LD Expert Podcast

Episode 29: Executive Function – Language to Improve Self Esteem and Performance – Irene Lee


    In this Episode


    Do you know what’s commonly overlooked when developing Executive Function?

    Your emotional state.

    Fear and anxiety can shut off the part of the brain responsible for Executive Function skills.

    This week’s podcast guest is Irene Lee, our Center Director at SLC Pasadena, who has a Masters in Psychology with a focus on child and adolescent behavior. 

    She shares strategies that we use at Stowell Learning Centers to help our students overcome negative emotions to make real change.


    In this week's episode, you'll learn:

    • The 3 main ways that kids respond to trauma 
    • How to phrase praise and constructive criticisms to create a growth mindset
    • How to make lasting change in your kid's mindset and performance


    Episode Highlight

    I recently heard someone describe trauma as too much, too fast, and too soon. So it could be simple messages told to us over and over again. For our kids, it could be constant messages like, "You need to try harder.”

    - Irene Lee, Pasadena Center Director



    Bonus Q&A

    Have you used an emotional chart with your child to help describe what they're feeling?

    Children sometimes have difficulty naming their emotion, thus have trouble managing it. An emotional chart is a helpful tool for kids to develop more awareness of what they're feeling.

    Tune in to this week's Bonus Q&A for more helpful tips and and to hear from other parents.

    Episode Transcript

    [00:00:01.570] - Jill Stowell

    Just after Christmas, a Los Angeles TV station showed a cute segment showing children's reactions to bad presents. One set of parents had wrapped up an old shoe. A segment showed their three or four year old opening it.

    [00:00:18.490] - Jill Stowell

    Mom was saying, oh look, it's a box. Isn't it fun? What's in it? It's one of Daddy's shoes. Do you like it? And the little girl says yes and gets really excited. We talk to our kids all the time, but what we aren't always conscious of is just how influential our words and our tone can be. This is LD expert live.

    [00:01:00.510] - Jill Stowell

    Did you know that telling your child to try harder can make it impossible for him to try his best? Telling a struggling or frustrated learner to try harder may cause him to over focus on the details and pieces with the left side of the brain and shut off the big picture support of the right hemisphere.

    [00:01:26.490] - Jill Stowell

    At Stowell Learning Centers, we work with a wonderful but easily misunderstood population of students. They are typically bright, often talented students who have difficulty with some aspect of school: reading, math, attention study skills. Because they appear very typical, it's easy to mistake their academic challenges for poor motivation or poor effort. Parents and teachers often inadvertently make the challenges worse with their own words of frustration.

    [00:02:04.530] - Jill Stowell

    Welcome to the LD Expert Podcast, your place for answers and solutions for learning differences, dyslexia, and auditory and attention challenges. I'm your host, Jill Stowell, founder of Stowell Learning Centers and author of the new Amazon number one best seller Take the Stone Out of the Shoe: A Must Have Guide to Understanding, Supporting and Correcting Dyslexia, Learning and Attention Challenges.

    [00:02:31.480] - Jill Stowell

    Today, I have the great pleasure of introducing you to our own Irene Lee. Irene helped us open our Stowell Learning Center in Pasadena, California, and as Lauren said, she is the director there. Irene has a Master's degree in psychology with a focus in child and adolescent behavior. She has built an incredible team in Pasadena and is an expert in developing and facilitating relationships. Welcome, Irene.

    [00:03:08.130] - Irene Lee

    Hi, thank you so much for having me. I'm super excited to be here. I think last week's show with Houston Kraft and him talking about his book Deep Kindness are incredible. I think it was a great segue and super compatible to what I'm going to be talking about today, which is our words have so much power. So I'm super excited to be here.

    [00:03:31.170] - Jill Stowell

    Well, obviously we're super excited to have you, Irene. We're talking today about how to talk to your kids to improve self esteem, performance and executive function. Mitch Albom, the author of the Five People You Meet in Heaven said, "All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers."

    [00:04:00.690] - Jill Stowell

    Wow. Thankfully, our kids also absorb some of the good things that we do. But no matter how good a parent you are, there are undoubtedly a few things that you would like to do over. Awareness of the impact of our words and tone can help tip the balance to the positive. Irene, I know you have so much to share here, so let's jump right in and talk about trauma and how it affects our kids.

    [00:04:33.210] - Irene Lee

    Yes, trauma is a great place to start. When we hear the word trauma, I think we mostly tend to think about huge, dangerous and or explicit events, which it very much is, but it doesn't have to be. Most of us actually experience trauma through repetitive, consistent, and small moments.

    [00:04:54.830] - Irene Lee

    I recently heard someone describe trauma as too much, too fast, and too soon. So it could be simple messages told to us over and over again. For our kids, it could be constant messages like, "You need to try harder... That's not for you...Why'd you do that? Or, you're not right."

    [00:05:13.590] - Irene Lee

    It can be so much harder to interact with kids who have challenges. But I have to always remind myself our kids are never truly doing anything negative on purpose. It's really because they truly can't, or they're trying to cover up that they can't.

    [00:05:31.290] - Irene Lee

    Our kids are really trying. We either don't see it or we don't believe it. I always hear teachers and parents say things like, if he really applied himself, he could totally do it, or, wow, this whole time I thought he was being lazy or not listening, but I'm realizing he could just not process me or he couldn't really hear me.

    [00:05:52.650] - Irene Lee

    And it's no one's fault to perceive these kids this way. I'll be honest. It certainly can look like a choice. I think one of our missions at Stowell Learning Centers is to educate as many people as possible about how it's not a choice and where this comes from. But still it will be after repetitive trauma or repetitive exposure to negative messages. Where one day a child will decide to kind of give up.

    [00:06:18.870] - Jill Stowell

    You know. Having difficulties with reading or some other aspect of school day after day. It is traumatic. But as parents and teachers, as you said, we don't always see the correlation between the behaviors that we're seeing and the learning challenge. Irene, how do children and teens typically respond to ongoing trauma?

    [00:06:46.290] - Irene Lee

    So we usually see it in three main ways that kids typically internalize and externalize this trauma. All of them have a spectrum of severity. The first is what I kind of umbrella categorized as the behavioral child. So this might look like your class clown, your avoidance or evasive kids. They're being distracting by being really cute or helpful or charming or inquisitive or you're bad or too cool for school kind of kid.

    [00:07:17.610] - Jill Stowell

    You know, there are kids definitely that kind of decide it's better to fail on purpose than to try and fail anyway. Most of the time, these behaviors aren't consciously intentional. They're coping strategies that are helping these students survive the challenges.

    [00:07:38.560] - Jill Stowell

    I remember a very social, charming, Dyslexic student who would start making jokes and talking to his neighbors in class every time they had to do any kind of independent reading or writing. And he always had to take his school work home because he barely even started it in class.

    [00:07:59.610] - Jill Stowell

    At home, he had so much work with both his classwork and his homework, and he was so good at avoiding it that his mom just got in the habit of sitting with him and helping him get it done every day. Well, his mom and his teacher were really frustrated with him, and they thought that he had ADHD, but he was just so adept at covering with his behavior, they didn't realize that he was struggling with reading and writing.

    [00:08:29.610] - Jill Stowell

    So behaviors are one way that students cope with ongoing challenges and trauma. What are some other things that you see?

    [00:08:38.850] - Irene Lee

    Yeah, that's a great example. The second way that we see trauma being internalized and externalized is what I'd call an apathetic child. This is a child who feels, no matter what I do, it doesn't matter, so why bother?

    [00:08:53.190] - Irene Lee

    So they easily give up or they don't care. They're always offensive, often give excuses for everything. It's a teacher's fault everyone failed the exam. They tend to be very cynical. Nothing will help them, or they don't believe your positive praises that you try to give them. And they very much have what is known as the fixed mindset, that your skills are fixed, unchangeable, so why bother trying?

    [00:09:18.930] - Jill Stowell

    And these attitudes can be so frustrating to parents and teachers. I hear parents say, he just doesn't care. But we know we've worked with thousands of kids who are struggling, and they care. They do. But the attitude can mask the caring and the learning and the executive function challenges making it look just like attitude.

    [00:09:51.390] - Irene Lee

    Exactly. Yeah. And then there's a third way that trauma can be manifested. And I kind of umbrella term it as anxiety. So this can look like degrees or full blown anxiety or even more subtle ways like degrees of depression, low self esteem, being very sensitive to little things, or by being super perfectionistic.

    [00:10:17.130] - Irene Lee

    So I want to reiterate that we always have to keep in the back of our mind, behaviors are a symptom of challenges. I mean, this is true for all of us. Why do I put off cleaning the house? Why do I procrastinate calling that person? Why do I react so negatively when someone mentions a particular thing?

    [00:10:36.450] - Irene Lee

    So for our kids, we have to be able to remind ourselves about the root cause because it will help us cool down. It will help us have empathy and choose our words and reactions much more carefully.

    [00:10:49.230] - Irene Lee

    I think of two examples of students that can kind of speak on this. So we had one student a long time ago named Aaron. His mom was very hopeful, but also very skeptical and understandably so. I mean, Aaron was a teenager, he was failing all of his classes, and he certainly had an attitude that he didn't care.

    [00:11:10.770] - Irene Lee

    I'm sure this is super frustrating to mom, but we at the center saw great changes with Aaron, and his clinician worked tirelessly every day to dismantle his cynicism and his internalized perceptions of how he wasn't good enough. And you could tell that this meant something to Aaron, and he slowly but surely started to open up.

    [00:11:35.010] - Irene Lee

    But it's hard, especially for a teenager, to feel like there's hope, especially after struggling for so long. And unfortunately, his outside environment didn't cultivate the seeds that we were trying to sow. And then changes weren't big enough or fast enough for mom, so she concluded it wasn't going to happen and pulled him out too early, unfortunately.

    [00:12:01.230] - Irene Lee

    Whenever my staff and I think about Aaron, or when we talk about him, we get so somber, because we know that if he had stayed for the long haul to the end of his program, his life would be completely different. And that just breaks our heart.

    [00:12:16.530] - Irene Lee

    But on the flip side, we had another student named Trevor. He was also a teenager. He also had low self esteem, and he was a type to constantly give excuses about everything. He knew this, too, so he would catch himself and then further apologize about everything.

    [00:12:34.830] - Irene Lee

    So again, we have such a great staff who are so good about dismantling these ideas in our kids, that you need to be perfect, and that if you're weak in something, that's something to be ashamed of. Instead, we really work to cultivate a growth mindset and help the kids understand that when you constantly work on something, it can greatly improve. And that's exactly why you're here with us, and we're going to be here for you every step of the way.

    [00:13:02.200] - Irene Lee

    So his mindset definitely started to shift, and he became much more confident diving into challenges, sticking with it, powering through. And because of this mindset shift, he ended up making dramatic changes by the end of this program, not only in his academics, but also in his work and his life ethics.

    [00:13:21.390] - Jill Stowell

    And his parents were right there with him, validating that all along the way, which really helps cement that perception for the kids. Kids absorb so much more than we as adults tend to think that they do. So it's just really critical to be aware of how our negativity can impact them and how our positivity can, too. But that negative piece, even if we're talking to our spouse and we think they're not listening, they hear, they pick it up. So we just have to be aware.

    [00:14:07.050] - Jill Stowell

    This is LD Expert Live. Today we're talking to Irene Lee, director of Stowell Learning Center in Pasadena, California, about how to talk to our kids, and in particular, building an awareness of the impact of our words and of negativity.

    [00:14:40.190] - Jill Stowell

    So we talked about the cumulative effect of trauma on kids and how trauma doesn't have to be some big, dangerous event. How adults speak to kids can impact how they feel about themselves and the choices they make.

    [00:14:56.430] - Jill Stowell

    Students with learning or attention challenges are particularly vulnerable because they struggle with things that they know they should be able to do.

    [00:15:07.350] - Irene Lee

    Yeah, exactly, Jill. We never know what the breaking point will be for each individual, and we never want to think about the worst case scenario. But the reality is this can be much larger than school performance, and I think it's important to mention.

    [00:15:25.710] - Irene Lee

    So, according to the Learning Disability Association, 60% of adolescents in substance abuse treatment programs have a learning disability. 35% of kids with learning disabilities drop out of high school, 62% of kids with learning disabilities were unemployed a year after graduation, and 36% of kids in juvenile justice systems had learning disabilities.

    [00:15:52.350] - Irene Lee

    Amir Baraka, author, actor, and co-founder of the Dyslexia Awareness Foundation, struggled in school. He was labeled stupid and dumb and felt hopeless and lost. He says that he avoided spelling tests, hid in school hallways to avoid embarrassment, and eventually turned to street gangs for excitement, and honestly, support.

    [00:16:15.210] - Irene Lee

    He became incarcerated as a youth and while still in prison by the age of 23, Baraka discovered he was reading at a third grade level when he was finally diagnosed with dyslexia while in prison. I think this diagnosis was kind of empowering for Baraka, because he then went on to be this incredibly successful person.

    [00:16:38.070] - Irene Lee

    So again, we know that most learning disabilities are not indicative of low intelligence. Most of them have average to above average intelligence. There's just a huge discrepancy between their capacity to learn or their intelligence and their level of achievement.

    [00:16:56.070] - Jill Stowell

    And that's so important to know. By definition, a person with a learning disability, including dyslexia, has average to above average intelligence. So the challenges they're experiencing aren't lack of intellectual capability and they're not the result of laziness or poor motivation either. So, Irene, let's talk about some solutions.

    [00:17:25.110] - Irene Lee

    Yes. My favorite part. So I keep saying everyone, parents, teachers, students, educators, we're all trying our best and we always mean well. But let's be honest, we are largely conditioned to send some types of messages in this high performing culture. I've also had many kids who had such amazing, supportive parents and teachers, but the child was still traumatized by messages of the world. So how can we take control?

    [00:17:55.770] - Irene Lee

    There's this amazing book that is widely known by now called Mindset by Carol S. Dweck. It's now a constant reference in my repertoire. She talks about fixed mindset versus growth mindset, which I've mentioned a couple of times. So, to put it simply, fixed mindset is the idea that our traits or characteristics are given to us at birth and are unchangeable. Growth mindset is the idea that we can improve in what we consistently pursue and practice.

    [00:18:24.690] - Irene Lee

    So we all have a tendency towards one mindset or the other. For someone with a heavy fixed mindset, trauma can be particularly impactful. As adults, we think we're giving helpful judgments, lessons, motivating techniques, but oftentimes we're probably sending a message we don't intend to.

    [00:18:46.110] - Irene Lee

    For example, when you hear something like, "You learned that so quickly, you're so smart." We think that's a great affirmation. But that can be eventually interpreted as if I don't learn something quickly that must mean, I'm not smart.

    [00:19:01.430] - Irene Lee

    Or an affirmation like, "Look at that drawing, he's the next Picasso." That can be internalized as I shouldn't even try drawing anything hard so that they'll see that I can't compare.

    [00:19:13.470] - Irene Lee

    Or something like, "You're so brilliant, you got an A without even studying." That can be internalized as I better quit studying, or they won't think I'm brilliant. Or you're better if you're able to get an A without studying.

    [00:19:27.630] - Irene Lee

    So praising intelligence harms motivation and performance. Like, wow, you're so smart, or wow, you're so fast. This kind of praise begets only a momentary boost. But as soon as difficulty or challenges arise, confidence is lost. It will become internalized that if success equals smart, then that must mean failure must equal dumb.

    [00:19:50.610] - Irene Lee

    Instead, we want to teach our kids to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning, versus loving intelligence. Praise them for growth-oriented processes, what they accomplished through practice, study, persistence, and good strategies.

    [00:20:09.750] - Irene Lee

    For example, some language you might use is, you really studied for that test and your improvement really shows it.

    [00:20:17.660] - Irene Lee

    Or I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it. Or I like that you took on that challenging project. It's going to take a lot of hard work and you're going to learn such amazing things.

    [00:20:32.910] - Irene Lee

    If something is too easy, instead of saying something like, wow, you did that so quickly, or well, you didn't make any mistakes, say something like, oh, that was too easy, I'm sorry that wasted your time. Let's find something that you can really learn from. A helpful way to remember what kinds of words to use is the more specific you are, the better.

    [00:20:54.210] - Jill Stowell

    And then it gives students something that they can continue to work towards. We want to ask for what we want more of, as opposed to something that they really can't control. So that growth mindset. I love that, Irene. It's so powerful and it's really just a slight shift in our thinking and language, but it can make a huge difference in how students view themselves and their performance. So should we avoid all negatives, then?

    [00:21:34.170] - Irene Lee

    Yes, you definitely don't want to avoid all negatives or failures, but provide honest and constructive feedback. So if children are protected from failures and negatives, then they will themselves experience it as negative and undermining.

    [00:21:50.910] - Irene Lee

    I find this often when training clinicians is that they become very hesitant or afraid to flat out tell a child that they're wrong or what they're doing is not conducive, in a nice way, because they don't want to hurt the child's feelings, or they won't address a behavior that's accommodating because it gets them by. But it's not ideal.

    [00:22:09.990] - Irene Lee

    As growth minded teachers, we have to tell the students the truth and then give them the tools and teach them to use them and empower them to close that gap.

    [00:22:20.330] - Irene Lee

    For example, instead of tiptoeing around the child about them having dyslexia, tell the child that they have a unique dyslexia thinking style that allows them to be incredibly creative and see things in a way that I can't see. But this comes with a tendency to make reading uncomfortable and pages difficult to look at. The good news is that it can be fixed, and that is what I'm here to help you with eventually do all by yourself. So let's practice.

    [00:22:44.970] - Irene Lee

    So at the same time, judging and punishing also send the wrong message. This is not teaching kids how to think through issues and come to ethical mature decisions on their own. Also, constant and immediate punishments are probably not demonstrating open channels of communication either, which is, I'm sure, what we all want from our kids.

    [00:23:05.620] - Irene Lee

    So the next time you're in a position to discipline, you want to ask yourself, okay, what exactly is the message that I want to send here? That I'll judge and punish you for doing something bad or wrong or that I will help you think through it and learn from it.

    [00:23:20.910] - Jill Stowell

    Wow. Good stuff, Irene. Thank you. You know, there are some children who have very intense negative behaviors. What suggestions do you have for breaking that pattern of bad behavior?

    [00:23:41.670] - Irene Lee

    Yes, there's another great book called Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glass and Jennifer Easley, and I swear by it, ever since I read it and I put it to practice years ago, it's been a huge and effective tool for myself.

    [00:23:59.550] - Irene Lee

    There are approaches called the Nurtured Heart approach, and it can be quite an involved process, but I'd say the basic principles can be applied and effective for most challenging kids, although it does take commitment.

    [00:24:11.040] - Irene Lee

    So the basic idea is that people are kids favorite toys. So toys and especially video games are incredibly animated, responsive, and rewarding depending on how you respond or how you interact with it. People are 100 times more animated, responsive, and rewarding depending on how you interact with them.

    [00:24:32.490] - Irene Lee

    However, we tend to give the most energy to negative things like bad behavior or getting a bad grade, and then we tend to give energy to positive things much less frequently. And it usually has to be a crazy, amazingly extra positive thing in order for us to be as energized as when we're upset.

    [00:24:51.690] - Irene Lee

    This causes kids to learn to do more negative behaviors to get the biggest reactions, especially for kids who seem to never be able to get anything right. This is just an unconscious pattern that they learn. So instead, flip it, give no energy to and essentially ignore negative things, and give tons of energy to not only positive things, but even everyday regular things like brushing their teeth, eating all of their food, sitting still at Zoom School for ten whole minutes, or asking for help to tie their shoes.

    [00:25:26.430] - Irene Lee

    So if a student starts being silly, here at the center, we'll say something like, I'll know you're ready when you're sitting in your learning position and you're looking at me. And then we completely ignore them, or we ice them out until they do exactly that. Then we'll be incredibly animated and say something like, wow, thank you for showing me your body is ready to learn. I'll give you two points for that. Or something like that.

    [00:25:50.610] - Jill Stowell

    Yeah, that's such an interesting concept that we're looking for something from each other and some kids, they just need so much. It's true. On a day to day basis, when kids are doing what they're supposed to do, we're kind of like, well, that's what they're supposed to do. And then if they're not, we get all hot and bothered. So flipping that around again, it's a little shift in mindset that can make a huge difference.

    [00:26:29.130] - Jill Stowell

    And of course, we can't do it just once. We know from working with our students to help them resolve their learning challenges that consistency, frequency and intensity are really important.

    [00:26:45.570] - Irene Lee

    Yes, super great point. It takes hard work and commitment. But like you said, frequency, intensity, exposure, repetition are also so important in building habits, skills and a different mindset. So with all of these tactics that I've mentioned today, stick to it, be intentional, and I can guarantee that with time it will make a difference.

    [00:27:11.190] - Irene Lee

    At the center, we've noticed that the more frequently we see a child, the more chances we have to repeatedly expose our influence. So I think of two examples.

    [00:27:22.350] - Irene Lee

    We had a teenage girl who had incredibly low self esteem and a very perfectionistic mindset. And then during a summer, 3 hours a day, five days a week, intensive, we had so much time with her to influence that mindset and continually reinforce that we don't care if she makes a mistake, and that no one should care. That mistakes are the best way to help us learn and grow. All that we care about is her persistent trying. And by the end of her intensive, she was much more a confident and resilient girl.

    [00:27:58.050] - Irene Lee

    And then kind of around the same time, we had another teenage boy. He was in his last phase of his program with us doing executive function, which can be quite challenging, especially with teenagers. And this was, I guess, kind of at the beginning of the pandemic, and his clinician saw him only 30 minutes a day on Zoom, but five days a week. And just that simple repetitiveness of accountability and a positive, supportive cheerleader in his court allowed him to make dramatic improvements in his performance, attitude and outlook on life.

    [00:28:32.310] - Irene Lee

    I mentioned Houston Kraft at the beginning of the show, and he was a guest last week. In his book Deep Kindness. A must read, it's incredible. He mentions how we tend to have easy and default affirmations like good job or way to go. But he says this quote that I love. He said, "Our dexterity with language must catch up to the depth of our love." And I just thought that was so profound and super relevant to our topic today.

    [00:28:59.970] - Jill Stowell

    Wow. I love that, Irene. That really does fit. Thank you again, Irene. Such valuable information.

    Bonus Q&A Transcript

    [00:00:00.250] - Lauren Ma

    And Irene just kind of bouncing off that idea of trauma reminds me, I mean, you know, parents can have some trauma, too, associated with their child learning challenges. We recently tested a fourth grade girl, and I would say both dad and daughter fell into the Apathy category.

    [00:00:21.780] - Lauren Ma

    So dad was the one that arranged the assessment, and he was filling out all the paperwork, and he kind of just even in the intake and the information that he was giving us about his daughter's challenges with school was saying, like, nobody thinks there's a problem. Teachers say that she's just not paying attention, she's not trying. She looks like she's given up. I mean, for a nine year old, for a fourth grader to have already given up in school, something's probably going on, and yet the school is kind of just telling them, not a problem, not a problem.

    [00:00:54.310] - Lauren Ma

    And I really do think that that can be traumatic to a parent, to think to have that gut instinct that something is wrong with your child and to want to help and for everybody to tell you no. So we did the assessment, and we actually found what we come across fairly often is that she actually tested really high in a lot of areas similar to a student that would be gifted in that gifted population, where everything is in the 99th percentile greater than 99th percentile, except for auditory processing, which was in the low, average 16th percentile for most of the subtest.

    [00:01:35.570] - Lauren Ma

    And so we had an inkling, hey, she probably has above average intelligence. We don't do intelligence testing, but probably would be in that gifted range, except her auditory processing was holding her back. So that's causing that challenge.

    [00:01:52.880] - Lauren Ma

    And in the consultation, we're doing them via Zoom right now with parents. So the evaluator described kind of how the consultation was going, and he's meeting with mom and dad. Mom's sitting here, and then Dad's kind of off, let me see if I can do it. And Dad's kind of during the consultation, not looking, and he's maybe taking notes, and the evaluator goes, I think Lizzie might be gifted.

    [00:02:18.730] - Lauren Ma

    And dad, all of a sudden, you could see him come back into the frame and just start listening and being engaged and start nodding. And all of a sudden, it was like it made sense to him. And that breaks my heart that there are parents out there that also have kind of been subjected to this cycle of being told nothing is wrong with your child and how traumatic that is when you know that something's going on. It was just amazing.

    [00:02:45.160] - Lauren Ma

    So we got started with Lizzie. She only started, I want to say, at the end of November, and already she's just making so much change. Her attitude with school has completely changed. Teachers are seeing changes, parents are seeing changes. She's an amazing child to work with. Everybody at the center fights over working with her because she's just an amazing student and all that potential was in that child and parent could see it, and yet they were told nothing was wrong.

    [00:03:12.170] - Lauren Ma

    When you talk about trauma and that repetitive message of no, no, yes. And that can extend also to our parents. So we got to speak for the parents.

    [00:03:21.250] - Lauren Ma

    I do have a question coming in from Mom Squad, a mom of a teenage girl. I think she's 13, it sounds like. Mom is saying that her daughter drives her nuts. She's on her phone, 24/7. Mom asks her to do something, whether it be something school related, check up on her assignments or chores, and her daughter says okay, but she doesn't do it. Mom is feeling like she understands her daughter's struggles in school, but it looks like she's not motivated and it also looks like she's not grateful.

    [00:04:00.330] - Lauren Ma

    And that kind of triggers all of us parents. We're doing so much for our kids and when our kids seem like we don't appreciate it, that can definitely be frustrating. And it's only gotten worse since virtual school. Any advice for her?

    [00:04:19.430] - Jill Stowell

    Part of what you're dealing with is normal adolescent behavior and just generational differences and probably also then challenges with online school, which may be causing that avoidance behavior. If I'm on my phone and I don't have to deal with it.

    [00:04:42.590] - Jill Stowell

    You as a parent, of course, need to set the parameters for what's acceptable and expected in your home. But I would really encourage you to include your daughter in the discussion.

    [00:04:56.040] - Jill Stowell

    Do it at a neutral time. Agree to turn off cell phones while you're talking. So maybe take a walk to make that easier and then just talk about what's really important to you and acknowledge what's important to her. Time scrolling through her phone is important to her, so we don't want to eliminate that. And then together create a structure around school and chores and homework that meets both of your needs and leaves some time for her to be on her phone as well.

    [00:05:36.710] - Jill Stowell

    You're the guide in this, but make it a collaboration so that your daughter feels like she has some control and some buy in. And be sure to talk to her about other things and chores and responsibilities, otherwise she'll just tune you out.

    [00:05:55.130] - Jill Stowell

    If you're seeing avoidance of schoolwork, since being in online schooling, really watch and listen carefully to understand what the real issue is. Many students are feeling overwhelmed or fatigued or like they're not getting enough information in their online school. And so if your child was already struggling but getting by, the challenges now may just feel like too much to manage. So we want to just kind of watch and see what is really going on and then work together to solve it.

    [00:06:35.270] - Lauren Ma

    Absolutely, yes. And I know a lot of parents it sounds like are experiencing the same thing with their teens and really it's looking like a lack of motivation. But, hey, how have all of us been affected by this pandemic? I mean, motivation is one of the things that is affected when we are exposed to prolonged trauma or stress, which is what 2020 was. So totally makes sense.

    [00:07:02.510] - Lauren Ma

    So just some clarification on language. Beth is saying trauma seems like a strong word for a child's fixed mindset or avoidance of doing school work that is not of interest to him or her. And then Savannah kind of commented in that thread, great point.

    [00:07:17.310] - Lauren Ma

    What Irene said was that trauma comes from the constant messages of you're not doing good enough. And like you said, Irene, trauma, I think we associate language. Trauma is big and negative, but it doesn't have to be a big event. Trauma could be repetitive, negative messages. Trauma is anything right that gets us to change anything negative that gets us to change our behavior.

    [00:07:44.210] - Jill Stowell

    Or puts us into that stress response. A lot of times because our struggling students generally are quite bright sometimes, I think a lot of our students are actually probably the smartest kids in the class, but they're struggling and they know they're struggling.

    [00:08:05.100] - Jill Stowell

    And so not only are there some external messages, but there are internal messages. They're saying, oh, my gosh, what if the teacher calls on me and I'm not able to read it and I look stupid? Or what if I say something and somebody already said it?

    [00:08:23.310] - Jill Stowell

    A child with an auditory processing issue. That happens all the time. They miss something and then they say something, and the rest of the class laughs, and so now they've got all this internal dialogue going on. What if, what if, what if or I'll never get this, or I'm such a failure, or nobody likes me. And there's a lot of stuff going on because it just isn't quite in sync for them, what they feel like they really should be able to do and what they actually are able to do. And that's traumatic. And believe me, we can feed ourselves messages like that all the time, right?

    [00:09:04.980] - Lauren Ma

    Absolutely. Kind of in that same vein, we have Savannah. This is kind of a long one, so we have to all go up. Okay. Savannah we moved to a new home this year, and my first grader started a Chinese immersion program every other day at a new school. At the beginning of the school year, it usually took me an hour in the hallway to convince him to go sit in the classroom.

    [00:09:28.250] - Lauren Ma

    That is not typical. I would say. Some kids don't prefer school. It's not your thing. You got to convince them to kind of start their homework. Sitting with your child in an out to try to convince him just to go into the classroom, that's not typical.

    [00:09:42.000] - Lauren Ma

    Yesterday, his teacher changed where he sits because he doesn't focus and complete worksheets and worksheets aren't challenging for him. And today he refused to go into school again because he was too nervous to sit in the new spot. Her comment got cut off. I have let me see. I can find the rest of it. She said, I'm here listening to find out how to speak correctly to him to help him accept small changes at school.

    [00:10:09.290] - Lauren Ma

    Any advice for Savannah?

    [00:10:14.770] - Jill Stowell

    Irene, do you have something that popped into your mind that you want to say there?

    [00:10:21.850] - Irene Lee

    No, you can go ahead.

    [00:10:26.870] - Jill Stowell

    There is something going on that feels traumatic, if it's that traumatic for him to go in there. And so I think the first thing is you got to figure out what that is. That is not a discipline issue that's going on there. There is something else.

    [00:10:51.820] - Jill Stowell

    And so it might be that you guys just sort of sit and cuddle on the couch and dialogue about, hey, it's really tough for you to go into class in the morning. Tell me about that. And see what comes up.

    [00:11:15.390] - Jill Stowell

    He's afraid of something, and maybe it's that he doesn't understand that he can't do it. And then the teacher changing his spot. I mean, the teacher probably felt it was going to be helpful. I'm going to move him to a place where he can pay attention better.

    [00:11:32.110] - Jill Stowell

    But now that's one more thing that is different, and that means he has to be flexible with it. And already he's rigid because there's something that's really tough there. So whenever there's a change coming up like that, I like to role play with kids to dialogue it, to look at exactly where the seat is. Maybe he's afraid if he's on site, he's afraid he's not going to be able to find the right chair, or maybe the people next to him aren't going to like him.

    [00:12:14.530] - Jill Stowell

    So again, you need to just spend some time just asking some open-ended questions. I wonder who's going to sit next to you in your new spot. Tell me about that. And just kind of dialogue and see then if you can get a handle on what is it really. And then I really like to practice with kids. Walk it through, practice it, talk about it as they role play. Just to kind of get used to an idea.

    [00:12:55.150] - Lauren Ma

    Absolutely. And to piggyback on that. Last week when we had Houston Craft on, he talked about the importance of labeling and getting kids to use vocabulary to label their emotions, and I shared that I've been doing this with my five year old recently. Just helping to see if you can explore that with your son.

    [00:13:13.310] - Lauren Ma

    It sounds like he is very bright. Obviously, he's taking a Chinese immersion class. Explore with him. What is that feeling that he gets in the classroom? Is it nervous? Is he scared? Okay, why are you scared? What part is scary? And just exploring language: nervous, anxious. I'm afraid something might happen. Things like that.

    [00:13:39.210] - Lauren Ma

    And really trying to give our kids the appropriate language to describe how they're feeling really does help for them to feel a little bit more in control and really identify what their little bodies are going through.

    [00:13:52.730] - Lauren Ma

    But this kind of came up, we talked about this in our PEACE meeting last week, that kids have preferences sometimes. They don't always like school, they might not like a particular teacher, they might not drive with them or something like that. But constant avoidance, crying, tears, tantrums over school is not normal.

    [00:14:16.930] - Lauren Ma

    And so when kids do that, they are avoiding something that is very uncomfortable and there's usually something lower. And so to investigate that is the advice I would give. What is making besides the changes, what else is making things so hard in that classroom? So absolutely, we have let's see if I can search.

    [00:15:16.910] - Lauren Ma

    Heather, this is kind of complicated situation how to help my grandson who I have custody of - and we do hear from a lot of grandparents - that was recently diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD, so some trauma, definitely. And fetal alcohol syndrome. He was abused by stepdad after her son died. So definitely that would be the big event. Trauma, definitely. And we do see kids like that. So, any suggestions? When there is big trauma involved in a child's life.

    [00:15:50.030] - Irene Lee

    That's pretty heavy. I think it takes a lot of like a village, professional help. But at the home I think it's going to be like little moments of trust to just really make the child feel like they're trusted. So whether it's like constantly telling the child different ways of saying I'm here for you, I see you, I hear you. I'm here to protect you, kind of thing. And kind of similar to the response that Jill gave to the other child is really dialoguing of their feelings.

    [00:16:31.440] - Irene Lee

    Something we like to use a lot here at our center for little guys is an emotion chart because a lot of times children can't label their emotions except sad man. So giving them just kind of a basic emotion chart with smiley faces or emojis that help convey that specific emotion and then them choosing and then being able to come up with a dialogue off of that is something that we do a lot here as well. Jill, do you have things to add?

    [00:17:03.410] - Jill Stowell

    Oh, I was just thinking when you were talking about that trust and safety, touch communicates a lot. And so just wherever you can, just the touch on the shoulder or the hand or just to say I'm here and I'm not going anywhere, absolutely.

    [00:17:33.650] - Lauren Ma

    Let's see. Heather adds, I do have an emotion chart for him and he is going to therapy. And that would be also definitely working with your team of professionals when there is a lot of heavy big trauma involved. Absolutely.

    [00:17:48.410] - Lauren Ma

    Alexandra Dennison chimes in. She was a past guest on our show. Building an emotional vocabulary is very important. Having the language for emotions helps to access them and identify them. If we can't identify your feelings, we can't manage them because we don't know what we're feeling. Exactly.

    [00:18:06.590] - Lauren Ma

    And Heather is kind of adding it's really hard to get him to do schoolwork or focus. Definitely. One, he's already struggling because of the learning and attention issues and then you layer trauma on top of that and of course this little guy is up against a lot. It does take definitely a team. It takes consistency. It takes support because things are going to be hard for him. That is where he is right now.

    [00:18:36.170] - Lauren Ma

    When we work with students, we always encourage parents and when we train our staff to work with students, we say meet them where they are, not where we think they should be.

    [00:18:47.930] - Lauren Ma

    That is where her grandchild is starting, where her grandson is. All these things kind of happen to him that were outside of his control. She and the team need to meet him where he is. School is hard. It is hard to focus. He is going to have avoidance behaviors. That is normal.

    [00:19:05.510] - Lauren Ma

    If any of us were to have gone through a lot that he's gone through and have learning our attention challenges, we would probably avoid what is hard too. And kids do kids and adults avoid what is hard. So meet him where he is. That's your starting point.

    [00:19:18.960] - Lauren Ma

    And always kind of in that growth mindset mentality. Be working towards the next step or we're working towards a new goal. Even if it's a small change. Let's try five minutes on zoom and then take a break.

    [00:19:35.630] - Lauren Ma

    Any kind of small shift that you can make, eventually they do add up and that's when we see gross with our students. Sometimes we forget because we're always in the here and now, we forget how far they've come. We look back and we're like, oh, my gosh, can you believe at where he or she started? So make tiny little changes and little tiny goals would be my advice to you, Heather. So great.

    [00:20:01.270] - Lauren Ma

    I love that we're chiming in and we have a lot of advice here in the chat I want to get to. Yvette has a question. My third and fourth grade ADHD son load virtual learning. He says he's so bored. The teachers are not engaging. What should she do?

    [00:20:27.990] - Irene Lee

    The first thing I would do is really validate. Like, yeah, it is boring. I hear you. Your feelings are totally valid. You're not the only one. Zoom and just virtual learning, that can definitely be a learning thing. And the first step would be to validate.

    [00:20:49.610] - Jill Stowell

    And I was just thinking, yeah, we definitely have to start where they are. And maybe you just challenge each child. I don't know how many children there are in the family, but challenge him and any other kids in the family to listen for one thing that was kind of like, oh, I didn't know that, or that was interesting, or that was different than they thought. Just one, and then share that at the end of the day. Sometimes just making one tiny little change, one tiny little new habit, can start the domino effect of some other habits coming along.

    [00:21:45.170] - Lauren Ma

    That's great advice. We have another. This is a question in Mom Squad, and I hear this question a lot from parents. Delicately, how do I suggest to my son's teacher that she validates him when he is trying and mom is at home with him watching him do school? He is trying, but doesn't get that positive affirmation from the teacher. How do parents gently suggest to teachers that they validate our kids?

    [00:22:20.150] - Irene Lee

    That's tough. Our staff often communicates with their students' teachers. And oftentimes when the clinician just kind of explained that this child has underlying things that they're struggling with, that just kind of opens up the doors and the teachers mindset like, oh, I didn't know that, and then just shifts how they perceived the students.

    [00:22:44.720] - Irene Lee

    So just kind of describing what is going on and, hey, we're doing everything we can. I have my eyes on him. Is there any way that you can - not accommodate - but is there any support that you can offer or suggestions that you can make because he struggles with math in particular. Or tuning in on a Zoom class for over 30 minutes and kind of help them feel like a hero, someone who can partner with to help this child?

    [00:23:17.270] - Jill Stowell

    Yeah, those are great suggestions. This is a little bit different, but I think we also have to meet teachers just the way we do with kids starting where they are validating. So if you want to approach the teacher validate, wow, this is such a tough time. I so appreciate everything that you as a teacher are doing for our kids.

    [00:23:51.060] - Jill Stowell

    So just starting with some validation and then being able to say don't say but, because that sort of negates everything you said before. It but say online schooling. I know it's tough for you. It's tough for my child. And it's really hard to see on Zoom. But I just wanted to let you know he is trying really hard. And he values your opinion so much that if you could also validate him for his effort. I think that would make a huge difference. Because I'm trying. But I think it would make a bigger difference coming from you. Sort of like engaging the teacher's help, but validating where they are as well.

    [00:24:45.980] - Lauren Ma

    Absolutely. Wrongke is piggybacking. Starting where the child is matters. My daughter's teacher told us, she's still using her fingers, counting on her fingers to add. And the teacher says, I can't wait for her. And I've heard this from a lot of parents. It's defeating that a teacher says that and gets frustrated with a child. And I know I was a former teacher.

    [00:25:10.490] - Lauren Ma

    It's hard when you have 30 something little guys and now 30 something little boxes in zoom. It is stressful. It's probably traumatic for teachers as well. So communicating and just being your child's advocate but also being a partner with the teacher that you understand where they're coming from as well.

    [00:25:30.460] - Lauren Ma

    Definitely. Wrongke, thank you for all these helpful tips, Irene, Jill and Lauren, too. And we have Sue saying thank you to the wonderful counselors at Stowell Pasadena. They are a blessing. So I think you know who that is, Irene.

    [00:25:46.650] - Irene Lee

    I do. Hi, Sue.

    [00:25:48.490] - Lauren Ma

    Yeah. So awesome. Thank you so much for sharing today.

    [00:25:53.490] - Jill Stowell

    We talked about how to talk to your kids to improve self esteem performance and executive function. I think there were a ton of takeaways. I'm going to run off some for you really quickly.

    [00:26:04.170] - Jill Stowell

    One, the words of parents and teachers have a strong impact on kids.

    [00:26:09.060] - Jill Stowell

    Two, students will do well when they can. When students struggle with learning or school, they're not doing it on purpose.

    [00:26:18.190] - Jill Stowell

    Three, the frustrating or alarming behaviors that we often see are a student's way of coping with their learning challenge.

    [00:26:28.270] - Jill Stowell

    Four, approach challenges and praise with a growth mindset.

    [00:26:33.970] - Jill Stowell

    Five, be honest and give constructive feedback and give kids the tools they need to be successful.

    [00:26:42.370] - Jill Stowell

    And six, you have to keep at it. Changing any habit or learning anything new takes frequency and consistency.

    [00:26:50.890] - Jill Stowell

    Thank you again, Irene, for sharing your insights and passion for helping kids and parents be successful. Irene is the director of Stowell Learning Center in Pasadena, California. If you would like to connect with her about your child, wherever you are in the country, call 626-80-8441 or visit stowellcenter.com. This is LD Expert Live. Your place for answers and solutions for learning disabilities, dyslexia and attention challenges.