Monday, August 31, 2009

How Can My Kid Succeed in School? Part One

by Craig Pohlman, Ph.D.

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from “How Can My Kid Succeed in School?” by internationally-recognized psychologist, Dr. Craig Pohlman, who has recently joined Southeast Psych and directs our Assessment Center.

Brady is a 2nd grader who’s having a very hard time learning to read and spell. He’s great at art, enthusiastically listens to stories, and absorbs information he hears (he loves learning about reptiles). He is picking up math skills with no trouble and is a natural when collaborating with peers. Both adults and kids really enjoy being around him, but his reading troubles are starting to deflate him. In 1st grade he dashed out the door every morning to get to school. Now he asks if he has to go, and longs for weekends and vacations.

Cetera is Brady’s classmate, and she also struggles with reading and spelling. Though not quite as social as Brady, she belongs to a very close threesome of friends. She loves sports, especially soccer and basketball. Cetera also is starting to have some trouble with math. Like Brady, she picks up information very nicely when listening, though sometimes she has a hard time making connections with her prior knowledge. Lately, she’s been complaining to her mother about how hard school is for her.

How can Brady and Cetera’s learning problems be conquered? How can their parents and teachers get them to enjoy school again? Figuring out what is causing their reading challenges is the first step. The good news is that their parents and teachers can gather lots of information, analyze it, and then select targeted learning strategies. But they have to know what to look for and how to make sense of what they find.

Like all students, Brady and Cetera leave plenty of clues about their learning. For example, Brady has a hard time coming up with rhyming words. When he reads aloud he drops out word sounds (like reading “block” as “bok”) and inserts letters that shouldn’t be there when he spells (like spelling “candy” as “canku”). Cetera struggles with memory for several types of information, like math facts and prior knowledge.

Brady’s clues add up to the conclusion that word sounds are very confusing to him. He doesn’t clearly process small sounds like /f/ in “leaf,” which means he has a hard time connecting sounds with letters (like /f/ with “f” or “ph” or even “gh”, as in “cough”). In contrast, Cetera processes small word sounds just fine (for instance, she can rhyme and move sounds around to change words). As it turns out, she has a hard time remembering which sounds go with which letters.

By the way, both Brady and Cetera probably would meet criteria for a learning disability (or, more specifically, a reading disability or dyslexia). But labeling them wouldn’t do much good. That would be akin to claiming that a child with stomach pain has something like Abdomen Soreness Disorder- a label that is pretty useless when it comes to a treatment. Labels tend to oversimplify students by not capturing unique characteristics, like the differences between Brady and Cetera. Also, labels don’t convey strengths and interests, like Brady’s affinity for reptiles or Cetera’s listening comprehension.

Brady and Cetera are experiencing unique challenges. Understanding the specifics of those challenges helps identify what they need in order to be more successful readers. For Brady, the key is to bolster his capacity to process word sounds. Cetera, on the other hand, needs drill in matching sounds to letters in order to solidify this information in her memory banks. By working in these specific areas, they can make strides in their reading and feel successful again.

Dr. Pohlman conducts and supervises learning assessments for Southeast Psych and is available to present on learning issues. Feel free to contact him at 704-552-0116 or speakersbureau@southeastpsych.com. His new book is due out on Sept. 28th.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Southeast Psych Rated Excellent By Most Clients

Southeast Psych just completed our client satisfaction surveys and the results were amazing. During a ten-day period in August, we randomly surveyed over 100 of our current clients (N=122) and asked them what they thought about their experience at Southeast Psych. We asked about everything from the check-in and check-out experience to the waiting area. We asked about their therapist’s empathy, skill, and helpfulness, and we asked about their overall experience at Southeast Psych, rating each component of our service as either poor, fair, good, or excellent. All the surveys were completed anonymously and put into a box in the waiting area. Participation in the survey was completely voluntary.

Across the board, the results were remarkable. The average rating for “Overall experience at Southeast Psych” was 3.9 out of a possible 4.0. Our therapists were uniformly rated as “Excellent” by a clear majority of our clients and they also told us we excelled in every single category we surveyed.

Even though the survey did not ask for additional comments, we still got many encouraging words written across the bottom. One client wrote, “Thank you all for the best therapy experience I’ve ever had.” Another wrote, “I can’t think of a thing I would change.” Still another wrote, “You have all been such big help and a blessing to our whole family. Thank you.”

We still want to keep getting better, but it’s feedback like this that lets us know we are creating a special experience for our clients. We have great staff and great therapists, and we think our clients are some of the best people anywhere. Thanks for the feedback!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How Parents Can Help a Teen Through a Loss

by Nyaka Niilampti

Many young people have had limited experiences with death. Typically it comes in the form of the loss of a grandparent or an older family member. Less frequently, it comes in the form of the loss of a peer, which often results in complicated emotions for both teens and their parents.

The loss of a friend, classmate, or peer can result in a loss of the sense of safety for young people. Despite what we know about the stages of grieving, the processing of grief is a highly individual experience, and each child or teen will deal with it in his or her own way.

There are a number of common reactions to loss including sadness, panic and anxiety, a fear of death, denial, guilt, shame, anger, poor concentration and confusion. There are also a number of ways parents can offer assistance following a loss. Here are a few suggestions for how parents can help:

Be available. It is common to be uncomfortable talking about death or loss. Even with that discomfort, make sure that your child is aware that you will be open to that conversation. Letting them know that you are available for questions, conversations, or simply silence will be encouraging. Some children will need to process their grief by talking, while others process their grief differently. Send a note, or write a card, both right after the event as well as after some time has passed to let them know the option is still open. Communicating your availability will help them be more comfortable approaching you when that time comes.

Encourage them to communicate with their friends. Some adolescents may be uncomfortable reaching out to adults. Communication with peers and friends may provide an additional and necessary support, particularly those in the same community and teens may be more able to share their emotions with peers than with adults.

Listen. Allow them to tell their stories, including their favorite memories of that person. Use open questions or prompt them with, “Tell me about…” Ask what they would like to remember most about the person they have lost.

Create a ritual. A memorial service is an important ritual that helps families and individuals grieve a loss. There can be other, less formal rituals that help young people grieve the loss. Encourage and allow them to participate in rituals or find their own way to say goodbye. This may include doing something individually or with a group.

Be supportive and patient. Don’t try to “fix” the situation or offer reassurance that this will not happen again. Talk openly and honestly with them, then validate their experience. Encourage them to share their feelings, but don’t push them. If you have had similar experiences, share those; however, keep in mind that even with similar experiences, it is impossible to know exactly how they may feel. Let them know there is no “right way” to grieve the loss, and that the difficulty they may be experiencing is normal. Encourage them to be patient with themselves and to take time to heal.

Keep an eye out for drastic changes. Significant changes in behavior patterns, eating, or sleeping, may be indicators that they are not coping well with the loss, and may be in need of additional support.

Encourage self care. While it may seem simple, encourage them to do the necessary daily tasks and activities. Eating and sleeping on as much of a “normal” schedule as possible will help them feel more secure.

With time and support, most children and teens will cope with and process the death of a classmate or peer and resume their regular activities. However, be open to the possibility that your child may need additional support to help them process this loss. If you notice they are not able to cope with their daily activities, isolating themselves from friends and family, or other significant noticeable changes, suggest that they speak with a professional as a means of gaining additional support.

Editor's Note: Nyaka Niilampti is a psychologist at Southeast Psych in Charlotte. She has a Ph.D. from Temple University, a master's in sports psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill, and a bachelor's degree from Princeton. Before coming to Southeast Psych, she has worked in university counseling centers, secondary schools, and community mental health centers.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Truth (So Far) About Facebook

There are lots of opinions out there about whether Facebook is good or bad for things like relationships, grades, and productivity. Since there isn't a ton of good research yet, we don't know all the answers, but the results are mixed. Here's what the studies say so far:

* Facebook usage contributes to jealousy in relationships. When young adults spend more time on Facebook, they tend to get more jealous in their romantic relationships. The more jealous they get, the more time they spend searching for other information about their partner that fuels their jealousy and puts them into a negative cycle.

* Facebook users tend to be more willing to engage in face-to-face interactions and relationships rather than less, which challenges the notion that Facebook and similar online social networking sites cause people to be less social in their real-world interactions.

* There is no strong evidence that Facebook use negatively affects academic achievement in high school and college students. A pilot study had suggested this, but bigger studies have shown no negative impact on grades for the vast majority of students.

* There is evidence that a person's level of narcissism can be predicted by their Facebook profiles. Those who were more narcissistic tend to have more glamourous, self-promoting profile pictures and far more social contacts or "friends" than those who were less narcissistic. There is no evidence that Facebook users as a whole were more narcissistic than average, however.

* Facebook has become part of the "social glue" that helps incoming freshman settle into college and build campus relationships. It may also decrease the likelihood they will drop courses in their first year.

That's what we know--or think we know--about Facebook and similar sites so far. We'll keep you posted as new research emerges.


Sources:

Sheldon, P. (2008). The relationship between unwillingness-to-communicate and students Facebook use. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 20, 67-75.

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc./Genetic Engineering News (2009, August 7). Does Facebook Usage Contribute To Jealousy In Relationships? ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 16, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090806112558.htm

Ohio State University (2009, April 14). Facebook Use Linked To Lower Grades In College. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 16, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090413180538.htm

Northwestern University (2009, May 8). Facebook Use Not Found To Correlate Negatively With College Grades, New Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 16, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090507164403.htm

University of Georgia (2008, September 23). Facebook Profiles Can Be Used To Detect Narcissism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 16, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080922135231.htm

University of Leicester (2008, October 14). Facebook Is 'Social Glue' For University Freshmen. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 16, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081014111056.htm

Monday, August 3, 2009

Preparing Your Freshman for College


All over the country, families are planning their last of the summer vacations; back to school ads will soon bombard your Sunday paper. For most kids—and parents—the return of the school year presents both excitement and new challenges. For those who will be sending students off to college for the first time, emotions may be mixed.

The first year of college presents a number of new opportunities, and with new experiences come new challenges, new fears, and new anxieties. Regardless of which party states that they will feel the greatest relief when cars are unpacked and the goodbye hugs, waves (and for some, tears) ensue, both parties will feel some appropriate degree of anxiety.

There are a number of ways parents can be more proactive in helping psychologically prepare their child for college and aid in the transition and adjustment.

1. Communicate your concerns. Have a conversation about some of the things that you are concerned they will encounter. While the communication should not be with the motivation to inspire fear, don’t be na├»ve. College will entail both positive and negative experiences. Communication should include concerns about drug and alcohol use, sexual relationships, encountering diversity, and moral challenges. Beginning a conversation with your student about some of these concerns will hopefully open up a dialogue that will prepare them as well as present the opportunity for parents to have some of their fears reduced.

2. Encourage them to be prepared to ask for help. Even the most well adjusted and adaptable student will be thrown for a loop at some point during their first few months, whether with a roommate, in the classroom, or outside of campus. Many of the students who enter college were the stars and highest achievers in high school, and may not have had significant experiences with needing help. With your encouragement, they can learn that asking for assistance is an indicator of growth and maturity, not a sign of weakness.

3. Encourage them to ask for help early. Many students defeat themselves by asking for help when it’s too late, or when they are past the point of more minor intervention and are in “crises mode”. Instructors will be more open if they are approached a month before a major exam or assignment is due; tutoring is more helpful the earlier in the semester you begin; counseling can help you learn to balance before you become so overwhelmed that you begin to skip classes or isolate yourself.

4. Encourage them to use the resources. College is one of the only times that students will have access to so many free (well, included in their tuition payment, room and board) services. Most university campuses have counseling centers, where students have access to free—or mostly free—individual and/or group therapy. There is also the learning and writing center, career services, and disability services. Students can receive tutoring, have papers edited, learn to correctly use APA style, have their resumes critiqued, perfect their interview skills, and gain support for a previous diagnosis such as ADHD or a learning disability.

5. Encourage them to advocate for themselves—don’t do it for them. Two of the developmental tasks of college students are achieving competence and becoming autonomous. Help your college student develop these skills by making suggestions or offering possible strategies. Encourage them to meet with their advisors or professors or to seek out support services themselves before calling the Counseling Center or the Dean of the department for them.

6. Encourage them to become involved—but not too involved. Higher education research shows that social integration contributes to retention. Most institutions have hundreds of campus organizations, including volunteer opportunities. Encourage them to find a group that appeals to them to become involved, but also encourage them to pace themselves. There are always opportunities for involvement, and without a good balance, it’s possible to spend so much time with organizations and involvement that academics are neglected.

7. Encourage them to be open—to new experiences, new groups, new ideas. College is about growing, and what they enjoy in college may be different from activities and peers from high school. There will be opportunities available on a college campus that you may have never thought to become involved in, which go beyond athletics or the traditional sorority or fraternity. Encourage them to find a new activity that they may be even slightly interested in and attend one meeting; they may find that they enjoy it more than they thought or it may not be a good fit. If nothing else, they have been exposed to something new, and may meet new people in the process.

The transition to college can be both exciting and daunting. Be prepared to offer support and encouragement as they make the adjustment. Even though they attended orientation and grabbed almost all of the “important” information, more than likely they have not read much—or any—of it and will need your guidance in pointing them in the right direction.

Editor's Note: Nyaka Niilampti is a psychologist at Southeast Psych in Charlotte. She has a Ph.D. from Temple University, a master's in sports psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill, and a bachelor's degree from Princeton. Before coming to Southeast Psych, she has worked in university counseling centers, secondary schools, and community mental health centers.