In this Episode
Are you concerned about your kids spending too much time playing video games this winter break?
It’s a fine balance between letting them enjoy the time off and maintaining healthy habits like regular sleep.
This week’s podcast guest is Dr. Muradian, a licensed clinical psychologist, author, speaker, consultant, and mental health advocate. She is also the mom of three children and really understands the daily challenges of being a parent and the stressors associated with juggling a career and family life.
Tune in to hear the great strategies that she uses not only in her practice, but also at home with her kids to create healthy boundaries around video games and completing tasks.
In this week's episode, you'll learn:
- The effects of video games on the brain, behavior and Executive Function
- How to negotiate healthy boundaries around video games and technology with your kids
- Communication strategies to help kids with learning and attention challenges develop Executive Function and a sense of independence
“When we normalize that as adults we can make errors and mistakes. It's natural. It normalizes it for the kids."
- Dr. Muradian
- https://www.reginemuradian.com/ - Dr. Muradian's contact information
- Frankie and the Worry Bees - One of the books written by Dr. Muradian to empower kids
- Video Games May Change Brain and Behavior, Review Finds - Research by Mark Palaus mentioned in this episode
- Living and Thriving with ADD - LD Expert episode mentioned in this episode
How can you tell if your child is addicted to video games?
Dr. Muradian answers this and more in the Bonus Q&A.
Jill Stowell: Do you know how once you become aware of something, you notice it everywhere? I got a plug-in Hybrid Prius about a year ago. OK, yes, I'm one of those Prius drivers. Well, before the dealer showed it to me, I wasn't even aware that there was such a thing. But now, I see cars just like mine all the time.
You may have noticed that the pandemic has put a spotlight on things that you weren't as aware of before, and it's challenging old parenting styles. Today, we're going to explore current challenges and new ways of communicating with our kids. This is LD Expert Live.
My parents never had parenting issues around technology other than TV. Today is a totally different ballgame. My guest, Dr. Regine Muradian, is going to talk about important issues facing parents today, including how to create boundaries around video games and technology, better ways of communicating with today's children and teens, what students with learning and attention challenges need, and how to take advantage of the pandemic to make needed changes.
Welcome to the LD Expert Podcast, your place for answers and solutions for dyslexia, learning and attention challenges. I'm your host Jill Stowell, Founder of Stowell Learning Centers, and author of a brand new book, Take the Stone Out of the Shoe: A Must-Have Guide to Understanding, Supporting, and Correcting Dyslexia, Learning, and Attention Challenges. This book will help you understand why some bright children and teens have more difficulty than expected in school. It provides simple practical tools for supporting struggling students at home and in the classroom. Most importantly, it presents real solutions and the science behind them.
We're talking today about parenting in the 21st century. I am delighted to welcome our guest, Dr. Regine Muradian, back to our show. Dr. Muradian is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, speaker, consultant and mental health advocate. In her clinical practice, Dr. Muradian works with children, adolescents, adults and families who present with a wide range of emotional, behavioral and adjustment problems such as depression, anxiety, relationship issues, executive functioning and ADHD. She is also the mom of three children who really understands the daily challenges of being a parent and the stressors associated with juggling a career and family life. Welcome back, Dr. Muradian.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Thank you. Hello, everyone. And thank you for having me again.
Jill Stowell: It is just great to have you back, and especially with this topic. Of course, you know, I basically just told our viewers that you would solve all their 21st century parenting challenges. So are you ready for that?
Dr. Regine Muradian: That's a tall order. We will definitely try.
Jill Stowell: Well, I want to start with an issue that was a concern before the pandemic and has become an even bigger issue now – video games. So let's talk a little bit about what video games do in the brain and how that impacts our kids.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yes. So I wanted to touch upon maybe just like some research that was recently done, it was like by Marc Palaus. And what they had found is that the video games really impacted the structure of the brain and the activity of the brain. And they did find actually structural changes in the brain and in the functionality. So I think that was really interesting, as I was also looking into what are some new advances and research out there as this has been such a common topic for years, but even more so now.
So one of the things that I'm just noticing, just in general, in my practice, and as a parent, and also what other parents are reporting are impacts on tension, irritability, kids are becoming more aggressive once they come off the game. So really, you know, noticing that there's such a huge increase just in the aggressive behavior, which makes a lot of sense as, you know, one of the most common played games are usually, you know there's Fortnite and there's so many other ones that they're playing that can have some violence in it. And you will see them kind of tapping, tapping at the screen and there's so much aggressive play in terms of competing and winning. And so I think that also plays a role into how they feel once they're detached and they come off the game, and how they function during the day after that.
Jill Stowell: And I've read that can even be kind of like, similar to what – to soldiers, you know, that aggression and irritability.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yeah, so there might be a little bit of – some desensitization that tends to happen, where, you know, if you're playing hours on end, the same type of repetitive aggressive type behavior, whether it's shooting, whether it's – I mean, more, obviously, the more aggressive games versus the calmer games, we are noticing, definitely an increase in aggression, a desensitization to the impulse, right, that is all managed through the frontal lobe. And they just don't have that impulse control as regulated. That's what I'm noticing.
Jill Stowell: You know, many parents call you and they call us at Stowell Learning Centers about their child or teen’s poor executive function. Executive function is developmental and it's a process that develops well into the 20s. So, you know, obviously, video games can't get all the blame, but executive functions are frontal lobe functions. And if the frontal lobe, you know, as you said, is getting turned off or desensitized, then we are going to see a lack of tact, or poor self-management and impulse control.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yeah, yes, that's a very good point. And also, what I'm also noticing is the patience level, they don't have as much patience as they used to. But again, I think the good news is, and I'm sure we'll go over that, is how much do we regulate that piece. So it doesn't stay forever, we don't want to frighten anyone.
But just for parents, and caregivers, and teachers, and just creating this conversation about what's healthy and you know how to moderate and regulate it. But in terms of the executive functioning, when it comes to doing work or homework, yes, the attention span is much shorter. There's – they're more frustrated. So imagine if they have to attend now to Zoom, and that's another thing is, during this pandemic, we are on Zoom so we're seeing screen fatigue, Zoom fatigue. I had a friend who works in the medical field had mentioned, she works with children, that she had noticed vision therapy, –vision issues, where they were losing colors in the eyes. And…
Jill Stowell: Wow!
Dr. Regine Muradian: And even seizures we've heard of, in certain children. Also, when – I don't know if you ever noticed on video games, they will state a disclaimer in terms of “Be cautious, this video game may cause seizures.” So in some children, if they are predisposed that could occur. So it's just something to be mindful of as you know, we impose rules and boundaries around what that looks like. And obviously, it is a personal decision for parents on how they deal with that.
Jill Stowell: And, you know, obviously, devices are a part of our world now. And especially now, because so many kids are doing school online. And so, if we just recognize, it really does impact our brain. And so we just want to have a little balance there, you know, take some time to step outside and look bigger than just, you know, focusing in on the screen. But also being, you know, being aware and educating our kids about the amount of time, you know, we're not regulating the amount of time they spend on their video games, just because we're mean old parents, but because it really, you know, their brain needs a little bit of balance. So…
You know, it is interesting, when I started the Learning Center, children were spending much more time outside, moving their bodies and engaging their imaginations, and they were generally more regulated. The big questions then were how much TV time is OK? And is Sesame Street really good for kids? Well, since that time, we've seen a real change in the concerns that parents have around their students learning challenges. We're seeing much more concern about poor regulation, attention challenges and anxiety. And, you know, I'm sure there is some correlation with the amount of time spent on screens and video games. And I think you were mentioning that you, you even had kind of checked-in with friends and neighbors and patients to find out their experience.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yes, I was asking actually, just some questions: How are you guys doing? How are you feeling? What are your rules around the video games? Are you noticing an increase in aggression or irritability? And how have you been handling it?
And it's so interesting as I looked through all the responses. Everyone felt the same thing and the results were, yes, more aggression, more irritability, just really having a hard time getting the kids off the video games, even though they did put some restrictions. And at the end of the day just became this battle. And we don't want the battle, right? We want them to, you know, we want to come together to a consensus. And that goes into the communication piece, and giving kids control. At the end of the day, it's them making that decision.
And like you said, I love what you said, is them coming up an understanding, “Well, I know you don't like the boundaries and the rules.” And that's a fact every time we do put a boundary, a rule, or a structure, I say this to my kids all the time, “I know you're angry and you're upset, or you don't like what I just said, but that's just mommy putting a boundary, or a structure or, you know, saying something that you don't agree with, and that's OK. And you can tell me why you don't agree with it.” And then we kind of create that conversation, but we're able to move forward. And I think that's what's really important is that parents, you know, be consistent and stick with what they feel based on the decision that they made.
Jill Stowell: So let's talk about that a little bit more. I mean, how do parents create boundaries around video games and screen time? I mean, we obviously can't avoid it in our world. And really, we don't want to. I mean there's a lot of information that we get, there are social connections, which we, you know, our kids really need, we all need. So, what advice do you have for parents as they try to create boundaries?
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yes. So I think the first part is you have the video game piece. And then we have kids on social media. And so those two different parts. So let's start first with the video games. I think, like you mentioned, kids, before the pandemic, were outside, they were playing, they were more regulated, they didn't really have time to play. A lot of parents that I know, there were just no video games Monday through Friday. They were too busy, whether it was with homework or activities.
Now during the pandemic, we have removed, right, all social interaction. So they're not in school, they're not seeing their friends. They're not getting together as they used to, there's no activities. So that's an important part of keep in mind. And so what we're left with are kids who – what I've been seeing just as of late is withdrawn, maybe anxious, depression, et cetera.
So now we tackle the issue of video games. And parents have kind of changed the rules and bent the rules. And that's all fine. And I think there's a positive part of it, which I think, well, when we think about their mental health, or mental health is number one. And part of the mental health is them connecting with their peers and enjoying with them. And then when you see them playing, they're actually – yes, there's a negative sides of it, but they're actually interacting, they're talking, they're conversing. And I think that's really healthy. So it's kind of like choosing what are the options that we have now.
So now we're left with the timing, right? So we know that there's all these benefits. However, there's all the negatives, which are the timing. How many hours are you on video games? And when you look at the timing, from what I've asked, I'm talking about five hours, six hours. I mean, I remember last summer clients playing pre-pandemic, sorry, the summer before. I had one kid saying he would lock himself in the room from 9:00 AM all the way to 5:00 PM. That’s a long time, draw the curtains and just sit there and play. So that to me, well, we said we know those are concerns. So what do we do?
I think it's important and it's not too late even if you have imposed, you know, even if you have some rules and boundaries right now, it's not too late to still have this conversation. Even if your child is playing five to six hours, because there is that struggle, 100%, they are going to be upset, they will be irritable, and they will throw a tantrum. They're not going to be happy with any changes happening around their time.
Jill Stowell: Right.
Dr. Regine Muradian: What I have found useful and I really, you know, and then this – Jill and I, we were talking about this, is I sat down, for example, my son, I sat down with him and we really talked just in form of a question, “How many hours are you playing online?” Now, you got to keep in mind that kids don't have a time concept. So he'll joke and say, “Oh, I was playing 10 hours. I was playing…” Well, he was never playing 10 hours, but in his mind, that's how much time he thought he was playing. So that tells me that that's a long time, even if it was three hours.
So we came up with a solution where he ended up deciding his timeframe. So we kind of came down to two hours, and chunking out the two hours, one hour at a time and deciding what time that would be during the day for him. I used to have even restrictions, there are restrictions that parents can place in terms of when the video games go off, and it's just manual. Like programs, like, you know, it's a wireless program we have at home, for instance, called Eero, and you just turn it off from your phone.
However, they get very – not just him, I had asked multiple people about this, kids get really frustrated when the game just turns off, and the parent just turned it off and then they're in the middle of something, or they were in the middle of talking to someone. So that creates a lot of anxiety. So how do we appease that is even like before, is giving them a timeframe, “Hey, you're 10 minutes – you have 10 more minutes on there, I expect you to get off. How does that sound to you?”
And then most likely what I've noticed with this technique, it's been working really well, because kids at the end of the day want to please you. They want to be compliant. And I think that when we go into the explanation and the why, there's more of an understanding. Now, I’m not saying all kids are going to be OK with that but at least it is a strategy that a parent can try.
Jill Stowell: You know, I remember when you and I were talking about this, and you kind of alluded to this, you really talk to your son about your opinion about how things needed to be. And that's where we can do some of that education, you know about, “As a parent, I have to help you grow and protect your brain and so too much on video, too much time on video games is going to hurt your brain. So I can't let that happen. But I know it's important to you…” and you gave him the opportunity to share why it was important to him and validated that. And I think that is the first place we have to start with problem solving like this.
If our kids just feel like, we're going to be the power, we're going to hide the devices or we're going to shut off video games, you know, you're going to get all kinds of rebellion. But if we sit down and we start to problem solve it together, and validate each side, you know, and talk about the why, I really find at the Learning Center, no matter what we're doing with kids, if we talk about why, and I love to talk about – to kids about what's happening in their brain, you know, but we talked about why we're doing this, they're much more willing to do just about anything, you know, even if it's something that's kind of challenging. So I think that kind of dialogue gives them some power.
And then in terms of shutting off, you know, it's true. I don't play video games. And so, you know, it would be like, “OK, time to shut it off.” Bam! But they're probably right in the middle of a very important move or something. So, you know, giving a little, you know, OK, 10 minutes, wrap it up, is a positive thing.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yes, I even remember pre-pandemic, a lot of clients saying things when I would ask something like, “What would you like your parent to do differently?” Teens would say, “Well, I would like my parents not to just shut off my computer.” Or, “I would like – what I would like them to do, I would like them to give me a 10-minute alert or signal so that…” And again, if you look at what that really means, it's just them having the control to turn it off.
Jill Stowell: Right.
Dr. Regine Muradian: So I found that really helpful even with my kids is when we decide on timeframes. Well, what is your plan tonight? What is your plan in terms of what time are you going to go to bed? What is your plan – obviously, as a parent, you have already created that structure. So if your time is 10, it's 10, if it's 9, it's 9. But it's just about gently nudging them and starting again the conversation about “OK, well, it's about 8:00, if you want to be in bed by 10:00, what do you think you need to do?”
So there's a lot of questioning. And I think that when kids, like you said, when they start speaking and sharing their opinion, they feel in control, and they're more likely to do it. It reminds me of like a math problem. “Well, you tell me now how to do this. Can you teach me because I'm not sure how to do that problem?” And it kind of has the same analogy. And it works. Because at the end of the day, kids want to please. They want to feel empowered. They want to be able to make their own decisions. And above all, they want independence. And independence is part of teaching them how to make decisions, and regulate their emotions.
And for parents, I always say, “Don't get worried of that tantrum, that's OK.” They'll get – they'll, you know, they'll forget it, I think it's all about not reacting to their tantrum. And just recognizing, “I can see you're upset right now. I could see that what I said made you frustrated. I'm going to let you take a few moments, and then I'll come back and check on with, you know, check with you.” And I think, you know, you're leaving, but you're not giving them a sense of abandonment. But you're also telling them, I'm not going to give you negative attention and feed in to the tantrum right now, or whatever they're going through that makes them dysregulated in that moment.
Jill Stowell: Right. And once they're in that state, they're not in their rational brain anyway, so nothing is going to get solved until they settle down. You know, you said something that I just think is so important, and it's just such a slight shift in how we do things. You know, we're used to telling our kids what they need to do, or it's time to do this, or go do this. And revisiting it by asking the question, “Oh, well, you know, if you're going to be in bed by 10:00, what are your plans between now and then?”
Or, what you're doing is you're allowing them actually to start to use their own executive function. You're giving them exercise in building their own executive function to start to think through. “Oh, wait, my bedtime is at 10:00 I want to do these things first.” You know, that's what we do in our adult brains, and that's developing in kids. And so, giving them a little bit of freedom there to do that is really a great thing. I will say…
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yeah…
Jill Stowell: Oh, go ahead, Regine.
Dr. Regine Muradian: I was going to mention as you're talking, it reminds me a lot, we talked about executive functioning, is what I – what we see a lot too, especially now on Zoom is. “Well, why aren't you doing so well in that class? What's happening? What do you think is happening?” And they'll tell you. And a lot of the times they'll say, “Missing assignments, I'm not turning things in, I'm forgetting, or I didn't do it, or it was too much.” And I think just this exercise, like you were describing is so helpful, because it really helps them plan out.
And that's what executive functioning is, you being able to organize yourself and plan out your day, and what you're going to do so we don't, you know, experience the big word, right, I call it “procrastination”. You know, just enjoying yourself more, having more time for you, and just getting the other things out of the way. Because then it's just anxiety all day long that they feel of what I need to get done. So that's another power of the questioning that really helps and helping them decide and make those decisions.
But I want to tell parents that it's not that we're letting them do whatever they want. This is not what this is about. This is about you have already created the rules in terms of, well, we already agreed on 10:00, or we already agreed on two hours of video games. We already talked about that. We agreed on that. So now, it's up to them to kind of divided up during the day and we just have that back and forth conversation. So it's – I don't want anyone to be under the impression it's “Oh, if my kid can play five hours I should let him play five hours.” So I always go with a two hour, two to three hour, even three is pushing it limit.
And think about some other ways that you can keep your child busy. I've seen a lot of parents do baking, taking them outside or just distracting them, or, “Oh, we're going to go do this right now.” So that's one way I get my son off, like, “Oh, we're going to go do this right now. Are you ready? I'm waiting for you.” And oh, he's like, “OK, I got to go.” So any way we can distract once that time limit is up.
Jill Stowell: You know, this kind of collaborative questioning kind of problem solving that we're talking about communication, that we're talking about with our kids, you know, it feels like, well, that's really going to take a lot of time. And it does take time. And when you're exhausted, it's so hard to take the time and have the patience and use that calm, nonchalant voice. But it's so worth it in the long run. It can just create a whole different feel in the household. And you know, going back to the brain, I mean it just has a very positive impact on the brain, too.
This is LD Expert Live. I'm Jill Stowell here with clinical psychologist, Dr. Regine Muradian, talking about key parenting issues for today. So we've been talking about some different ways to communicate with our kids. What thoughts do you have about communicating with our students who are struggling with learning or attention about what they need and what they don't?
Dr. Regine Muradian: So I think we go back to again, creating right, a form of structure for our kids. And like going back to this, that little form that I showed. And you can find that anywhere, they have it on Amazon, just different forms, it’s not the exactly the same one, but just in terms of the schedule, a paper schedule.
I think that the kids who are now struggling with learning and attention, I think it's really about doing these little check-ins throughout the day. It's kind of like – and I'm sure, I'm curious, also to see how you're doing it at your center. Because it is the same method where we're checking in, how are you doing, maybe it's per the hour, but also at the same time giving them somewhat of that independence.
I always say, let's allow them to succeed, instead of us parents being constantly on them. And let's give them a little bit of that independence. Because I feel like when they feel that they have the independence, they detach from the diagnosis, so to speak. There's so much mental health stigma that kids feel. “Oh, I have anxiety.” “Oh, I have ADHD.” “I don't like this. I want to get rid of this.” “I want to be normal.” This is all I hear.
And you know, when you give them that independence, and try it out for a week, and independence can look like well, let's do this schedule. I'll give it to you. And maybe I'll check in with you only one time at the end of the day at 5:00 and see if everything – you tell me what did you struggle with and we can look together at what was turned in.
I just told this to a client yesterday. I said, “This is not that you can't be trusted that you didn't turn it in. I am sure you turned it in. But sometimes when there's too much to do, we often miss things. It happens. We're human.” And I think when we normalize that, as we adults can make errors and mistakes, it's natural, it normalizes it for them. Because remember, kids feel everything in terms of, you know, in that moment, it just stays like an imprint, like a trauma. This is never going to end. Whereas, we as adults can kind of detach from that and say, “OK, I'll just do better next time.” But in kids minds, it feels so intense, right, that failure or that assignment they didn't turn in, or they got scolded by the teacher, or something had occurred that day. And I think now also with grades being so visible in some classes, that causes also more stress on kids.
So, I'm a really big advocate on, you know, let's detach from the label piece and – because you are not your anxiety. You are not your learning disability. You are not your ADHD. You are you. And what makes you unique and good and special in terms of your talent and what you can provide. So I think when we reframe it that way, they feel better, they feel stronger. And you know, sometimes you can even give the learning disability a nickname, “Oh, there it is, it’s popping up again” or, you know, and just having fun with it.
And I always attribute it, it's a weakness that you have. This is your weakness. I have my weaknesses too. And I think when the parents step back and take on that stance, or even ask the kid, “What do you think mommy's weakness is? Or, what do you think I struggle with?” Because we all struggle with something. So that's the normalization part, that I think we need to do more of now more than ever, and take this opportunity.
Jill Stowell: And just, you know, dialoguing with them a little bit about what they feel like they need from us. You know, kids are amazing, and I think we do tend to underestimate them. As parents, you know, we just want so badly to protect them and help them and we feel like we're not doing our job if we can't do it. But sometimes in our effort to keep them from failing, or to make sure that they're not struggling, we keep them from gaining resilience and independence. And that's not to say with our kids who are really struggling that we don't give them any help, but really dialoguing together about, you know, what pieces of it they really can do, and allowing them to do that in setting you know, as you said, a check-in time, where we can come back and check, but allowing them to work on it themselves and getting their feedback about what pieces they would like support in and what they feel like, “Yup, I got this.” Because they feel so much better about themselves when they do know they've got it, they can do some of it themselves. You know, I… Go ahead.
Dr. Regine Muradian: No, I was going to mention, as you were talking about that is the discussion pieces, you know, when they when you step back, and most kids will say, “I just want you to listen. I don't need your feedback. I just want to – I don't want a lecture. I just want to hear – I just want you to, I just want to talk.” And some kids will express that and some won't. So I think it’s just automatically to assume that that's what kids need and just starting with that active listening piece could be helpful too.
Jill Stowell: You know, back in September, on September 22, our guest on LD Expert was Makayla Caliendo, she is a delightful 16-year-old with ADD. And really, if you haven't watched the episode, you should. She gave really good advice for students, parents and teachers from the perspective of someone living with ADD. And she and her mom obviously had a really good relationship. But she said, “I hate it when my mom says, do your chores.” She says, “I already knew I had to do my chores. So now that you've told me, it makes me angry, and I don't want to do them anymore.” And she said, “Ask me something like, how are your chores going? Or, would you like me to remind you what the steps were?” We want to empower our kids. And sometimes it's just that really slight shift in our language that will do that.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yes, it is so powerful, Jill. It is such a powerful statement. When you put it back on them, and you will miraculously see that room cleaned, you will miraculously see things picked up. I mean, just by shifting that one statement, right? Or, how is it going? Do you need any help on this? Or, you know, how – what is your plan today? And… versus telling them, I think when you tell them there's this something that you’d feel of “Hmm I'm just not going to do it, I don't feel like doing it, just because you told me.” And I also, adults feel that too with their adult parents, right? You know, I'm like, “Oh, I'm not a kid anymore. You don't have to tell me to do X, Y or Z.” So we have to assume that also kids feel that same way because they've expressed it. Definitely.
Jill Stowell: Right. You know, we've kind of mentioned this, but one of the very special parenting challenges of the 21st century is this pandemic, for sure. But you could look at it kind of like a reboot. The pandemic has stopped some of the noise and brought some things to our attention. So Dr. Muradian, before we wrap up, I know there are some very real frustrations for people around this pandemic, but to end on a positive note, how would you encourage people to look at it? Oh, and we've lost you. There you are.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Oh, as I was thinking about this question, it kind of reminds me of how we look also at people. If I'm talking to someone that I just met, or even a friend, and if they say something that may be bothers me a little bit or, you know, hits the wrong tone, et cetera. Instead of looking at it, “Oh, they meant this, or they meant that.” Or, look at it from a positive stance. Think about everything that person has to say comes with a positive intent. And I think that will also change your perspective on how you feel about others and how we approach others. And we can also teach our kids the same thing. Well, she didn't mean that. Look at it from a positive point of view.
Now, when we go into this, it's the same thing. It's looking at all the positive things that have come out, even if it's a couple or three. And the top things I'm thinking about is how much time we are spending together right now. And again, just focusing on the positive part, which is, wow, we weren't able to do this before but now we are able to do this, for example. So it could be, we weren't able to have dinner every night, now we are. We weren't able to go for a walk before, now we are. We weren't able to just pick up and leave on a Tuesday to Wednesday and just go to the beach, now we can.
So I think it's just about stepping back and looking at the bonding that has – can occur, you know, and the things that you can do. And again, I go back to my list making and writing down a list of all the things that you still want to do. And that could be, you know, board games, it could be what are the fun things that we can do together that we weren't able to do before.
And I think it’s just stepping back and having a reflection and even sitting down as a family and saying, “Well, I just was thinking about this. What are some – where were we at this time last year? And today, and what were we not able to do? Do you remember how I was just running around and driving you everywhere or taking you to all these activities? Or, where we didn't have that time to us or just, you know, just to open the door and go for a walk because you were so busy doing other things.”
So I think that that's really important. It's so easy to focus on the negative in any situation. But when you try to look in the good in people, when you try to look in the good in things, suddenly, everything just seems to open up for you in terms of your mood and how you feel.
And also, it is a week of being grateful and thinking about this week, just as you're sitting around Thanksgiving table. And, you know, this is something we do a lot is, what are you grateful for? And that's such a big word. I think it means so much now more than ever, is what are we grateful for right now in this moment?
Jill Stowell: Well, thank you Dr. Muradian for sharing your expertise and insight. I always love having you on the show. You have so much practical information and you know you're living it as a parent also, so I think that adds a lot.
I also want to say congratulations on publishing your new book during the pandemic. The book kind of goes with some of what you were talking about with balancing the negatives with the positives. It's called Franky and The Worry Bees and it is a delightful book to give parents and kids of any age, a way to talk about and handle stress. And it was written in the pandemic so it's very, very relevant.
Dr. Muradian practices in Glendale and Beverly Hills, California and surrounding areas. Be sure and check out her website and look for her new book Franky and The Worry Bees on Amazon. Thank you again, Dr. Muradian.
Lauren: Great topic and it’s very timely. When you were talking about engaging the child or the team in problem-solving, it really reminded me. I mean we have this issue a lot with executive function and teams and a lot of times, kids come to us and they are kind of shut down. They’re kind of resistant to change. And so, we had a young man not this past summer but the summer before, and he was doing brilliant but he was failing everything. And parents identified that he needed to work on some executive function skills and he did. I mean he did turn in assignments but he was so resistant to any kind of change because he felt like – well, he was, he was brilliant and, “I’m so smart, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with me.”
So working with him, if we would suggest like, “Hey, let’s get a planner or hey, let’s plan out your day,” he would push back and became really resistant. And so instead, we took that approach to kind of involve him in solving the problem, and we used a program of ours called AMPS that has kind of a metacognition element and started to train him to think about his own thinking. But instead of it the problem being, something he was doing wrong in his life, we made it about the activity we were doing in the program so that the activity was the problem we were trying to solve and not him.
And slowly, he became less and less resistant because he was part of that like problem solving collaboration and slowly we were able to then generalize that to his life. And so, that’s just as you were talking about that, I’m like, “Yes, we do need to involve our kids in problem-solving.” Because at first, we are taking something away from them or we are – a lot of times, they think, “You are saying something is wrong with me,” and so – and really approaching it from a different standpoint of like, “No! The behavior is the problem or this component is the problem. How can we solve it together?” has been really effective in executive function training. So, really appreciate that.
Keep posting questions and comments. Let us know who is here and where you’re checking in from. I do have a question from – that was PM-ed to me in Mom Squad. This is a big one. So this parent is asking, “How can you tell when a video game is an addiction or when your child has an addiction?” This mom suspects that her son – I mean he is acting like it’s an addiction. They’ve caught him getting up in the middle of the night and playing in the middle of the night.
They’ve tried turning off the internet and having to do that, cutting him off and turning off the internet at 10:00 o’clock when everybody goes to bed, and he still tried to apparently tap into the neighbor’s Wi-Fi in order to get online and play. I mean just kind of doing these behaviors trying to get online and trying to continue with his video game. And so this mom is just asking for some feedback and advice. How do you know when it’s at that addiction level and is the solution just to cut him off, cold turkey? Do you have any thoughts about that?
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yes. So when we talk about video game addiction, it’s very similar to substance abuse addiction. So you have this craving of wanting it more and more. So mostly, I mean it’s possible if he was getting up in the middle of the night. I mean he is craving more of it and he probably – is probably experiencing symptoms of addiction which is, “I need more and more of it. I can’t stay off of it.”
So yes, kids are very savvy. They will figure out. You turn off the Wi-Fi. If they have LT or other access, they will get it. I’m not a fan of cold turkey. So this is again what we talked about before. It’s kind of like removing someone off of anything. Cold turkey can be an issue.
So what we want to do is – what I would recommend is – well, first of all, having that conversation in terms of this is how it’s impacting your brain and we are here to protect you and to take care of you and this is our job as parents. That’s number one, having that conversation on what the plan is. And I think this is where parents just have to create that plan because I don’t think – if he is addicted, most likely, he will have a hard time detaching and would not allow the parents to take it away.
So I think that also, when say cold turkey, what do we do? We just take the laptop away or whatever the device is. Or we can create a conversation around saying something to this nature of, “Well, you know, I have noticed you were going on it in the middle of the night. So I think what we are going to do because this is not safe for you is we are going to maybe take the laptop away or the devices at night because I know it’s – it looks like it’s really hard for you. I can understand.”
So we are not upset about that. I think it’s important to go into the emotions that the parents are feeling because kids automatically operate on fear and they are just thinking, “Oh, are you upset at me? Oh, are you mad at me?” They make all these assumptions based on every time a parent puts a boundary, a rule, or a structure, automatically the parent is strict, the parent is the meanest parent. And that’s OK. I said, “Well, thank you lady.” When you’re – when they’re in their 20s, they will realize how this happened all the time. [Laughs] They would be like, “I understand why mom and dad did that.”
But it’s up to us how do we function until we get there. So I think a) starting a conversation and talking about it and I think this is what we’re going to do and they probably have to remove the device out of the room. I think that is the safest. I mean kids need at least 9 to 10 hours of sleep at night. I don’t know what this child’s age. So that can impact now when we are talking impacting sleep, affecting your health. So we can’t allow that to continue and that’s where parents need to make that decision on what they are going to do in terms of possibly removing it from the room because it is a problem.
But also, talking to him about what this feels like. Identify the behavior. Not saying, “Something is wrong with you.” Never. It’s more about identifying the behavior that is an issue like the assignments. The behavior is not that you are not good enough. The behavior is you didn’t turn in your assignments. Can you tell me what happened there? Are you needing any help? What happened?
Often, kids will say, “I forgot. It was too much for me. I couldn’t handle it.” Or, “I didn’t understand.” So again like, “Oh, OK. I can understand that. All right. How can I help you?” Now, you’re allowing me to get involved.” OK. No, I don’t need your help.
Well, if the child with the addiction says, “I don’t need your help,” well, this is where we have to – sometimes parents just have to step in a little more strict and more structured and just say, “Well, I do think it’s an issue and this is what we are going to do. How does that make you feel?” So talk about the feelings. And most likely, they are not going to be happy, but it is for their benefit. So it’s not always about making kids happy, but also keeping them safe, right?
Lauren: Absolutely. I mean that’s our job as a parent, isn’t it?
Dr. Regine Muradian: Right. We are going to have the struggle. I think it’s – I think we shouldn’t be afraid as parents to deal with the struggle in terms of having the struggle around us. Yes, the struggle is painful. The tantrums are painful. The fighting is painful. But sometimes if that’s – again, it’s like Jill was saying is, maintaining your calm is hard sometimes when you had a hard day at work and you have chores and you have other kids to take care of and you are busy doing other things. But just being mindful that if I can’t do it at this moment, we will talk about it in 5 minutes, for example, or in 10 minutes or give me this time to enter – to come in, to do what I need to do and then we will talk about it.
Lauren: That’s great advice.
Jill Stowell: So one thing about that issue of video game addiction, because that has come up some and I’m sure it’s becoming a bigger issue now with kids not having as much to do. I wonder if it would make sense if you look at the total amount they are playing and together look at that and then try to whittle that away a little bit. So say, this week, we are going to cut that down by half an hour. If they are playing 5 hours and you are cutting it by half an hour, they are still playing a lot.
But maybe then coming up with a replacement behavior, so instead of playing video games during that half hour, let’s play a board game together or let’s walk around the block or let’s bake cookies or something, if we could replace it. Do something to replace that during the week. Exercise would be a great one especially if they are sitting in front of a screen like that.
And then each week, maybe bring it down 30 minutes or whatever to gradually wean them off. I don’t. Do you have a thought about that?
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yes, I love that. It reminds of what we talked about in our earlier LD Expert Live back in the summer was how do we wean kids back into school in terms of sleep? And it was the same. And yes, we have to. We can’t do just remove everything. It is about doing the increments is really important. I think that’s a great idea.
And also, the replacement is like redirecting. It’s redirecting behavior. And I think that’s going to work because at the end of the day, kids do want to spend more time with parents. Even though we are all in the home together, are we really spending quality time together? Everyone is off doing their own thing. So there could be more isolation. They are more withdrawn. So what is it?
And I think a great day would be for parents to maybe just create a list that they could just keep visible somewhere where they’re writing down on replacements, and that could be baking cookies, that’s one, taking a walk, going to the park, whatever it is that could be a replacement. And I’m just envisioning doing this with your kid and the kid can choose. Well, what do you want to choose for today? Because remember, we did come off the computer 30 minutes earlier, that was our plan. So go ahead and choose that.
But I think you have to have that conversation right before so they know when we do the redirection exercise, they can go directly to that list too because they created it and so it’s theirs.
Jill Stowell: And it gives them some feeling of control. Yes, they had to get off their device but they get to choose. So yeah.
Lauren: Great advice. Thank you. We have Sharon checking in from California. Hello and welcome. And we have another Sharon that’s asking about – she says, “Our school district is now using core competencies model in their school. It also included this in their IAP instead of direct executive function skills training.” And she is just asking, “Is this – will this address the needs for kids with executive function weaknesses?”
So, I think core competencies, I haven’t heard that term but then I’ve been out of the classroom since 2010. But it sounds like a basic skill type of model where we are teaching kids to follow a schedule or be on top of homework. I have seen that in our local school district. It’s basic skills or core skills. And it’s teaching them just the routine of being a good student, following a schedule and turning in assignments and things like that.
Does anyone else have any – I have seen it be effective with kids because it does give them a lot of structure just as working – as a learning center or kids that are in some of these classes where it is incorporated into their IAP. It does. It gives them something to – using their model at school, if you are using – turning things in online, things like that, so it’s using the exact model that the school is using and teaching a student how to function effectively in that model. So I have seen that be very effective. It’s not – it doesn’t always teach maybe the underlying skills that are impacting executive function but it helps them at least be able to keep their head above water at school with all of the different teachers and assignments.
Jill Stowell: Right.
Dr. Regine Muradian: I will just share this with everyone. I don’t know if you can see this. Do you see this?
Dr. Regine Muradian: So this is – I’m sure you can get this on Amazon in different forms. I’m pretty old fashion this way. I really love for executive functioning, I just love the writing component. So just to answer – I mean we are talking core competency and what that looks like and how other parents can use this. So this has been awesome in our home too. So every morning when you wake up, when school starts, this is a really good task to do because let’s say, On Monday, you can write down everything that’s already posted online that you need to do that day.
I think that what’s happening is when kids are seeing and not to veer off topic of video games, but I think this is important, with the execute functioning because I think it ties in so much in that muscle that needs to be massaged and exercised that day are losing right now just not being in school. Period. I mean I think we all know that. And also with the video game impact, there is a decrease in executive functioning and patience, et cetera.
So what I would recommend is they can kind of like jot down, OK, what do you have planned for Monday? What are you going to do on Monday? And then I think the power again of crossing out of what you already completed is so great because they feel like they’ve accomplished something and then it’s really great for the parent to kind of also check in, “Oh, did you turn in everything?”
This is also something I’m sure same style they are using in schools in terms of teaching them how to create their schedule, be organized, and not get overwhelmed. I think we are just gotten very overwhelmed with so much.
And part of the video gaming I think decreases that muscle ability where let’s say before, imagine they had more muscle ability to handle more pre-pandemic. And now, it’s much less because everything is instant gratification, “I want it now!” Think about when they’re playing that game, it’s immediate almost.
I’m also seeing that when we go back to anger and them getting upset when they are losing, so imagine sitting there taking a test or listening on to a Zoom session, do they have that patience now? Much less. So I like that they are using that and I think it should be a class. I think executive functioning skills, study skills, should be a class for kids because this is something – they’re either born with it or of course, it can be taught. Some kids are just naturally Type A. They are excellent at organizing themselves and that’s what I’m noticing also with Zoom is kids on Zoom who are succeeding really well are the Type A personalities who can handle a lot of information and just multitasks. So that’s why we are saying about kids who are not with just different personalities and styles are having a harder time.
Lauren: Yeah. And definitely, our kids that already have learning and attention challenges even more so. So, that makes sense.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yeah.
Lauren: Thank you. Thank you to everyone. Keep checking in. Let us know who is here. We will check in one time before the end of the show so if you do have a question or a comment, be sure to post it and I’ll see you soon.
Jill Stowell: Great. Thank you, Lauren. This is LD Expert Live. I’m Jill Stowell here with Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Regine Muradian, talking about key parenting issues for today. So we’ve been talking about some different ways to communicate with our kids. What thoughts do you have about communicating with our students who are struggling with learning or attention about what they need and what they don’t?
Dr. Regine Muradian: So, I think if we go back to again, creating a form of structure for our kids and like going back to this – that little form that I showed and you could find that anywhere. They have it on Amazon, just different forms, not exactly the same one but just in terms of the schedule, a paper schedule. I think the kids who are now struggling with learning and attention, I think it’s really about doing these little check-ins throughout the day. It’s kind of like – and I’m sure – I’m curious also to see how you are doing it at your center, because it is the same method where we are checking in, how are you doing, maybe it’s per the hour.
But also at the same time, giving them somewhat of that independence. I always say, let us allow them to succeed instead of us parents being constantly on them and let’s them a little bit of that independence because I feel like when they feel that they have the independence, they detach from the diagnosis so to speak. There’s so much mental health stigma that kids feel, “Oh, I have anxiety. Oh, I have ADHD. I don’t like this. I want to get rid of this. I want to be normal.” This is all I hear.
And when you give them that independence and try it out for a week, and independence can look like, “Well, let’s do the schedule. I’ll give it to you and maybe I’ll check in with you only one time at the end of the day, at 5:00 o’clock, and see if everything – you tell me what did you struggle with and we can look together at what was turned in.”
I just told this to a client yesterday. I said, “It’s not that you can’t be trusted that you didn’t turn it in. I am sure you turn it in. But sometimes when there’s too much to do, we often miss things. It happens. We are human.” And I think when we normalize that as we adults can make errors and mistakes, it’s natural, it normalizes it for them. Because remember, kids feel everything in terms of in that moment. It just stays like an imprint, like a trauma. This is never going to end.
Whereas, we as adults, can kind of detach from that and say, “OK, I’ll just do better next time.” But in kid’s minds, it feels so intense, that failure or that assignment they didn’t turn in or they got scolded by the teacher or something had occurred that day.
And I think now also with grades being so visible in some classes, that causes also more stress on kids.
So, I’m a really big advocate on let us detach from the label piece and – because you are not your anxiety. You are not your learning disability. You are not your ADHD. You are you and what makes you unique and good and special in terms of your talent and what you can provide.
So I think when we reframe it that way, they feel better. They feel stronger. And sometimes you can even give the learning disability a nickname, “Oh, there is it. It’s popping up again.” And just having fun with it. And I always attribute it, “It’s a weakness that you have. This is your weakness. I have my weaknesses too.”
And I think when the parent steps back and takes on that stance or even ask the kid, “What do you think mommy’s weakness is or what do you think I struggle with?” because we all struggle with something. So that’s the normalization part that I think we need to do more of now more than ever and take this opportunity.
Jill: And just dialoguing with them a little bit about what they feel like they need from us. Kids are amazing and I think we do tend to underestimate them as parents. We just want so badly to protect them and help them and we feel like we are not doing our job if we can’t do it. But sometimes in our effort to keep them from failing or to make sure that they are not struggling, we keep them from gaining resilience and independence. And that’s not to say with our kids who are really struggling that we don’t give them any help.
But really dialoguing together about what pieces of it they really can do and allowing them to do that and setting as you said, a check-in time where we can come back and check. But allowing them to work on it themselves and getting their feedback about what pieces they would like support in and what they feel like, “Yup, I got this.” Because they feel so much better about themselves when they do know they’ve got it. They can do some of it themselves.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: Go ahead.
Dr. Regine Muradian: I was going to mention as you were talking about that is the discussion pieces. When you step back and most kids will say, “I just want you to listen. I don’t need your feedback. I just want to – I don’t want a lecture. I just want you to – I just want to talk.” And some kids will express that and some wouldn’t. So I think it’s just automatic to assume that that’s what kids need and just starting with that active listening piece could be helpful too.
Jill Stowell: Back in September, on September 22nd, our guest on LD Expert was Michaela Colando. She is a delightful 16-year-old with ADD. And really, if you haven’t watched the episode, you should. She gave really good advice for students, parents, and teachers from the perspective of someone living with ADD. And she and her mom obviously had a really good relationship but she said, “I hate it when my mom says, ‘Do your chores.’” She says, “I already knew I have to do my chores so now that you told me, it makes me angry and I don’t want to do them anymore.” And she said, “Ask me something like, ‘How are your chores going or how – would you like to remind you what the steps were?’”
We want to empower our kids and sometimes it’s just that really slight shift in our language that will do that.
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yes, it is so powerful, Jill. It is such a powerful statement when you put it back on them and you will miraculously see that room cleaned. You will miraculously see things picked up. I mean just by shifting that one statement or, “How’s it going? Do you need any help on this? Or how – what is your plan today?” versus telling them. I think when you tell them, there is this feel of, “I’m just not going to do it. Don’t feel like doing it just because you told me.”
And also, adults feel that too with their adult parents, “Oh, I’m not a kid anymore. You don’t have to tell me to do X, Y, or Z.” So we have to assume that also kids feel that same way because they’ve expressed it definitely.
Jill Stowell: Right. I’m Jill Stowell, founder of Stowell Learning Centers and this is LD Expert Live. Let’s check in with Lauren and our viewers one more time before we wrap up today. And then believe it or not, we are going to wrap up with some positives about the pandemic.
Lauren: Hello. Hi. We have another question coming in from Mom Squad anonymously. This is kind of a little different but it does relate to online and virtual learning. This parent is asking, “Have you ever seen – have you seen kids with increased anxiety being on camera on Zoom?” So online classes. She describes her 11-year-old daughter kind of having anxious behaviors, doing a lot of like – she’ll perseverate on being camera like she has days where they have to be in class and the teacher is requiring the students to turn their camera in order to take attendance and then there is none attendance days where they’re supposed to be doing their work.
And so on those days when her daughter needs to be on camera, the night before, she perseverates on that and thinking about, “Oh, I have to turn on my camera and what am I going to wear?” And it’s kind of tearing their family apart because no one is allowed in the room when she is doing online classes and so mom is just asking, “Is that anxiety and should I be worried about that with her?”
Dr. Regine Muradian: Yes. I’m actually seeing this a lot, believe it or not. And it makes a lot of sense. Think about it just us now on camera or when we are on Zoom, we are looking at ourselves. And for teenagers or pretweens, I call them the twins, 11 going on to 15, I always joke about that, there is this feeling of, “Oh my gosh! How do I look? Do I have a pimple? Oh my gosh! Is Johnny or Katie over there staring at me or did I make a funny face?”
So there is a lot more focus on the body image aspect and how I look more than when you are in class. Think about it. When you are in class, you don’t really see yourself in physical class, when we were in school.
So one option and I don’t know if this is possible is to actually – you can have your camera on Zoom if that’s what they are using or Google Meet but not see yourself. I think there is an option to do that where it’s not focused on you. I believe so. And that could help. So that’s one.
Is it a sign of anxiety? Absolutely. It does sound like some anxious symptoms there especially as she is ruminating it the night before, thinking about, feeling anxious during that time.
So the other option would also be to come up with a plan with the teacher. I think this is where the parent needs to probably step in. Email or create a conversation with the teacher and explain that in private, “This is what’s going on with my child. This is very natural. I do understand and again, my child’s mental health is priority and I don’t want her stressing about this. Do you have …” I always put it back on the teacher, “do you have any suggestions?” before the parents makes a suggestion. And allow the teacher to come up with a suggestion.
I am sure they are not the first. I’m sure the teacher has heard about this problem. This is what I hear all the time. Even my clients on Zoom, I do give them that option. I said, “It’s OK if you don’t want to show your full face, I’m fine with that. You could show your forehead.” Because I know how uncomfortable they can feel just being on screen like this. This is hard.
So that’s the first thing I would do is probably connect with teacher. Validate her feelings. I think parents need to validate how she is feeling and say, “Oh gosh! I can understand what that feels like. Tell me more. What is really bothering you when that happens?” Just so that the child gets a way of expressing and letting these emotions out and then after that, “Well, what do you think? Let’s talk to the teacher. Let’s try to find a solution on this because I can understand how you are feeling.”
Now, you are creating a bond with your child. You are communicating positively. You are validating their feelings and coming up with a solution, which is the most important. And that will be a gateway for other problems in the future and how to …
Lauren: Great. Yeah. That’s great advice. Again, connecting and really validating that this is something real that the child is feeling. So thank you for that. I’m sure this is not the only mom. I’ve definitely heard about this in our centers from our students that we just added a whole new element to that imaginary audience part of teenage development that yeah, everybody is watching you and now it’s on camera. So, that is really hard.
- Episode 70: The IEP – What Parents Need to Know – Dina Kaplan
- Episode 69: Embracing Differences and Building Social Emotional Health – Suzanne McClure
- Episode 68 – Executive Function Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Students + T.E.F.O.S. – Part 2 – Seth Perler
- Episode 67 – The Executive Function Online Summit PLUS a Special Message for Kids – Part 1 – Seth Perler
- Episode 66 – Auditory Processing and Managing Anxiety – Jill Stowell on the Re-Focus Podcast with Angela Stephens
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