives. Parents should connect special events (going to McDonald’s, going to a movie) and tangibles (stickers, small toys) to good behavior. To increase a desired behavior, these special items can be used as powerful reinforcers. A reinforcer is a desired item by a child and can be used to strengthen a desired behavior. It is important to pair all tangible reinforcements with positive praise or encouragement.

    Reward charts. Implement a reward chart to reinforce appropriate behavior. Identify desired behaviors and list the behaviors on the chart. Be sure to describe the desired behaviors in positive terms. For example, if you want your child to stop swearing, you can write, “Use appropriate language,” and not “Stop swearing.” When your child engages in the desired behavior, place a sticker, plus sign, or smiley face next to the item on the chart. At the end of the day, tally the number of stickers, plus signs, or smileys. While the marks on the chart may be salient enough for some children, others may need tangible incentives. You can connect a certain number of stickers, plus signs, or smileys with a predetermined incentive (which is described above).

    Set a good example. Children learn through imitation. Parents are powerful models for teaching appropriate behavior through their actions.

    Effective Strategies for the Elimination of Undesirable Behavior

    Parents should be aware of the factors that might lead to misbehavior. This awareness will help you respond effectively and appropriately to your child’s needs. There are a variety of potential factors underlying misbehavior. For instance, children may misbehave owing to biological factors, such as hunger, fatigue, or illness. Children may become angry when frustrated or act out in response to fear (the dark, new places, new people). Sometimes children misbehave because they desire attention from a caregiver. Strategies to reduce undesirable behaviors are effective if applied appropriately to specific behaviors. When delivering instruction and correction, remain calm and be understanding. Listed below are descriptions of several commonly used strategies:

    Immediate and consistent consequences. Consequences teach cause and effect and how to make decisions. Good decisions result in positive consequences, and poor decisions result in negative consequences. Aspects of effective consequences include clear communication between the parent and child about what the problem behavior is and what consequence the child can expect when the behavior occurs. Provide an immediate and consistent consequence when the targeted behavior occurs. Consequences should be immediately enforced so that your child will connect the consequence with the relevant behavior/misbehavior. Follow through on the consequences you have established or your child will quickly learn that you will not follow through.

    Removal of privileges. This is effective when used in conjunction with misbehavior. Children may lose an opportunity (to watch a favorite TV show) if they misbehave (break a sibling’s toy) or do not engage in a desired behavior (put away dirty dishes).

    Redirect misbehavior. Sometimes children misbehave because they do not know the best way to get what they want. Before you punish your child for inappropriate behavior, teach the appropriate behavior. Provide an appropriate alternative to achieve the payoff.

    Time out. When children misbehave, they may need to lose the privilege of participating in an activity for a short time. This time away gives children the opportunity to refocus and think about how they need to behave in order to be allowed to participate. In order for time out to be effective, it cannot be too long or too short. The amount of time a child spends in time out is directly related to age. The general rule is 1 minute per year (a 5-year-old should have a time out that does not exceed 5 minutes). Be consistent with the amount of time spent in time out. Using a timer can be helpful. Communicate clearly to your child how time out works prior to using the procedure.

    Extinction. When you want a behavior to stop entirely, you may want to try extinction. Extinction suggests that a behavior that is not rewarded will not reoccur, and therefore you must eliminate rewards (intended or unintended) that follow your child’s misbehavior. If your child is seeking attention, you must ignore the behavior, therefore eliminating the typical reward for the behavior (attention). Remember that negative attention can reinforce a behavior as much as positive attention, and thus the importance of totally ignoring the behavior.

    Reference: NASP Communique Article 36-6 (written by Jennifer Reinehr, PsyD and Sarah Valley-Gray, PsyD


    Transitions for Young Children

    My son started his first day in the “Apple class” at his preschool, today.  He is very concerned that his new classroom may not have a dress-up center with a firefighter helmet. (This is a big deal, trust me. 🙂 )  His difficulty gave me the idea to write a post about transitions, which are frequently difficult for young children.

    Just as you like to know information about an upcoming change, so does your child.  Take time to talk with him about the new setting and what he will see and experience.   Remind your child that it is alright to feel scared or sad about the change.  Explain that it will take a little while to get used to the new place but that you will be there to help them.

    Moving from one activity to another during the school day can sometimes cause children anxiety if they don’t know what to expect.  Here are some simple things that teachers (and parents) can do to help ease transition difficulties.

    • Establish a daily routine
    • Plan a consistent schedule for transitions (A pictorial schedule may help to remind the child of when to transition to each activity)
    • Alert child, in advance, of any transitions
    • Set limits and enforce them consistently
    • Give clear, concise, simple directions; state them slowly and clearly
    • Give auditory and visual reminders
    • Use props and cues to assist children with special needs
    • Team children of varying abilities up in a buddy system
    • Move along with the children to model appropriate actions
    • Provide “fidget toys” to children, as needed, during wait times

    List is adapted from “Transition Ideas” at the Wisconsin Child Care Improvement Project, Inc.

    In unrelated news… This is cool.