Tantrum or Meltdown?

While I was at the mall this weekend, I saw a beautiful toddler having an all-out — tantrum or was it a meltdown.  To my eyes, it was a meltdown, and the dad was doing a great job being calm and lovingly while he carrying him out of the mall. So, what is the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown? And then, is there a difference in how to handle them?

Here is a nice chart from understood.org….

Happy Holidays

Article by Jacki Reinert, Psy.D.

“As a child, the idea of Christmas meant cookies, presents, time with family, and of course, giving up TGIF’s Full House in favor of holiday movies. Everything from Scrooged to A Miracle on 34th Street to Home Alone, and every clay animated favorite served as the framework for my formulation of what the holidays truly meant; “It’s Christmas Eve. It’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be.” Frank Cross’s commentary on Christmas set expectations high, and year after year, we hoped to top the magic and splendor of the previous year’s festivities.
As a parent, the holiday season conjures up warm memories of childhood, ignites aspirations to establish new traditions, and creates opportunities to share experiences with our loved ones, particularly our children. The magic of the holidays can also cultivate high expectations; to act nicer, smile easier, and to cheer more. These expectations more often than not exceed our capacity to truly encapsulate the hopes and aspirations we drum up in our heads. High expectations can pave the way for increased levels of perceived stress.
The American Psychological Association recently released its annual review, Stress in America (November, 2017), which indicates the United States has reached its highest stress level yet. Acute arousal stress in isolation can activate and enhance mobilization, sharpening our concentration and preparing our bodies to engage in challenging tasks, such as wrapping those last two presents and baking another round of cookies. This basic human reaction known as the “flight-or-fight” response has served us well, priming our bodies to flee or combat unsafe situations; however, our bodies can also overreact to simple, non-threatening situations, such as holiday pressure, financial difficulties, and increasing family demands.
Chronic stress has far more lasting and serious complications, particularly when it exceeds our ability to cope and leads to emotional and physical dysregulation. Stress is negatively related to our coping potential and our perception of control, which decreases use of problem-solving coping strategies and increases negative coping strategies, such as alcohol consumption and avoidance tactics (Rui Gomes, Faria, & Gonçalves, 2013). Individuals who experience elevations in stress and engage in maladaptive coping strategies such as drinking more alcohol, complaining, sleeping less, and consuming unhealthy foods which increase chances of becoming physically and mentally run down.
For parents, the added stress of the holidays and high expectations can have a significant impact on not only themselves, but those around them. Research suggests that adults are more likely to find family responsibilities stressful than they have in the past (APA, November, 2017). High expectations can make capturing the perfect holiday, particularly when parenting a child with special needs, a stressful time, leading to feelings of resentment (“I’m doing all of this and no one is helping me”), frustration (“I have no time to fit this all in”), and disappointment (“It seems like they didn’t have a good time”).
This year, I encourage you to lower your holiday expectations, increase self-care and self-compassion. While practicing self-care may be the furthest thing from your mind, the following may offer some reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
1. Expect that things will go wrong, and that’s okay. Someone will get sick, you might burn a dish, and yes, that’s okay. Avoid catastrophic thinking, a common cognitive distortion where we imagine and worry about the worst possible situation, either consciously or subconsciously. For example, your ability to prepare the perfect holiday dinner for twelve people is an act, not a representation of how good of a person you are. You are not the sum of how well-executed things are, how perfectly the house looks, how your children act.
2. Practice self-regulation and utilize coping skills. The easiest way to understand the subtle difference between these two concepts is to imagine yourself in a car, driving down I-90 into Boston and someone cuts you off. To access a coping skill to manage your anger, you would first need to pull off the highway, put the car in park, and throw on your hazard lights. Conversely, if you were utilizing a self-regulation skill, you could continue driving and manage your thoughts and feelings in the moment. Self-regulation is the ability to modulate our emotions and impulses, to keep ourselves in check, whereas coping is a process or actions that help you manage difficult emotions. Examples of self-regulation skills include diaphragmatic breathing (learn more here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFcQpNr_KA4&t=140s) and box breathing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dP4Jxxhhzl0). Coping skills can include meditation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Bs0qUB3BHQ), and progressive muscle relaxation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nZEdqcGVzo).
3. Practice micro-moments of positivity. Research suggests that rather than pursue the perfect gift to demonstrate your love for a family member, seeking out opportunities to be present and make a meaningful connection have a more lasting effect (Heshmati, Oravecz, Pressman, Bathcelder, Muth, & Vandekerckhove, 2017). Crawling into bed and reading a holiday book with your children, or complete a small craft together can have a more lasting impact that securing a sloth Fingerling for them. You can read more about micro-moments here: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/12/09/568834440/what-s-better-than-expensive-presents-the-gift-of-presence
4. Opt outside! Research suggests that spending time in nature can have significant effect on mood (https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/12/09/568834440/what-s-better-than-expensive-presents-the-gift-of-presence) and can increase sun exposure and the benefits of Vitamin D. Locate a winter wonderland hike here: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2016/01/11/winter-hiking-massachusetts/
5. Finally, don’t forget about self-care. Self-care is a deliberate act to support and nurture your physical and mental health. Taking care of yourself not only helps you but those around you. There are several TED talks highlighting the benefit of self-care: https://www.ted.com/playlists/299/the_importance_of_self_care 
Enjoy your holidays everyone.

Hooks in a Mental Closet by Dr. Richard Selznick

As part of an assessment I recently asked 17- year-old near senior, Bethany, “Who wrote Hamlet?”  Looking bewildered, she said, “I have no idea.”

Then, when asked to define the word “tranquil,” she could not further no guess.  Bethany had no association to the word.

By the end of the assessment, it turned out that Bethany scored in the 16th%ile for word knowledge and the 9th % ile for fund of information and general knowledge.

In contrast, Bethany functioned somewhat above average on tasks that were nonverbal, like putting blocks together to make spatial patterns and while analyzing a series of visual patterns.

“I think I have ADD,” Bethany said to me.

“What tells you that,” I asked her.

“When I read my mind wanders.  I have no idea what I am reading.  In class I can’t follow what the teacher is saying and have no clue what they are discussing. It has to be ADD – I think I should be on meds. Most of my friends are on meds.”

I get that kind of thing a lot – kids thinking they should “be on meds.”

Even though Bethany may benefit from stimulant medication, what I do know is that one of the primary reasons Bethany does not pay attention in class or while reading is that she lacks what I call “hooks in the mental closet.”

We used to think of reading as a fundamentally one-direction process.  In this model words would go from the page to the brain.  Researchers in the 1980s and 1990s enlightened us that reading (and listening to class lectures) was more of a two-way, interactive process.

The fact is the more “hooks we have in our mental closet” (the researchers used different terminology, mind you), the better we comprehend what we are reading or understand what we are listening to.

These “hooks” also help us to pay attention.  While medication may help Bethany focus, she still needs to be building in background knowledge and word awareness to try and overcome her sense of feeling lost.

In short, Bethany needs to build in more hooks.

There are plenty of books on the market that may be helpful such as, “Words You Should Know In High School: 1000 Essential Words To Build Vocabulary, Improve Standardized Test Scores, And Write Successful Papers.”

I can tell you with pretty good assurance that Bethany knew about 15 % of the essential 1000 words.

Even if Bethany practiced two words per day for a year, she would be in much better shape with the 720 new words (365 words X 2) for the year that she could learn.

There would be 720 new hooks in her mental closet!!!

Takeaway Point

Hooks in the mental closet matter and may explain some of the reason your child is not paying attention or adequately comprehending. Try and build them in any way you can.


Make reading a priority this summer…..

With just a little over a month left of school, it’s time remember the impact that daily reading can make for students.  Shaywitz’s (2003) graph below says so much

For those who find reading a challenge, summer is the time when just a little bit of intentional, focused oral practice every day can help a student get them back on track and regain their confidence.

For those that find reading and writing especially difficult, it’s a great time for multi-sensory scientifically based instruction, sometimes referred to as Orton-Gillingham or Structured Language approach, with a tutor trained in these methods to solidify skills. It’s time to work on skills that are lagging behind their peers, without the fatigue created by spending the day in the classroom.  Students have a marvelous opportunity to make strong gains.

Whether you’ve planned some “academics” for your children or not, below are some ideas for summer activities. In addition, you could consider rewarding your child with an end of the week treat if they read at least a certain amount of time minutes for at least five days in the previous week (an old fashioned chore  chart works well for this).  20 minutes a day 5 days a week is less than 2% of summer vacation.  How much time do they spend practicing sports, playing computer games, or other things.  Make reading a priority this summer.

Below are some ideas to encourage and enjoy reading.  Need some ideas for “treats/rewards”? Try a DQ, a new book, a special dessert, and — a favorite at our house – having a picnic dinner.

  1.  Find a movie based on a book.  Watch the movie, then read/listen to the book.  Talk about the differences and similarities.
  2.  Go to the library and borrow some books and games.
  3.  Pre-read some of the books that will be part of next year’s reading.  (Get that list from the teacher before school ends.)
  4.  Do a read-out-loud book.
  5.  Make dinner together—read the recipe, measure the ingredients, learn about the chemistry of cooking.
  6.  Play board games and card games.
  7.  Encourage your child to read to a pet or younger sibling/neighbor.
  8.  On a rainy day, have your children curl up with comic books or magazines.
  9.  Have your child plan a dream day somewhere. Be creative: they could write about it, make a collage, research with a travel book, or just talk about their ideal day.  Make sure you share your ideas, too.
  10.  Have a TV/technology free day.
  11.  Once a week, “drop everything and read” for 15 minutes … everyone in the house has to participate.



Shaywitz, S. (2003).  Overcoming Dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level.  New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Scientifically Based Reading Instruction

This is a nice comparison from Dr. Louisa Moats in her article The Whole-Language High Jinks: How to tell when ‘scientifically-based reading instruction’ isn’t. We need Scientifically Based Reading Research driving our reading instruction.  (Moats. L., 2007, pg 18)

Just out December 2016.

Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary
and Secondary School pamphlet was just published by the US Department of
Education, Office of Civil Rights.  It’s available at the following link


From Emily Gibbons at The Literacy Nest

“Being fair doesn’t ALWAYS mean doing the same thing for everyone. 
The minute we as teachers and parents let that sink in, we can begin to free ourselves of some of the things that felt like non-negotiables, but honestly, should be for a dyslexic child. So here are five things they do not need. Why? It’s all about leveling the playing field.

FYI- This is an opinion post based on working with dyslexic children for 16 years and speaking with hundreds of teachers who work with them.

1. The Same, Weekly, Spelling List And Test As The Rest Of The Class
Weekly spelling tests are great for kids with excellent rote memory. You get your words on Monday, you practice all week, cram on Thursday night and test on Friday. The cycle starts all over the next Monday. We don’t create successful spellers in this cycle. And if you have dyslexia, you need a structured approach to phonics and spelling that focuses on one pattern, rule or skill at a time. Too many lists go home that teach TOO MANY RULES.  It’s difficult to teach spelling skills for mastery when there are too many skills within one list.

2. Timed Math Fact Tests
This is another rite of passage in many classrooms as is the weekly spelling test. Kids need practical strategies that will help them build flexibility and fluency with their math facts. Rote memorization of facts is a source of stress for many children with dyslexia. Anyone under stress knows one thing: learning will not happen with fear. Give tools, practice things like skip counting and looking for patterns in multiples, instead.
3. The Same Homework
When I was a classroom teacher, I was guilty of giving out the Monday packet to be completed and turned in by Friday. There is a great debate going on about giving homework at all.  Cutting the quantity for a dyslexia child is leveling the playing field when you consider the amount of time and mental energy it takes to get through a single homework assignment, especially after a long school day. For older students, cutting quantity might be easy to do when you have been assigned a report. But the pathway to get there can be reformed with assistive technologies.

4.  Unsupported Sustained Silent Reading
Let’s be clear. SSR is NOT the same as structured independent reading time within a literacy block. SSR is futile if a child is reading a book that is too challenging or abandoning books every day. No one wants to see a struggling reader left out to pasture in a manner of words. Teachers need to assist children with appropriate book choice and then check in with them through mini conferences or use of a sticky note or reading log. This should happen more frequently for dyslexia readers. Dyslexic readers should have access to audio books as much as possible.

5. Marked Down For Spelling Errors
I see this happening a lot with dyslexia kids. Listen, they know they have a hard time with spelling. Circling a bunch of spelling errors in red or purple or marking them down will not help them improve. I will say, however, as an O.G. teacher that holding kids with dyslexia accountable for the lessons that have had explicit phonics instruction is a good thing. We teach for mastery in O.G. If my student has mastered the FLOSS Rule, then I will expect them to try their best to apply that rule in their writing. The key is to have accountability in spelling in small doses, not overwhelmingly long lists of rules.”

Below is a great letter…

Below is a great letter written by JM Lawrence of Grapevine, TX to help a parent respond to an email from a teacher about her child’s behavior during a language art activity. The teacher indicated that she knew the child had difficulty with reading and spelling. The child also said, “this is only easy for people who can read”. Some of the laws she references are specific to TX, but it’s a great letter that I thought needed to be shared. Thank JM!

Dear _______, _______, _______

I am sorry to hear from your email that X continues to struggle with reading and spelling, which causes her to act out. Her disability, dyslexia, is at the root of the issue and it is time to protect her access to the education offered her peers. Emotionally, you can see that X would rather “look” angry and defiant than “stupid” to her classmates. She is NOT choosing this behavior, it is her protection mechanism that has developed in your building, in response to teachers and administrators choosing to delay appropriate instruction to teach her to read using methods scientifically developed for students with the characteristics of Dyslexia. While our district is not choosing to participate in the Pilot for Act 69 Early Dyslexia Screening and Intervention, it does not mean that our school does not have the obligation to do the right thing and assess my daughter for Dyslexia and provide Free Appropriate Public Education including reading instruction that meets her needs.

John King’, US Secretary of the Department of Education, used these words in his testimony before a Senate committee, “But, the IEP team would be expected to address the screening for Dyslexia as a part of the assessment of the needs of a student who is struggling.“ This is Secretary of education acknowledging that IEP assessment teams should reasonably be administering testing instruments that can be used to identify Dyslexia? As the voice of the federal department of education, he is voicing support of for my daughter who struggles to read, being identified, for her disability and then being “taught to read.”

I am requesting that the district follow federal disability guidelines and provide my daughter with “Dyslexia” testing because her characteristics are those of a student with Dyslexia, whether or not she qualifies for Special Education, our school has the federal responsibility to help her learn to read. If the school does not have a person that is qualified to identify Dyslexia, then I am requesting an Independent Educational Evaluation of my daughter with a credentialed Dyslexia provider.

Please respond to this request in writing within the next 5 business days. Until the district chooses to follow the law and provide X an appropriate education for a child who can be identified by section 504 ADA laws, when an assignment requires her to read and write, at grade level, please send her on an errand to a place where she can be helped through the assignment.

I look forward to hearing that you have received this correspondence and how you will be addressing my daughter’s needs for FAPE.