Three of the Most Powerful Words an Adult Can Say to a Child

Three of the Most Powerful Words an Adult Can Say to a Child

Some of you already know I spend a lot of time thinking about how to communicate with children. I love to think about the economy of language, how many words to say… or not say! Hint: across the board, I find fewer words are better.

I like to think of effective communication as a puzzle. I ponder questions like, which words can I choose that will have the most impact? How can I express myself while giving respect to my needs as well as those of the child? How can I talk about a challenge without making anyone wrong? These are just a few of the questions that drive my work and writing.

Some of the most important words an adult can say to a child are,

“I don’t know.”

Followed up with,

“I wonder how we can find out?”

Beginning with “I don’t know” is powerful for all involved. Firstly, it sure does take the pressure off of you! I’ve encountered adults that seem to think they are failing their children if they aren’t the expert in all things. Doesn’t that sound exhausting… not to mention impossible? Secondly, if we’re trying to combat perfectionism and anxiety in gifted and twice-exceptional children, why don’t we start by combatting those tendencies in ourselves and model what it looks like to be a humble, authentic, and fallible human?

There’s already a lot written about empathy and how vital it is to maintaining meaningful relationships. But how do we impart empathy? I can think of a few ways, and they all lead back to the same need — authenticity (also known as deep honesty). I believe that being authentic is how we best show empathy.

Ending the conversation with “I wonder how we find out” isn’t an ending at all; it leaves room for wonder. Find the joy in wonder and pass it down to the children in your life. This is how we can make meaning of learning and instill it as a value in our children… and, ultimately, our shared human culture.

P.S. This is different than telling a child to “Google it.” While Google may be where you end up, heading straight there without any heart-opening communication or exploration can sap the fun and wonder out of those moments.

Cumulative Capacity in G/2e Children: It’s not one thing, it’s a hundred

Cumulative Capacity in G/2e Children: It’s not one thing, it’s a hundred

This month I’m honored to share with you a guest post by my good friend and colleague Shanna Philipson. Shanna is the mother of a 2e child and the author of Meet the Beaker Kids, a fun and informative comic book for anyone trying to understand their sensory systems or the sensory systems of their children and students. Purchase the comic and the corresponding manual here.  

It was not one thing, it was a hundred little things. It was a war that was lost through minute attrition — countless small provocations and challenges that never amounted to a full-scale crisis but cumulatively killed me every day, five days a week.

I’m not talking about parenting my 2e kid. I’m talking about teaching.

Why couldn’t I thrive in a job that came so naturally, so passionately from my mind and heart? I taught some of the brightest students in the district but felt utterly empty at the end of each day. How could a person love their work and yet be so unhappy in their work at that same time?

When I walked away from my high school classroom for the last time, I knew it wasn’t because I had failed my students or because I fell out of love with teaching. I walked away because the cumulative sensory, social, and emotional burden of my dynamic, loud, highly regimented work environment was crushing me. Hidden behind all my success was another me desperately trying to escape my environment.

The year after I quit teaching my seven year old daughter began to pull her hair out at school and suffer from migraines. It was then that I began to reflect on the cost of cumulative stimulus on students, too. Like my own challenges in the classroom, it wasn’t ONE thing that was wrong for her; it was a hundred. She couldn’t hold all she was expected to carry all day.

How could I explain this? For those of us who have children with a dual (or triple!) diagnosis, it’s especially easy to get swamped with the jargon of our child’s needs when we try to explain their experience to teachers and family.

What we need is an acknowledgment and a language to describe our — and their — cumulative stimulus experience. We need this because “problem” behavior is rarely the result of a single influence. We all have limits to our tolerance and need for stimulus, and the language of clinical diagnoses, therapies, or interventions just won’t cut it with grandma. Neither will subjective labels like “sensitive” or “emotional” or “intense”. After all, one person’s minute “intense” is another person’s week-long “whoopie!”.

Cumulative capacity is the hidden experience, the secret menu to your neurology. Because it’s never just one thing — it’s usually hundreds of little moments that define your tolerance for Life.

I think of cumulative capacity as an internal beaker. In this visual metaphor, our beakers are all different. The size of the beaker tells me a lot about how much input/stimulus (even the good stuff!) you can handle before you’re full. Are you full in 30 minutes — or a week? The shape of your beaker tells me how you prefer or tolerate your input. If you’re a slim test tube shape, you fill up quickly no matter your size. Or perhaps you’re an Erlenmeyer type! Your enthusiasm can quickly turn into intolerance if you fill too fast. (That’s me!) You may feel like one type of beaker at home, but another in the grocery store.

The point of this is not to offer you more jargon, but to invite you to play with a mental schema that assumes that we can describe our experiences in life — even the good ones, like my joy in teaching — without judging our tolerance for Life. In the context of cumulative capacity, you don’t have to hunt down each offending moment and analyze it. You can recognize when your beaker is telling you “enough”. And you can choose how, when, and with what you wish to fill it.

Do You Know What’s Making Your 2e Child Angry?

Do You Know What’s Making Your 2e Child Angry?

*Read to end, and download your FREE anger tracker today*

A few months ago, I launched my free seven-day e-course “Decoding Intensity”. Those who sign up receive a daily email for seven consecutive days in which I break down some of the basics regarding gifted or twice-exceptional children and overexcitabilities.

In the first message, I ask that the reader reply and share with me their most daunting concern regarding parenting and educating gifted or twice-exceptional children. The overwhelming response was anger.

Parents and teachers of these sensitive and unique children are wondering why their child’s temper flashes so intensely when faced with even minor frustrations and disappointment.

Do you cringe when you imagine your child,

losing at checkers?
not getting a part in a play?
having their seat accidentally taken by another person?
facing iPad time limits?

You’re not alone.

In a previous post I shared,

“…anger in gifted children is often fueled by anxiety… And if anxiety triggers a fight-or-flight response, some gifted children are going to fight.”

The next question then becomes, “Why are gifted and twice-exceptional kids so anxious?” There is no definitive answer to that question, as the circumstances that lead to anxiety are myriad and layered. Anything from diet to bullying to misunderstood learning differences can create anxiety in a child.

The first step to understanding what is making a child anxious and angry is to observe what is triggering those feelings in the first place. Tracking what happens before a blow-up can give you powerful insight into what changes can be made to bring peace back to both of your lives.

To this end, I’ve created a downloadable free tracker for you to use as you observe what is triggering your child’s explosions. When using the tracker, pay attention to the whole child in addition to trying to draw a direct line between cause and effect. This means recording if the child ate, slept the previous night, or has a big event like a birthday or trip coming up along with any obvious events that activated your child’s anger.

After using this tracker, you may notice certain trends or cycles related to your child’s behavior and mood… which is excellent! This data is going to be crucial to you as you formulate a plan for better supporting your child and creating peace and harmony at home and in the classroom. Reach out to me, or leave a comment on my blog letting me know what you learn. I think this is going to be quite a revelatory experience for you! I can’t wait to hear all about it.

What Do You Value About Education?

What Do You Value About Education?

When educating our children, we constantly make choices — what to teach, how to teach it, how to respond to questions, and the list goes on and on. But we rarely give enough thought to what isguiding these choices.

Over the years, I have learned that each choice boils down to a simple and profound question: What do you value?

Most have us have not been encouraged to sit down to consider what we value in life (much less, education). This is NOT your fault. Unfortunately, the concept of values is rarely discussed in detail beyond “be a good person.” Yet understanding what we value in life is the first step in making decisions that are going to do us, and our world, the most good. Conscious connection with our values is what inspires us to be as good as we can.

Early in my education career, I was bouncing from issue to issue, constantly putting out fires and rarely feeling effective at my job. I was a stressed out and reactive educator. I did not feel like the choices I made mattered. I needed a plan, but I had no idea where to start. Unsurprisingly, all of this stress caused me to become super sick. I spent the week before and during my December break in bed. It was awful. Something had to give.

It wasn’t until I sat down and got real about what I value in education that I was able to start feeling my worth as an educator. And once I felt my worth, I was able to make a plan to educate in the way that felt important to me. Finally, I was connected to what I valued in education.

This is the secret first step to advocating for your child in the classroom and becoming a better educator. Your values act as a compass for the choices you make.

How do we decide what we value in education? A value is an abstract idea related to what we think is important in life and how we want to feel with regard to a specific situation, in this case, education.

Here are two great questions to ask yourself when determining what you value in education. I’ve added my personal answers below each question to prime your creative pump as you answer the questions for yourself.

How do you want to feel about how your child is educated? Or, how do you want to feel about how you’re educating your student?

I want to feel curious, relaxed, effective, and joyful in my classroom. I want to know what my students are thinking and feeling as we discover new ideas and begin projects. When I’m relaxed, I make better more effective choices and respond to challenges gently. When I feel this way, I can easily find the joy in my work.

What is important to you about education? Why?

Creativity, kindness, and confidence are the values that are most important to me in the classroom. When students are encouraged to be creative, they can “learn how they learn”. That knowledge can then be applied to any challenge they are hoping to overcome. Additionally, when the atmosphere of a classroom is kind, children feel safe to stretch their knowledge and express themselves with confidence in all areas of their life.

Now it’s your turn. Try this out for yourself! I’ve created a lovely printable to use as your guide as you determine what you value most in education. Fill out the form below and It will be sent directly to your inbox! Let me know when you’ve finished! Leave me a comment on this post or head to my facebook page and post there! I can’t wait to learn more about you and your thoughts about education.  

Finding the Right Learning Environment: A Conversation with the 2e Newsletter

Finding the Right Learning Environment: A Conversation with the 2e Newsletter

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the 2e newsletter in the Fall. The interview that follows was released in the November 2016 edition of the 2e newsletter. The 2e newsletter is an excellent resource for parents, educators and other professionals that care for twice-exceptional children..

Finding the Right Learning Environment: A Conversation with Jade Rivera
By Linda C. Neumann

Author, educator, and coach Jade Rivera has made neurodivergent learners the focus of her work for much of the last decade. When asked to describe this population, she explains that they are individuals who, due to common variations in the human genome (such as giftedness, autism, and dyslexia, for example) process the world around them differently than do most others.

“I love the term neurodivergent,” she says, “because it quickly conveys exactly what I’m talking about with regard to giftedness or twice-exceptionality. It breaks down the myths surrounding these children, and it gets to the heart of what we’re really talking about – kids who are having a holistically different experience from what many people consider normal.”

Rivera began a career in alternative education following what she describes as a “brief, successful, yet unfulfilling career as a chemist.” She saw this new venture as a way to use her own personal and professional experiences as well as her compassion to help young neurodivergent learners understand who they are and how they learn. She works with parents and professionals as well to help them better understand and meet the needs of the neurodivergent learners they raise, teach, and care for.

What Makes a Good Learning Environment for Neurodivergent Learners
What does the “right” learning environment look like for kids who experience both learning and the world around them differently? According to Rivera, “connection, acceptance, and sustained support are the true needs of a learning environment.” She believes that advanced academics, iPads, and makerspaces are great; but, she says, “They only go so far if we don’t take the time to connect socially and emotionally and allow children’s abilities to unfold naturally, at their own sped-up or slowed-down pace.”  

Rivera explains that, in her experience, setting high expectations for these learners is also essential. “I let my students know that they are capable of great and fulfilling feats,” she states. “I tell them that it’s our job as facilitator and student to work together to determine how they learn as well as what they want to learn so that they can live a life that is meaningful to them.”

When asked why traditional schools are often a poor fit for gifted and 2e learners, Rivera replies, “I think it’s important to note that traditional school has become increasingly difficult for neurodivergent children in the last 15 years, since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) went into effect. I might have had a more appropriate and innovative education as a 2e child in the 1980’s than most kids are getting now in 2016. Teachers have been systematically stripped of their abilities to be flexible and use their best judgment. They are forced to focus so much on achievement that they can’t afford to spend time on connection; and, as I stated before flexibility and connection are vital to a 2e child’s wellness in the classroom. Add to this the fact that teachers are rarely trained to educate gifted and twice-exceptional children, and you’ve got a recipe for misery.”

The Impact of an Inappropriate Learning Environment on Neurodivergent Children
In her work, Rivera sees the impact that being in the wrong learning environment can have on neurodivergent learners. “They are hit with the combo of depression and anxiety, which may show up as volatility and anger in the classroom, or possibly as withdrawal and lack of engagement” she explains. These students may find themselves incorrectly identified as having ADHD or an emotional behavior disorder; and they may be inappropriately remediated or medicated. They are at risk, she says, for being bullied, kicked out of school, or even treated for oppositional defiance disorder.

“Unsurprisingly,” Rivera observes, “the result is often a child with a poor self-image, one who might feel alienated and who has no real friends.” These are also children more likely to express thoughts like, “I wish I was never born” or “I want to die,” a situation that Rivera describes as both deeply sad and totally unnecessary.

Switching to a more appropriate learning environment, however, is not an instant cure all. According to Rivera, “Transitioning a child from an inappropriate environment to an appropriate one can be challenging. If the new learning environment is project-based or progressive, it might take the student a while to adjust to the new expectations put upon them.”

Furthermore, Rivera notes, the child may have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms that will take time and perhaps counseling to redirect. This healing process, in her opinion, must be the top priority.

Rivera has seen that kids pulled from the traditional classroom and placed in a progressive school “can become miserable in a wholly different way.” “All of the sudden,” she says, “they’re asked to direct and think for themselves after having very little experience doing that! It’s critical to scaffold these children into these new environments in order to set them up for success.”  

According to Rivera, neurodivergent learners who make the change to an appropriate learning environment will “find themselves challenged and encouraged at their level and according to their learning style. Overall, they will have their needs to be seen and heard met. But this is not to say that it will be all roses and sunshine. There will be hard days, but there will be fewer hard days.”

Designing an Innovative Learning Environment
As part of her work, Jade Rivera designs innovative learning environments. Here are some thoughts she shared with 2e Newsletter on what an innovative learning environment should be.

“Many people equate innovation with technology, but innovation is so much more than that! When I think of innovation, I think of iteration – making a commitment to repeatedly coming back to the classroom’s academic, social, and physical design to make it better for everyone who uses the space. The basis for these changes should be feedback and observation, and the process for making changes should be one of testing out new ideas, observing and assessing their efficacy, and then coming back to design some more. It’s an endless process but an effective one. With a certain mindset, it’s joyful. Today, in its latest form this process is referred to as Design Thinking. To learn more about it, check out Stanford Design School’s website: http://dschool.stanford.edu/dgift.

To this end, every micro-school that I’ve led has held a strong commitment to reflection and iteration. I’m constantly absorbing all I can about educational theory and neurodivergent children so I can create the most effective learning environment possible. I’m proud to pass on this knowledge to others, like Edison Academy SLO in southern California. This private micro-school for twice-exceptional students is committed to providing a personalized learning environment for twice-exceptional students by focusing on their strengths. They create an individualized learning plan for each student in tandem with the child and their caregivers based on each student’s readiness, talents and interests. This is an example of a school that understands what twice-exceptional learners need.

Edison Academy SLO is the first up-and-running micro-school born from my Build Your Micro-School Summer Institute. I created the institute for people who read my book, but wanted more. The Build Your Micro-School Summer Institute is a 3-month course packed with guidance and information on creating your own innovative learning environment. Each week I host live calls and open office hours. I work with those enrolled to set goals and create lists of outlined action steps. By the end of our time together, each enrollee will have everything they need to create a thoughtfully planned micro-school ready to meet the learning needs of their community.

People in education talk a lot about inspiring children to become learners and preparing them for lifelong learning. In my mind, there’s no better way to accomplish these goals than to build them directly into the design of the learning environment. I love to teach people how to do exactly that.