Connecting with Psychology

By: Alshaba Billawala

Here’s what you need know about Psychology services at Connecting Dots!

Psychologists can be found in several different settings – they can be found in schools, private clinics, community organizations, small or large businesses, hospitals, etc.  However, our psychologists at Connecting Dots play a special role.  At least we like to believe so!  So, what exactly do the psychologists at connecting dots do?

Psychology services at Connecting Dots focus on helping families and children overcome the various challenges they may face.  They provide counselling and/or play based therapy to individuals, families and couples and often they do so in your natural environment(s).

What’s a natural environment? We’re glad you asked!

Simply put, a natural environment is where we would naturally find you at a given time. For children, this is often in their homes or at school. The advantage of working with someone in their natural environment is that the strategies and ideas your psychologist proposes are usually with consideration of the environment in which they are meant to be used.  This typically allows for increased effectiveness and more wiggle room to troubleshoot anything that is not currently working.

There are various roles that our psychologists can play in supporting you and your family.

Some common examples of areas that a psychologist may be able to support you include:

  • Emotion regulation– supporting children and family members in being able to identify their feelings and learning tools and strategies to cope with them
  • Behavior management – supporting families with identifying creative ideas to reduce any problematic behaviors their children are engaging in
  • Developing play and social skills – supporting children in developing advanced play skills (e.g., moving from solitary play to parallel and interactive play) and learning ways to improve their ability to interact with others in meaningful ways
  • Developing independence – supporting families with identifying tools to improve the independence of their children in various areas (e.g., in completing activities of daily living)
  • Identifying resources – supporting families in becoming connected with various organizations that may be able to further support your child/family
  • Providing counselling support to family members of a child with special needs. As discussed further here, having a child with special needs impacts not only the child but also the broader family. As such, having support from a professional for the parent(s) or siblings can often be very helpful.

Collaboratively, our psychologists can work with your family to identify the areas with which your child is struggling and help you come up with creative approaches to move in the direction you want.

If you are interested in learning more about how our psychologists can support you, please feel free to contact us!

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Connecting Without Screens

By: Elizabeth Wotherspoon

In that moment when you’re passing off the iPad to your little one just to get a minute of peace, have you ever wondered what our parents did to occupy us without having access to screens?

Smartphones, tablets, TVs, and computers have become SO prevalent in our everyday lives. They hold our schedules, contacts, entertainment, and so much more and having everything in one spot makes our lives a little easier. The advances that have been made in technology are both incredible and useful, but we need to be careful about how much our children are interacting with screens.

I’m a new speech-language pathologist (SLP) and just like you (probably) I wondered, “What’s so bad about a screen? They keep kids busy and lots of the apps, videos, and TV shows target learning!” BUT, since I began working with children all day, every day I have come to learn (by seeing firsthand) that too much screen use can put children at risk for problems with language, attention, and cognitive and/or physical development.

How much is too much?

Based on recommendations in the Canadian Paediatric Society Position Statement – Digital Health Task Force Research Review (2017), children under the age of 2 should not be exposed to screens at all and children ages 2-5 should have exposure to screens for less than 1 hour per day.

Anything over these guidelines is simply too much screen time for a young child’s brain and body.

Some Good Things

There is some quality TV that is well-designed and age-appropriate for children beginning at about age 2. Some programs have specific educational goals and can be used as an ADDITIONAL route to early language and literacy for young children. Some programs include positive racial attitudes, imaginative play, and social-emotional development. Here are a few of some educational TV shows and WHY they can be beneficial for a child to interact with:

  • Super Why!
    • The Super Readers (the stars of the show) solve mysteries by finding super letters, adding them together to make simple words, and then choosing the word that will fix the problem. A great, literacy-positive message!
  • Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
    • Using the puppets, dolls, and theme song used by Mr. Rogers, this show focuses on social and emotional learning through short songs and stories.
  • Octonauts
    • Through the crime-solving sea creatures, kids learn about teamwork, empathy, and that all the characters serve a purpose.
  • Word World
    • The letters of a word are put together to form an image of that word. For example, the letters “p-i-g” are put together to look like a pig. This is helpful in teaching children that letters make words and that words have meaning!

As the Canadian Paediatric Society outlines, certain TV shows and interactive ‘learn-to-read’ apps and e-books can be helpful in building early literacy but ONLY when parents:

  • Watch screens together with their child and TALK about what is being seen and learned
  • Know what their kids are watching – ensuring it is age-appropriate and interactive
  • Combine screen use with active or creative play

BUT, research still proves that preschoolers learn language best from live, direct, and dynamic interactions with caring adults.

When to Avoid Screens

Even though screens are a central part of our everyday life and there is likely one in every room of the house, some times when screens should remain black include:

  • During mealtimes
  • During book sharing
  • Within 1 hour of bedtime
  • When trying to help children calm down

These are sacred times for a child and their family – not to be invaded by screens!

It is important to choose healthy alternatives as a family. Some activities to do instead of focusing on a screen could include reading, outdoor play, crafts, and hands-on activities.

Challenge Yourself

Just as your child may copy EVERYTHING they hear, they also copy actions so it is important that you are modeling healthy screen use. Be sure to limit your own screen use when children are present, turn off devices during family time, and turn off screens when they are not in use.

Check out this questionnaire you can do to assess your family’s screen use. Challenge yourself to complete the questionnaire and use it to come up with some family screen time rules!


Family Screen Time Self-Assessment

  1. Circle the types of screens that can be found in your home.
    1. TV
    2. Tablet
    3. Computer
    4. Smartphone
    5. Other
  2. Circle the types of screens your child uses.
    1. TV
    2. Tablet
    3. Computer
    4. Smartphone
    5. Other
  3. Would you consider watching TV programs or movies a shared family activity (whether watching on the television or other devices)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  4. Would you consider watching TV programs or movies a common way to relax for your family?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  5. How often is a screen on in the background although no one is really watching?
    1. All the time
    2. Most of the time
    3. Some of the time
    4. Only while others are watching
    5. Never
  6. Does anyone in your family use screens during mealtimes?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  7. What do you watch with your child?
  8. What does your child watch alone?
  9. Choose one:
    1. I encourage conversation with my child while I am using screens
    2. I discourage conversation with my child while I am using screens
  10. Do you ever watch adult/commercial programming with your child?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  11. Does your child use screens while you do household chores?
    1. Often
    2. Sometimes
    3. Never
  12. Are there any screen-based activities in your child’s day care program?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Not applicable
  13. If yes, do you know how much these screen-based activities are used?
  14. Does your child use any kind of screen before bedtime? If yes, How long before bedtime?
  15. Circle all that apply:
    1. There is a TV in my child’s bedroom
    2. There is a computer in my child’s bedroom
    3. My child takes mobile devices into his/her bedroom
    4. My child takes tablets into his/her bedroom
  16. Does your family have rules or guidelines for screen use that everyone understands and shares? If yes, what are they? If no, write some that you think would work for your family in the space below.

 

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The impact of disability on caregivers

By: Alshaba Billawala

Having a kid with a disability can have a great impact on parents and the family unit overall. Often when parents find out that their child is diagnosed, their attention and time is dedicated to ensuring that their children are connected with resources that will help foster their development. After all, it is well known that early intervention can be integral in impacting outcomes for children with disabilities.

What is often less frequently talked about however, is the impact that caring for a child with special needs can have on the entire family. When working alongside families of children with disabilities, the attention is directed towards caring and supporting the child and less attention is dedicated towards ensuring that other family members are also taken care of.

Some common difficulties that families experience include:

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Breakdown in family relationships
  • Increased marital conflict
  • Financial burdens
  • Increase in behavioral problems among siblings
  • Anxiety and stress

 

Although, in small doses, these difficulties can be manageable, over time these can lead to adverse effects (e.g., caregiver burnout). It is therefore extremely important that family members ensure that they are receiving adequate support for themselves. Some helpful first steps you can take are:

  1. Schedule time for yourself. Often times when talking to parents, they report that it seems impossible or even selfish to take time to do something enjoyable for themselves when there is so much to do. The downside of giving without taking time to replenish your own energy is a risk of caregiver burnout. If you take some time to replenish your resources, even if it’s a half an hour a week, you will notice that you may have more energy and grace to tackle your various tasks and to-do lists.
  2. Identify positive coping mechanisms. Balancing various appointments, caring for your children, etc. can be extremely taxing and stressful. Therefore, having some proactive ideas of things that can help you cope with stress (e.g., relaxation, exercise, journaling) can be very helpful.
  3. Get connected to support groups. There are various support groups around the city that bring together families who are fighting similar battles. Having a group of supportive individuals who can understand your struggles and can support you can be priceless. See: https://autismcalgary.com/upcoming-support-recreation-groups/
  4. Become informed about resources available to you. Often, it can be overwhelming to navigate various programs to figure out which ones will best meet your needs. Luckily, there are several professionals on our team who have years of experience who may be able to connect you to the resource you need.
  5. Identify if you are experiencing any signs of caregiver burnout and ask for help. Some common warning signs include: changes in weight, appetite, or energy levels, increased and prolonged sickness, increase in use of unhealthy coping mechanisms (e.g., alcohol), increased irritability and emotional exhaustion.

If you find yourself experiencing any of the difficulties listed above and are interested in learning more about resources that may be available to help you and your family, contact us anytime. https://www.connecting-dots.ca/contact-us/

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Social Skills Group

What: A social skills group designed specifically for children with special needs to teach social thinking, social communication, friendship, and problem solving skills. The program will be delivered by registered psychologists with the assistant of developmental assistants.

Who: 8-12 year olds with special needs (e.g., autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disability)

When: The group runs weekly for 6 weeks starting November 6th 2018, from 6:30-8:00 at Vivo in Calgary NW

Why: Research shows that many children with special needs have difficulty learning social skills intuitively which can result in bullying, poor self-esteem, lowered self-confidence, and poor mental health. However, studies show that children can be explicitly taught these skills which  an assist in their social development. The focus of our social skills group is to foster the development of social skills in a structured and  supportive small group that allows for fun, learning and chances to practice! Participants will have a chance to practice important skills like friendship skills and having conversations.

Registration Process:
To register or learn more to see if your child would benefit from this unique opportunity, please contact:
Stephany Huynh: stephany.psych@connecting-dots.ca OR

Alshaba Billawala: alshaba.psych@connecting-dots.ca

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Connecting with Kindergarten: Who Teaches What?

By: Elizabeth Wotherspoon

Kindergarten can be a controversial and/or stress inducing topic for many. In Alberta, parents have the choice to either put their child in kindergarten or wait to start school until grade one. So, should you put your child in kindergarten or should you let your child be a kid for another year and wait for grade one? Waiting wouldn’t be an option if it was going to be a setback for your child in any way, right?

Let’s talk about exactly what your child can get from being part of a kindergarten class. The Kindergarten Program Statement (Alberta Education, 2008) provides learner expectations in seven learning areas. The expectations of these learning areas are not only accomplished in the Kindergarten program, but from the homes and communities of children as well. However, Kindergarten does provide some opportunities for children that simply cannot be taught at home. This is because a lot of what a child learns in kindergarten is taught by his or her peers.  The following, separated by the seven learning areas, is a brief overview of what your child can get out of a Kindergarten class that he or she may not get anywhere else.

Early Literacy

This focuses on children being actively engaged in learning language and forming their own understanding of how spoken and written language works. A kindergarten program provides opportunities to:

  • Experiment with language and to test it in verbal interactions with their peers and adults (other than their parents)
  • Participate in shared listening, reading, and viewing experiences
    • Sharing stories using rhyme, rhythms, symbols, pictures, and drama
    • Class and group language activities
    • Begin using language prediction skills
    • Ask questions and make comments
  • Represent and share ideas and information about topics of interest

Early Numeracy

Provides activities that foster a curiosity about mathematics. A kindergarten program provides the following opportunities that create interest in numeracy:

  • Comparing quantities, searching for patterns, sorting objects, ordering objects, creating designs, and building with blocks
    • Connects numbers to real-life experiences
    • Develops mathematical reasoning skills (a foundation for later success)
    • Develops problem-solving skills
  • Being involved in a variety of experiences and interactions within the environment helps develop spatial sense including, visualization, mental imagery, and spatial reasoning

Citizenship and Identity

This focuses on the development of a strong sense of identity, self-esteem, and belonging. Children are given the opportunity to explore who they are in relation to others – a difficult thing to teach from home. All the children from a Kindergarten class bring their own perspectives, cultures, and experiences to the classroom. Because everyone has a unique background, bringing all the children together provides opportunities to:

  • Become aware of who they are as unique individuals
  • Express themselves by sharing personal stories
  • Discover how they are connected to other people and their communities
  • Express interest, sensitivity, and responsibility in their interactions with others

Environment and Community Awareness

By providing opportunities for children to use their five senses to explore, investigate, and describe their environment and community children become more aware of their surroundings. Using simple tools in a safe and appropriate manner provide experiences that allow children to:

  • Recognize similarities and differences in living things, objects, and materials
  • Learn about cause and effect relationships
  • Make personal sense of the environment
  • Explore familiar places and things in the environment and community
  • Recognize seasonal changes in their environment and community
  • Recognize familiar animals in their surroundings

Personal and Social Responsibility

In order for children to be able to learn, they need to be able to regulate their bodies. An unregulated child will spend all of his or her energy focusing on what is happening in his or her body and cannot attend to what is being taught. This area focuses on the personal and social management skills necessary for effective learning. Each child develops these skills at their own rate and is dependent on personal experiences; however, kindergarten provides children opportunities to:

  • See themselves as capable learners by participating in learning tasks, trying new things, and taking risks
  • Follow rules and learn the routines in a school environment
  • Become more independent
  • Develop friendship skills
  • Demonstrate caring and contributing to others
  • Express their feelings in socially acceptable ways
  • Take turns, contribute to partner and group activities, work cooperatively, and give and receive help

Physical Skill and Well-Being

By participating in physical activities, by becoming aware of healthy food choices, and by learning safety rules, children develop positive attitudes towards an active, healthy lifestyle. Kindergarten provides practice opportunities for the behaviours that promote wellness. Children in kindergarten begin to develop a personal responsibility for health, learn about personal safety, and ways to prevent/reduce risks. Through play, the following skills are targeted:

  • Coordinated movement, balance, and stability
  • Finger and hand precision
  • Hand-eye coordination

Creative Expression

Kindergarten gives children an environment where they can practice fostering respect and collaboration with others through sharing ideas and listening to others’ diverse views and opinions. Being involved in listening to others’ perspectives allows children to learn that people see and learn things in different ways than they do. The following are activities that help to develop these skills:

  • Viewing and responding to natural forms, everyday objects, and artwork
  • Individual and group musical activities, songs, and games
  • Listen to (and begin to appreciate) a variety of musical instruments and different kinds of music
  • Dramatic play and movement
    • Helps with growth in self-awareness and self-confidence

Kindergarten helps to form the base knowledge so your child is ready for English language arts, math, social studies, science, physical education, health, and fine arts throughout elementary school. Children learn these skills at home, in the community, and in the kindergarten classroom. It is unlikely your child would be far behind without the experience of Kindergarten; however, certain skills such as knowing the routine and expectations of a school environment may be something a child who did not attend Kindergarten will have to learn.

 

 

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