Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D. and featured by: Psychology Today
Teens. We love our own dearly. They were once our babies who sat in our arms, fit on our chest, and fell asleep in our arms. When I look at my son, I hear his deep voice but all I see is that little boy who loved to play “mommy-saurus” with me and whose giggles made me giggle in return.
For his upcoming 13th birthday, my son asked to see the Broadway Show, "Dear Evan Hansen." I didn’t know how hard this play was going to hit me. How much the battles of the characters were relevant to me, my son, and the teens that I work with professionally. With almost every scene, the tears just streamed down my face. Each character’s struggles were so real, so relevant, so raw, so honest!
The confusion and the overwhelm that comes with being a teen, trying to figure out who you are, fit in and stand out is real. It’s intense. It’s scary. Our children are practically born with a phone, iPod, IPad in hand and the amount of information they have available is immense, mind-blowing. Whether it’s access to political news, natural disasters, or school shootings, we, as their parents, don’t always have the choice of whether to share or not with our kids because it is all right there. And social media, oh, social media. Our kids know where their peers are, who they are with and what they were not a part of in almost the same minute that social gatherings and events are happening. FOMO (fear of missing out) is also real.
Do you remember how we found out when other kids made plans or had a party? We may have heard about it by chance Monday morning when others were talking about it. We found out about worldly or local events if we read them in the paper or happened to watch the news on TV (with a remote that was connected by a wire, and a TV screen that was not flat!)
Our kids also have access to so much information all the time. About everything, about anything. They don’t really have to seek it out; it’s all right there on social media, on apps on the phone. Let me share another one of my pet peeves. Remember when TV shows were on the television? Remember how we had to turn the TV on to watch the show? Well, my son is watching shows on his phone and IPAD and I’m finding out AFTER he’s seen them. Ugh…
During our kids’ pre-teen and teen years, there are some major changes that we are going to see and feel, as their parents. Let’s shed some light on these impending (or already here) changes, and how we can, as their parents, help out with sympathy, positivity and expressed love for them, even when they are not very loveable!
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Written by: Nicole Filiberti, LCSW
As much as we try to avoid it, failure is a part of life. Making mistakes and being the person who takes a while to learn something are situations we try to avoid as much as we try to avoid catching the flu in the winter! Raising our children to be resilient humans requires accepting our own imperfections and shortcomings as adults. Another important facet of being resilient that has to be mentioned is our ability to bounce back from the difficulties that life throws at us unexpectedly. Allowing yourself the space you need to heal and bounce back is crucial in your ability to be resilient.
According to Bonanno, Masten, Panter-Brick and Yehuda (2014), some of the factors that determine how resilient one can be are rooted in biological, psychological, cultural and social causes. We all have different ways that we react and respond to stressful events. Modeling resiliency for your children to see is a great way for them to grow up as resilient people who are armed with the skills needed to persevere through hardships.
Walk Them Through The Process
Show your kids what it is like to make a mistake and be okay with it. Depending on your child’s age and developmental level, you can break this process down step by step in a clear way for them. Remind your children that they cannot control what happens to them, but can only control how they react to it. Engaging your children in conversations on this topic where it is discussed and processed can be very beneficial.
Maintain a support system and utilize them when needed. Reach out to your friends and loved ones when needed. Keeping yourself actively involved in groups and/or engaged in social relationships can be significant in bouncing back after a hardship. The tricky part here can be reaching out and requesting the help you need. Show your kids that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. The more you can normalize for them the act of seeking support through relationships, the more likely they will be to do this when they find themselves in need.
Make Self Care A Priority
Taking care of yourself is not at the top of the list for most parents, many of whom are also juggling the demands of a career and multiple other responsibilities. Keeping a close eye on your own wants and needs, and actually following through with getting yourself what you need, is essential in staying resilient throughout life’s challenges. This could look so different from person to person and highly depends on what is relaxing and serves you.
Southwick, S. M., Bonanno, G. A., Masten, A. S., Panter-Brick, C., & Yehuda, R. (2014). Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: interdisciplinary perspectives. European journal of psychotraumatology, 5, 10.3402/ejpt.v5.25338. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v5.25338
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Celina D'Alto is our intern this summer! She is an upcoming senior at The College of New Jersey. She is studying to get her masters in special education and her bachelors degree in psychology with a specialization in clinical and counseling psychology. She works as a child care taker during the school year. Celina enjoys spending time with family and friends, cooking, and loves to travel. She is excited to be working with us!
Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis, Psy.D.
You may find your anxiety is being triggered by the day’s events, or what you still need to accomplish before the day’s end for yourself, your child, your job, or all 3. That anxiety experience is real and it sometimes triggers a more intense anxiety response when something isn’t going as you planned. And let’s face it, there are a lot of variables that can go out of whack at any given time!
Or, maybe there is really no reason at all and you are feeling triggered and are struggling with low mood, low energy and just an overall wanting to withdraw and hide. So now what?
When feeling distressed, sad, anxious, or generally unhappy, acknowledge your feelings and don’t try to deny, distract or run away from them. Embrace how you are feeling even if there is no real identifiable source for your feelings. Today, your trigger may have been a sudden flashback, a scent, or sight, or a feeling.
It’s okay. Be aware of what and how you are feeling, first and foremost.
Give Yourself a Break
If you are at work or an event, it’s okay to leave the situation you are in and take a break. Take a half-day or a sick day if you are at work. Do not force yourself to stay or handle a situation when your tolerance and resources are at a minimum. Find a quiet place, make a cup of tea and allow your body to process your emotions and come back down from the roller coaster ride you were just a part of.
Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis, Psy.D.
You’re a parent of a child with special needs. You have a diagnosis, you’ve sought treatment and you’ve been doing this for a couple of years, or maybe longer than that. As your child grows and his needs change, so does your stress and distress. You now know enough about your child’s triggers that you survey the environment and sit in anticipation of a potential meltdown. Or, you are managing the medical implications that come with your child’s diagnosis such as medication, ventilator, feeding tube management, and specialist consultations and check-ins. Or, you are thinking about the future and your child’s care as she becomes older; her education, her need for greater care when you can’t be the one to do it anymore.
You’re on the edge, often. You aren’t very good at ‘letting go’ because you don’t know what you have to accommodate, or change in your house, what you need to make sure you have with you when you leave your house in an effort to keep your child safe, regulated and calm. You are likely thinking about the future care of your child, and you’re just not sure what the game plan is going to look like.
Written by: Dr. Rick Manista, Psy.D.
An Autism diagnosis can have various challenges for children. Social skills is one of the main deficits children with autism can experience. They have a difficulty reading and interpreting social cues. This can cause them to withdraw from social situations or engage in inappropriate behavior. One of the hardest times of the day is recess. Recess is the time where most social opportunities take place. Here are some ideas to help improve social skills during this time.
Children are Motivated
Locke, Shih, Kreutzmann and Kasari (2015) conducted a study comparing the playground habits between children with and without autism spectrum disorder. The results indicated that children with autism did spend majority of their time engaging with another student. Though the students may not be communicating and relating to each other on the same level, there is motivation from the students with autism to socialize.
Four Steps of Communication
One important strategy to teach students is the four steps of communication. Created by Winner (2000), these steps break down social interaction more concretely for students. Step 1 is to be aware of others and our own thoughts. This is the time we want to make sure we are on the same topic of conversation. Step 2 is to make a physical presence known. We have to approach the group or wave to initiate conversation. We just cannot get too close that would invade their personal space! Step 3 is to use our eyes to read others emotions and monitor how the person is reacting. The final step is use language to convey our thoughts. This can be done by asking questions and sharing thoughts. These steps can help students with their interactions.
Engage teachers and aides
The hardest part about social skills is the students generalizing their skills in different environments. Winner and Crooke (2016) stress the importance of having teachers and aides be apart of the students’ “social team”. Not only do teachers and aides directly observe what is happening on the playground, they can help guide play, reinforce social stories and vocabulary. One of the most important skills to teach children with Autism is observation. When you observe a social cue, you can interpret the most appropriate response. While this can be done in therapy rooms, the playground offers more opportunities for students to observe social cues. Naturally, this skill is difficult for students to do on their own. Having teachers help reinforce the concept of observation to students could improve their social skills.
Pair with Peer Models
Another common strategy is to utilize peer mentors. Higher functioning students can help guide students in need. These students would need to be trained on how to respond to children with Autism and on the nature of the condition. Most schools have a similar model for peers to help others. The one challenge to this strategy is peer pressure: often the mentors might face exclusion and stop helping. Teachers would still need to be closely monitoring in effort to ensure the success of the approach.
Create Structured Activities
Students with Autism tend to work in isolation with repetitive, predictable tasks. There are various activities that can meet their interests and help them socialize. The monkey bars, see saws, and swings often lend to pairs playing together. Alternate activities such as side walk chalk or scavenger hunts are predictable but increase participation. Indoor recess has easier options to structure. Art activities, Lego buildings and board games lend themselves to cooperative play. Another important strategy is to allow the students to bring toys from home. They can use this opportunity to share with others and make potential friendships.
Practice In the Classroom
The classroom and therapy room is a vital place to work on recess goals. This is a time where social skills can be taught and practiced. Teachers can instruct students on games they can play, the rules and expectations of the game, and why people like this game (Lucci, 2019). These are concepts that are hard for children with Autism. Videos showing recess activity and games help students see a clear picture of what will happen. Reinforcement systems in the classroom can motivate students to interact in an appropriate manner. Our goals for students is to feel connected with others during social times. These strategies can help students build successful peer relationships.
Locke, J., Shih, W., Kretzmann, M., & Kasari, C. (2015). Examining playground engagement between elementary school children with and without autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 20(6), 653-662. doi:10.1177/1362361315599468
Lucci, D. (n.d.). Helping students with Asperger's make sense of recess. Retrieved May 11, 2019, from https://www.aane.org/helping-students-aspergers-make-sense-recess/
Winner, M. G. (2000). Inside out: What makes a person with social cognitive deficits tick?: The I LAUGH approach: Asperger syndrome, high-functioning autism, non-verbal learning- disabilities (NLD), pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), hyperlexia. San Jose, CA: Michelle
Garcia Winner. Winner, M., & Crooke, P. (2016, September 21). 9 Strategies to Encourage Generalization of Social Thinking Concepts and Social Skills. Retrieved May 12, 2019, from https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=9
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Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: Psychology Today
I have always been drawn to working with teenagers. They are goofy, funny, and their blooming personalities are fun to watch and experience. I bond well with teens, professionally, and feel that I can reach them. Perhaps because I am a first-generation Egyptian in not only the United States, but New Jersey nonetheless: I felt very torn between being an Egyptian and an American. I struggled to blend my two worlds and figure out who I was in the midst of it all.
My mother and father maintained a circle of friends who were also immigrants to the United States. We attended an Egyptian church weekly, and this was a large part of our social life. Our friends were other Egyptian-American teens and each week, we gathered together and shared our stories about our parents’ "ridiculous" views while our parents shared their favorite meals and nostalgic stories of the motherland. I had no idea where I fit in and how to balance and manage the expectations of our culture, religion and our life in a non-Egyptian community. I wish I had someone to talk to. Someone to validate the angst I felt well into my late 20s.
Now, let’s blast forward to the present where I am waiting for my son while he gets his hair cut. He’s darting looks at me while sending a text, “Don’t come near me.” Just to make this visual complete, I am sitting about 10 feet away from him. But he waves me over and asks, “What do you think? Short enough?”
I’m so confused.
That’s my boy: He’s in the midst of a time of physical growth, emotional chaos, social changes (constantly), insecurity, and trying to figure out his identity. He’s not alone. Adolescent boys and girls everywhere struggle with anxiety, and so is my adolescent boy...
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Written by: Michelle Molle-Krowiak, LCSW, Ed.S.
As I travel through this parenting journey, I find myself judging myself compared to this preconceived notion of “shoulds”. As I try to be mindful and find balance, I,too, still can get sucked into the vortex of “shoulds”.
When thinking of forging your own path, I can not help to look at the Royal family. Meghan Markle and Prince Henry welcomed their son this week. I was so impressed on how they broke the “shoulds” and royal customs. Meghan has started her motherhood journey on her own terms. Abandoning a birth picture dressed to the nines only hours after the birth, Meghan remained behind private doors nuzzling her son. Bravo for breaking free of not only “shoulds” but royal customs and pressures of the media.
So what does relinquishing the “shoulds” do for you:
Now, how do you do it?!
Step 1: identify. Began to take notice of when you apply a “should to your thinking”. Awareness is the first step to change!
Step 2: Challenging Thoughts- develop a script to shift the power and your mindset -
(As we eat our fast food dinner) “I am teaching my kids how spending time having a (fast food) picnic in between soccer practices that we can still make family time and connect!”
Step 3: Appreciate your efforts and allow for improvement with judging yourself!
This is my Mother’s day gift to myself !
Wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day living without the “shoulds”.
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Written by: Eva Benoit
Running a business is hard work, whether you're the owner, the second in command, or a rising manager. This is particularly true when finances become tight. Thankfully, there are strategies you can employ to make things easier and boost your energy to keep your career accelerating.
Ease Money Worries
Unfortunately, the state of our finances can lead to a buildup of stress and anxiety. To help reduce this burden, see where you can lower the overhead costs of running your business. One way to do so is to put together a home office, rather than leasing one separately. Just ensure that your workspace is distinct from the living areas and has a comfortable chair and desk. You can further prune back expenses by going paperless and seeing what labor you can cut back on or outsource. However, you could make surprising savings by investing in an accountant to find out the areas upon which you can improve.
Know Your Budget and Goals
Another tactic to keep yourself from being overwhelmed is to develop a fool-proof budget and outline your goals. Without a budget, you can't know precisely where your money is going and if your return is as high as you think. To start, add up your fixed and variable expenses to know what you're spending each month. From there, you can establish what your profits are and which goals can help you grow them. You need tangible goals as well as those for financial growth. Decide what percentage you want to increase by, and when, to fuel your motivation.
Up Your Energy
When you lose sleep, live in a state of stress, and eat a poor diet, your energy and productivity suffer. Your work and your personal life cannot flourish if you don't take care of your physical needs, so invest in your health by getting eight hours of sleep and eating nutritious meals. You can sleep better by creating a nighttime ritual away from work. That means no tech in the bedroom, and going to bed at the same time every night. Furthermore, stock your kitchen full of healthy choices to prevent yourself from eating junk when you've had a hard day; these should include fresh fruit and vegetables high in antioxidants and omega-3s. Fortunately, you can buy things already prepared so you don't need to worry about that hassle yourself.
Take Needed Breaks
Working, even if you are sitting the entire day, is taxing on the mind and body. It drains our energies and exhausts us, especially when things are tense. To counter this, we need to take frequent breaks. It doesn't need to be much, but aim for a break every hour or so. That could involve standing up and stretching for a few minutes, or going to get a fresh glass of water — but do something to take your mind off of work. This way, you can come back to any tricky issues you need to resolve with a fresh burst of energy.
Having clutter where we work does not lead to us being productive. It negatively impacts our moods and work morale by creating a chaotic environment. Yet, by having a home office that is well-thought out and organized, you can not only have pleasant surroundings but encourage your own productivity. Whenever things get chaotic, look at what you can get rid of, and which storage systems can prevent piles from building up again.
Plan out your business and see what adjustments you can make. You may need to set new goals, create a better budget, and be sure you're properly looking after yourself. Being an entrepreneur can be stressful, but you don't need to feel bogged down every day.
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By: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: Phase2Parenting
As a parent, we’re often troubleshooting challenges as they happen. So when you suspect your child may have a learning disability, it can be overwhelming to know where to start and how to obtain the resources to best support your child. To help streamline your next steps, we spoke with Dr. Liz Matheis, a licensed Clinical Psychologist and certified School Psychologist who specializes in assisting children and their families with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and learning/behavioral disorders. Check out her interview below:
What are some of the common learning disabilities that you see amongst the tween and teen age groups?
Often, learning disabilities can go unnoticed in children who are shy or anxious or withdrawn. For tweens and teens, I'm finding learning disabilities in math, reading, reading comprehension, and written expression. The learning disabilities are also comorbid with ADHD and anxiety, which can distract a learning disability diagnosis.
What are the steps that parents should take if they think their child may have a learning disability?
I encourage parents to gain feedback about their child's progress based on baseline and mid-year assessments completed by the public school. By the middle of kindergarten, parents can have a good idea of how their child is progressing in terms of academics, behavioral and social progress, and where he/she is in comparison to same aged peers.
If the child is struggling in reading, writing, spelling or math, parents can request Basic Skills Instruction. I believe that after 3 months of consistent instruction, the parent will be able to tell if the child is making progress. Basic Skill Instruction provides repetition of lesson as the idea is that the child may need the skill presented several times again in order for it to become learned.
If the child is not making progress, I encourage parents to reach out to the Guidance Counselor and request an I&RS plan (Intervention and Referral Services Plan). Strategies are documented and the time line is 4-8 weeks. I recommend that parents schedule a follow up meeting in 6 weeks to assess the efficacy of the plan. If a child has a learning disability, the progress will be limited, thus indicating the next level, which is…
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Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: Sonicalert.com
Sleeping with ADHD, Autism, and Anxiety
Sleep. It’s that ever elusive kudo that comes at the end of each day. For some of us, it happens quite easily. For others, it’s a process that may or may not end up in sweet dreams. For our children with ADHD, anxiety, or autism, sleep is truly of the essence. It’s needed to maintain focus, to regulate mood and allow for learning. Without it, we see our children struggle with more anxiety, more restlessness, more inattention, more irritability, and more difficulty learning. Over time, we, as their parents, become unsure of which came first and we have a vicious cycle that can become hard to break or remedy.
How Much Sleep Do We Need Each Night?
According to Tuck.com, the numbers of hours of sleep needed each night (optimally) is based on age. The following is the breakdown:
Infants Under 1 Year 16-20 Hours
1-2 Years of Age 14 Hours
3-4 Years of Age 12 Hours
5-12 Years of Age 10 Hours
13-19 Years of Age 9 Hours
Adults and Seniors 7-8 Hours
ADHD and Sleep
Children with ADHD often struggle with sleep. CHADD.com says the most common sleep problems for children and adolescents is difficulty fall asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and difficulty waking up. Children and adolescents with ADHD also struggle with sleepwalking, snoring, breathing difficulty, restless sleep, and nightmares. When children are prescribed medication, parents and teachers see an improvement in a child’s ability to maintain focus; however, the stimulant component can also negatively impact a child’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep each night.
The National Sleep Foundation states children with ADHD who don’t sleep enough hours each night may be even more fidgety, restless, impulsive, and even irritable and aggressive. Children who do not sleep well during the night may struggle socially to interact with their peers and pick up on social cues, understand a lesson presented in class, be able to follow directions given by a teacher when transitioning, for example. Ultimately, this leads to a child who can become ‘tired and wired’, and can become stuck in a non-sleeping pattern for months.
A study completed by Golan, Shahar, and Pillar (2004), showed that there is a high comorbidity between AD/HD and disordered breathing as well as restless leg syndrome. It was recommended that parents discuss these possibilities with the child’s pediatrician in order to gain treatment for these conditions that could be disturbing sleep cycles and contributing to an exacerbation of symptoms...
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles