Saturday, April 11, 2015

In Defense of Helicopter and Snowplow Moms…sort of.

I think of my life in two phases: now and B.C. (before children). Before having my own children, I rolled my eyes at the so-called “Helicopter parents” who rescued their children from disappointments and frustration. Or, if we are keeping up with the latest judgmental term for moms, I would have rolled my eyes at the “Snowplow” moms who move all obstacles out of the way of their precious unique snowflakes.

To be sure, as a school psychologist, I have stories of extreme parental hyper-involvement that evoke the collective societal eye roll. One time, I had a mom burst into my office while I was counseling a girl. She screamed, “I was listening outside this door and my daughter is lying! I never said that!” Um…no. Or there was the time when I was doing an assessment with a middle school boy for learning differences and the mom came in my office in advance to make sure the desk was ergonomically correct. She straight plopped into the chair and measured the distance to the worktable. And I kid you not, I left to go to the restroom and when I came back, she was on a chair with some sort of Volt-o-Meter making sure that the lighting was correct.

I’ve also observed parenting being treated like an Olympic sport. I have had parents tell me they are worried about their kid’s speech evaluation getting into their file for Harvard and the kid is like 4 years old. Ummmmm…relax. And just a few weeks ago, my neighbor told me of an Easter egg hunt that was like Lord of the Babies, with parents running ahead and pushing other parents to make sure their kiddo got an egg, leaving the toddlers in the dust. Ummmmm…it’s a plastic egg. I can get you like 40,000 for a dollar at Walgreens. It’s going to be okay.

You might have your own story of a mom swooping in like a helicopter or plowing her way in her child’s life to make sure everything is perfect. And you would be right to think that she was doing too much.

And yet…now that I have my own kids, I can sort of understand the impulse. I mean, I don’t own a Volt-o-Meter, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t trip a toddler so mine could win the egg hunt, but you know what I’m saying. Once you hold your child in your arms for the first time, your worldview changes. You want to do everything to protect your child from harm—psychological and physical harm alike. In fact, recent studies show that women’s brains actually change when they become mothers. So those familiar maternal feelings of overwhelming love, fierce protectiveness, and constant worry begin with reactions in the brain. Basically, just looking at your infant sets your amygdala on fire to protect him or her, so this might explain why when you first become a mom, you might start entertaining doing things that you used to mock other moms for doing.

I’ll be the first to admit that as a parent with a blazing amygdala, you sometimes just can’t help but let fear take over your imagination. While you are holding that precious baby bundle in your arms, you start to worry about 18 years from now, thinking, “Hmmm…maybe I should home college her so she doesn’t ever go to a party and make foolish life changing decisions. Perfect! If she is home colleged, she’ll never go on Spring Break and meet a tattooed guy named Bubba and do the Macarena on a bar with him (not that I did that of course). Hmmm…that’s cruel to keep her sheltered, so maybe I’d let her live it up at the Science Museum for a week over break”* Wait, what am I thinking?!?

To make problems worse, these days, moms are bombarded with terrifying information about everything that could hurt, maim, psychologically damage, or kill your babies.** When you watch the news, every child is suddenly your baby and OMG my baby is going to go on spring break in Aruba and never come back!!! It’s terrifying and insidious. Here is a sample of the information I learned in my Facebook feed just this week:

-Plastic thermoses will KILL YOUR BABY (eventually)!
-One kiss to your baby when she is in the hospital CAN KILL HER!
-If you don’t label your child’s car seat with her name, when you are both unconscious in a car accident, the paramedics won’t be able to identify her or know her blood type!
-If you don’t give your child a pacifier, she will DIE OF SIDS!
-Your child will walk to school by herself and NEVER COME BACK.
-If you go to Disneyland, your immune-compromised child will DIE OF THE MEASLES

Of course, I’m all for public service announcements and getting the word out there to help parents make safe choices. Finding missing kids? Um, hell yeah, of course, blast everyone’s feed, Facebook. I admit, my kids’ car seats are labeled and I can’t wait to give my second baby her first birthday vaccination present. Happy Birthday, sweetie! You get not-Measles! Obviously, I appreciate education about how to keep kids safe, but my point is that the sheer volume of products and choices you make that can possibly murder your child makes childhood seem über-perilous. And I consider myself relatively free from DSM-5 anxiety disorder diagnoses, but it’s enough to want to put your child in a bubble.

And not to be that in MY day gal, but I seem to have a fair few memories of getting disappointed, hurt, and putting myself in stupid situations and I do believe I survived relatively unscathed. I recently asked my mom if she was secretly looming around when I was riding my bike all over town without an electronic leash (cell phone) for hours and hours with my sister, and she said, “No, we trusted you.” My own mom mind immediately thought, “Yeah, but how can you trust everyone else?!?” Is the world significantly more dangerous than 30-some years ago, or do we just have information about every perilous thing at our fingertips now, clogging our Facebook feed with fear?

As a school psychologist, parenting has become a constant Me vs. Me battle, fighting the urge to over-protect my offspring. I can remember so vividly the first time my own Toddler B got hit by another child. I had dropped her off at preschool and I peered in the window to see my darling happily engaging in…wait what the heck is that kid doing to her!?! Some kid was slapping my girl repeatedly, laughing maniacally, and she was just standing there, crying, and no teacher was nearby to intervene. And here the battle happened in my mind:

School Psychologist Me: “Let your child experience discomfort, work through problems on her own, and experience hurt and disappointment in order to build adaptability and coping strategies. This incident will teach her how to self-advocate and be assertive.”

Mama Me: “OMG that kid is straight up hitting my child and laughing about it! Someone please get that little sociopath to off my baby!”

School Psychologist Me: “The teachers will take care of her and process this appropriately if I let them.”

Mama Me: “F-it. It takes a village, I’m getting that monster child off my baby!” (*lunges toward junior psychopath*)

School Psychologist Me: “Okay, the teacher has put the child in time out and we will now debrief this whole incident appropriately. The aggressor probably has some lagging social-emotional regulation skills and is in need of nurturing intervention.”

Mama Me: “WHAT? That evil little boy is crying because HE is in time out? Like he’s the victim here? I’m going to have to call his parents and tell them to keep that psycho kid away from my baby.”

Oh, it’s embarrassing to admit that Mama Me has a secret little helicopter-snow plow looming in my thoughts. But having my own kids does make me more empathetic and less judgmental of parents than I used to be. Obvi, you can still be empathetic without having kids of your own, but for me personally, that was the turning point in my career that gave me a deeper understanding of how hard it really is to parent in today’s climate. Perhaps as professionals and educators, we can encourage each other to at least pause before we roll our eyes at an anxious parent and acknowledge that our culture bombards parents with messages that fuel the little helicopters and snowplows in our minds.

* Yes! Yes! They can go to "The University of Rebecca"! My daughters could major in Maternal Resentment with a minor in Zero Independent Living Skills.
**They will ALWAYS be my babies, I don’t care how old they get.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

SPAW! SPAW! Burning Question, Answered.

And so concludes School Psychology Awareness Week (SPAW! SPAW!) Every year, I alternate between making a screeching sound in my head and mentally adding an “N” to SPAW when I see it written down. It’s a pretty awesome acronym. At least this year I remembered it before it was totally over.  What? School psychs are busy people.  

I get quite a few emails from people asking my opinion on whether or not school psychology is the correct profession for them. I really do try to write everyone back, but sometimes the questions would take 382947982 hours to write back (like, “What is the difference between school psychology, clinical psychology, and counseling psychology?” Or “What is school psychology really like?”)* Important questions, but these 382947982 reports for work aren’t gonna write themselves. And I'm also nursing a baby and my todder is demanding to know why she can't have a brother named Hansel, or some other randomly awesome question.  And so my friends in cyberspace are left wondering. Well, fear not, cyberfriends! I am going to periodically post questions I get for all to read! I’ll even tackle some of the big questions. It’ll be like my very own “Ask Rebecca” column for a suuuuper specific demographic.

So without further ado, today’s question comes from a graduate student in school psychology, who is wondering:

You mentioned in the first chapter of The Survival Guide that school psychologists have many responsibilities. What is your favorite role in the profession? Your least favorite?

Ooh. I get another chance to plug my book! Thank you, grad student friend. In my book, I mention there are four primary roles of the school psychologist: assessment, counseling, prevention/intervention, and consultation. So which is my fave? Difficult to say, because I like some aspects of all roles, BUT, in the school setting, I have to say it’s a toss up between assessment and counseling. Here’s the cliché part: I love working with the kiddies directly. Assessment and counseling allow me that precious one-on-one time when I can really get to know a student and put together the various pieces of the bigger  puzzle as to why the child is struggling in school. Often, there is an X-factor that is discovered in assessment that gives the child’s support team a new lens for interpreting behavior or school performance. I love being a part of the team that solves the puzzle for the student so that targeted interventions can be generated to support him or her.

In assessment, even though the tests are the same, it never is the same experience. I recently told a student I was so excited to use the new WISC-V** because they only make new ones every 10 years or so and I’ve been giving the same test for 10 years, and the kid says, “Dang! That’s gotta get boring!” The thing is, it doesn’t because each kid approaches the tasks so differently, and every once in a while, you get a hilarious new answer to one of the questions. I wish I could post some, but I fear the WISC Test Security Police.

So what’s the worst? It’s also assessment. The absolute worst is writing the report. It’s painful and tedious. And it’s so important to do it right because it is forever in a child’s file and life. Also, I have this problem where I want to explain everything in super detail, so my reports in the school setting tend to be around 15-20 pages long.*** So each report takes me around 6 hours to write, and sometimes, I’m looking at writing a handful of them all at the same time. Also, no one leaves you alone in the school to peacefully write reports, so you’re constantly interrupted and end up having to take those buggers home with you to ruin your weekend. In the school setting, there is also a time pressure to write them, as you can’t very well show up to a feedback meeting without the feedback. So there’s a time crunch on top of it. Boo.

Then again, I do enjoy the feedback meetings in which I present the key findings of the assessment. It's especially rewarding when the student is present and can hear about his or her strengths and areas of need. Without fail,  students who are assessed typically feel globally “stupid” and when you can show them in black and white scores that they have some areas of strength or even super-strength, you can almost see their relief.

So there’s a snippit of my thoughts on the most rewarding and most difficult parts of a school psych’s job. And because it’s fun, I’m going to offer a free copy of my book to a lucky winner who comments on this page or the Facebook page what their favorite and least favorite part of the job is. Wheee! Freeeee! Now there’s a happy end to SPAW. Contest will end on 11/23/14. Annnnnnd go! 

*I have mega guilt about not writing people back because of an early childhood experience in which Molly Ringwald never wrote me back about how to become an actress. Not even a form letter. RUDE.

**Fed Ex guy is officially scared of me, because I totally nerded out big time when the new WISC-V came. He prob thought it was a box of diamonds by the way I reacted. To be fair, it was almost the same price…

***In private practice, I give many more tests in my assessment battery, so I’m rocking the 25-30 pagers for those. I tell parents that many of the pages are recommendations and data tables, so they don't freak out that I wrote a whole chapter on their child. 

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Feed Your Happy Wolf

My psychologist license for private practice requires renewal every three years, and with that comes a ton of courses I have to take to keep current. Of course, the theory is you do a little over three years, but of course I consistently have executive functioning fail and am scrambling to find a live seminar at the last minute. To my credit, the timing of this renewal has been right when I’ve given birth. Twice.

The first time it came due, Toddler B was 5 months old and I had to go to downtown Oakland for an all day seminar. No prob, except as a first time mom, I was panicked about how I was going to pump milk for nursing while I was away. I called ahead to the hotel where the conference was and I was assured a private space could be found. At the lunch break, what ensued was a super awkward convo with a teenage boy at the main desk.

Me: I was told there would be a space for me to pump.
Boy: Pump?
Me: Yes, pump milk.
Boy (dying): Um, like pumping your…
Me: Don’t make me say it.
Boy (frantic): Let me call my supervisor. (To Supervisor on phone: Um, there’s this lady here who has a question. And it’s not a weird question, I just need…CAN YOU COME HERE RIGHT AWAY?)

And then I pumped in a conference room that looked out onto the hotel pool. Hello everyone, these are my breasts. Good times.

My renewal came up this year as my second baby turned 6 months. Luckily, I figured out that “live” webinars count as “live” seminars so I could finish up in the comfort of my home and spare some boy the mortifying task of having to say “pump” and “breasts” in the same sentence.

There is a point to this story that is actually related to school psychology, if you can believe it.

SO. I ended up taking this course on the “Science of Happiness” online and unlike most courses I take, this one actually had some practical application! Pet peeve #247 is when a course is titled, “Practical Strategies for ADHD!” and it’s one hour of outline what ADHD is and then 5 minutes of strategies like "sit the child at the front of the class."

So with that, I recommend having a look at this course if you’re at all interested in the latest research on positive psychology (and, it’s FREE)*! I want to share one practical thing that came out of this happiness course. It’s fairly common knowledge that happy people have happier thoughts. Optimists live longer, are healthier, and all that jazz. But can you train yourself to be an optimist? The short answer is yes…to a degree. There are genetic factors that predispose one to a certain baseline level of happy, and situational factors matter, but since nothing is purely genetic, habits of the mind can also boost your happiness.

With each week, there is a “happiness activity” to try and the first week’s one was something called “Three Good Things.”  It’s exactly as it sounds. At the end of every day, you write down three good things that happened. But there’s a bit more work. You have to do the following along with it:

·  Give the event a title (e.g., “a co-worker complimented my work on a project”)
·  Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.
·  Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).
·  Explain what you think caused this event—why it came to pass.

So the first week I tried it, I found myself searching for happy moments and filing them away for later. For me, happiness was discovered in unexpectedly tiny moments—the way my girls laugh in each others' faces for no apparent reason, the way the baby holds my hand, when my husband made dinner, chatting with a neighbor, an appreciative email from a parent. The happiness exercise made me more mindful of the good things in my life. And you know from previous posts, I’m a super late adopter of mindfulness practices.

For fun, I started having my students in counseling try it out. I bought them each a little notebook and cool pen (any excuse to go to Target, right? That bullseye keeps hypnotizing me to go back and spend a ton of cash).  I did a modified version for their “homework” in which they have to write three good things that happened in relation to school. So many of my students either don't give themselves credit for their role in their successes or they laser focus on their weaknesses and forget their strengths.

To introduce the idea, I start my students off with telling a parable that was shared in one of the articles in the course—it’s a Native American story of a grandfather teaching his grandson about emotions. He  tells the boy that inside everyone, there are two wolves that fight each other: one wolf is full of positive emotions—happiness, gratitude, thoughtfulness, joy, excitement—and the other is full of negative emotions—fear, sadness, anger, and jealousy. The young boy asks which wolf wins the fight inside people, and the grandfather says, “The one you feed.”

So with that, folks, I recommend you and your students feed your happy wolves and see how it goes. I printed up this beauty meme as a reminder. I never lose an opportunity to use a meme generator. It makes me…happy. ;)

*There’s always an asterisk after “Free”, right? It’s free to take, but if you want CEU credits, there’s a fee.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Back to Scho...

Yeah, no time to even finish that title. It's GO TIME, people. Professional development done (bleh--trust falls!), kiddies back in school, and the school psychologist's to-do list is having baby to-do lists at an exponential rate. *

SO, while I haven't the time to craft a meaningful blog post, I do have time to give away free stuff that will help you survive and thrive in the new school year!

Who wants a copy of The School Psychologist's Survival Guide?

Just post a comment here or on Facey Face with one back-to-school survival tip for fellow school psychologists and I'll enter you in a drawing to win the book, using a random number generator. And then I'll try to find time to drag an infant and a toddler to the post office and send it to the winner. That's how much y'all mean to me.

Happy New School Year!

*Not to mention the mama school psychs out there who are also trying to raise small humans of your own. Your to-do list is probably insane, especially if you are trying to keep up with Pinterest moms who make adorbs "First Day of School" chalkboard signs with handcrafted wood borders they whittled themselves and bento boxes of lunch food that look like woodland animals with carrot whiskers and whatnot.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Back to School Tips for School Psychologists

When one is on maternity leave, every day is a Saturday in an unknown month. And then one Saturday your Target store is super busy and you’re like, “What is going on?!? Why is my Target packed with people?” and you realize it is actually a Saturday. And it just might be back to school time. Oh, and your friends start posting adorbs photos of their kids getting ready for first day back. So I may be slightly late for my back to school tips, but here they are. Like IEPs and assessments, better late than never. In no particular order:

1)    Go to the dentist and get your haircut. Seriously. Aint nobody got time for that once school starts. Or if you’ve already started school, book a Saturday appointment now, since the next available will be months from now. No one wants to be in October looking like the lovechild of Jafar and that Nicky girl from Orange is the New Black. 

2)    Get your forms and templates in order. You know how every year you vow to update your report templates or forms for parents/teachers and then never do it? Or is that just me? I have a fantasy of putting all my recommendations I ever have thought of into one master document, organized by theme (e.g. executive functioning, auditory memory) and then pulling recommendations into the reports, tailored for each child’s needs. And then the baby wakes up or the toddler NEEDS me to find Pinkie Pie Pony and it doesn’t happen. But if you don’t have kids, it’s go time. I will live vicariously through you.

3)    Save time and print up organization, case management, and forms/templates from a book. Now what book would have such specific forms just for school psychologists? I just can’t put my finger on such a resource…oh wait! The School Psychologist’s Survival Guide! Shameless, I know. But tens of reviewers on Amazon can't be wrong.

4)    Take a nap in the middle of the day. You will be wishing you could nap on demand once school starts. Live it up now. If you have kids, sorry you’re out of luck. Only once every Saturn Returns do kids nap at the same time when you are tired. And when they do, you have to make that phone call to your hairdresser. School psychs without kids: LIVE. IT. UP. For the rest of us, there’s no shame in calling grandma or a babysitter over to have an afternoon nap.

5)    Make a New School Year Resolution. Every school year, I vow to improve my practice in one small way. Maybe it’s taking a few webinars on play therapy or learning a new assessment, or even vowing to actually take a lunch. Mix it up, learn something new, and prioritize something about the job that you love to do and infuse it into your daily practice. My resolution? Get ready for the new WISC-V by watching training webinars, which I am pathetically super excited about! NERD ALERT. I mean, what items are they going to change? Is the typewriter picture going away? I am on the edge of my nerdy, nerdy seat.

6)    Go shopping. I hate to be predictable, but there is something so friggin’ exciting about getting a new planner, new organizational tool, new bag, new coffee mug the size of your head, or new school psychologist costume for the new year. 

So whenever your school year starts, or if it has even started already, go ahead and post an adorable picture of yourself on your Facebook page with your million bags you carry for your first day back.* And I wish you a wonderful school year!

*For fun, I asked Toddler B what mommy did for work and she said, “Carries a lot of purses.” Correct.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

We Interrupt This Blog.

So you know how lately my blog has been terribly infrequent and sometimes a secret mommy blog instead of blog about school psychology? I recently read a review on Amazon of my blog on Kindle that was entitled “Life gets in the way” and the reader lamented that after I had a baby my blog went downhill and asked me to “please get back on topic.” Ouch. I mean, it's true, but ouch.*

Well, fair warning…I’m not gonna be prolific or on topic for a while because I have a special announcement. I’ll give you a hint: It’s 8lbs, 12oz, and she has my eyes…

Yes, I made another person!

And so through sleep deprived haze, I write to you all to share the good news and let you know that I’ll do my best to keep the blog alive. But I’m loving how life has gotten in the way of my career right now. I mean, seriously. Teeny tiny baby feet are the cutest.

Thanks to everyone for your patience and I will return to the regularly scheduled blog when I’m not disabled by fatigue. :)

*Go through the archived posts. I was a hoot B.C. (Before Children). In related news, I also think I should post a new headshot because that perky gal in my profile pic mocks me with her pre-children energy. 

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Friday, May 9, 2014

How Do I Tell My Readers I Have No Inner Monologue? I Hope I Didn’t Say That Outloud.

I once saw this horrible made-for-TV movie about a boy with Autism who was instrumental in solving a murder because he was a witness and he had a penchant for repeating things, and this is how he revealed the killer. Only instead of the classic Autistic echolalia of just repeating what is heard in one's own voice, the boy in this movie took on the ACTUAL voice of the killer and it was comical as the voice of the killer was transposed on this lip syncing boy actor. Um, that’s not really how echolalia works, guys.

I also used to work in a group home with teens on the Autism spectrum who would echo random things back, like “OJ’s going to jail!” or the old jingle to the Ross commercial.* On occasion, I would hear a child echo back a command I had given earlier, and I got to hear how I sounded through their ears. Hint: naggingly annoying.

Now that I have my own little one, I am fascinated by language development. While Toddler B doesn’t have echolalia, anyone who has a toddler knows that they are little mynah birds and will repeat ANYTHING. Be careful, parents who drop a dish and say something in colorful language in front of their toddler. Because one day, that kiddo will use that language in the correct context at preschool and you will die of embarrassment. So I’ve heard.

I get a window into how language shapes cognition and memory every night, as my girl recaps her day and I get to eavesdrop on her through the monitor. I am stunned by what she replays in her mind, her young mind not yet able to tap into Vygotsky’s inner monologue skills.** I hear myself through the voices of her teddy bears. “Oh no, Teddy, we don’t put jackets on dogs, okay?” or  “Oh, you fell? I’m so sorry, mommy will kiss it” Or “I need you to pick up your toys NOW!” If you’ve ever gotten the recap of your parenting played out with stuffed animals, you will be SHOCKED how much is getting into that little spongy brain. Just when you think that little one isn’t listening, they show proof that they remember EVERYTHING.

I see her do it during her play too. Piaget was spot on when he said that, “We can be sure that all things in a child’s life, pleasant and unpleasant, will have repercussions on her dolls.” Toddler B plays out when a kid hit her at preschool and how she reacted, shares her feelings about mommy going to work with lots of bags (school psychs, you hear me?!?), and plays “school” by making all the monkeys raise their paws to talk (tear…playing school just like her mama did when she was little. Sniff sniff).

As a parent, it is a daily reminder that what you say to your child is shaping who they are. As a school psychologist, it reminds me that the kids we work with obviously have inner speech now, so we can't be as sure as when a toddler repeats everything, but we can be reasonably sure that what we say to them can still become a part of who they are and how they think about themselves. 

*Only instead of the full jingle, this gal always left off where she got her great clothes. “Do you love it? I love it! I got it at…Do you love it? I love it! I got it at…” After 3 years of hearing this jingle, part of me wanted to fill in “ROSS!” you got it at “ROSS!” I guess I just like a sense of completion in a world of chaos. But I digress.
**I have a coworker like this too. She likes to narrate everything she does. “I’m going to put this folder here…now what was I going to do next? Ah, that’s right, go to the bathroom…” Not having private speech is cute in a toddler, not so much in a grown woman.

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