NRventions Blog

Picky Eaters 10.28.20

There are many reasons why individuals may be highly selective when it comes to food. There may be sensory sensitivity to smell, appearance, texture, or taste of certain foods. Motor challenges or preferences for neatness may interfere with eating some foods. Children may have social anxiety related to eating due to pressure, judgment, teasing, or criticism. A food aversion may have developed following illness or trauma if the child ate a certain type of food just prior to becoming nauseated or distressed. A history of medical issues or procedures can also contribute to avoidance of certain foods. Compassionate, gentle children are often animal lovers and sensitive about foods that are particularly overt in origin (e.g. steak, ribs, lobster) or sometimes avoid meat, poultry, and seafood altogether. These are just some examples for understanding possible reasons for picky eating.

An important distinction to make:
Does the eating pattern interfere with the child’s health?
Does the eating pattern merely bother you?

If the child is eating a small variety of foods, getting adequate nutrition, and maintaining a normal growth rate, then try to relax and re-evaluate your demands and expectations rather than battling for total control over the child’s eating habits. If the child is not eating enough variety to maintain adequate nutrition and growth, then professional assistance may be warranted (see list of professionals below).

Three Principles:
1.) Be respectful of the child.
2.) Avoid judging the child’s food preferences.
3.) Do not force.

Visual Appearance of Food
The color, shape, or consistency can impact the appeal or repulsion of food.
- Carrot sticks may appeal more than carrot slices
- The color of steamed broccoli may appeal more than boiled broccoli
- Bright or pastel colors may appeal more than drab, faded, or dark colors
- Separated or layered food may appeal more than food that is mixed all together
- Serve small portions
- Allow the child to contribute to the artistic presentation of food through arrangement on the plate, use of squirt bottles for creating designs with sauces, use of garnishes

Experiment with presenting vegetables in different forms, as the color, texture, and taste changes, depending on if it is raw, boiled, roasted, or steamed.
- Help the child identify textures by providing description words: chewy, soft, mushy, crunchy, crisp, slimy, rubbery
- Blend vegetables (e.g. kale, avocado) into a smoothie or sauce to minimize chunks
- Add a fruit to alter color palette
- Add seasonings for flavor
- Try slicing and roasting brussel sprouts with olive oil and sea salt for a crispy snack (this tastes vastly different than the mushy boiled brussel sprouts)
- Present a choice of vegetables in raw or cooked form
- Engage children with selecting vegetables in the store, rinsing vegetables, or growing vegetables in a garden

Ease of eating
Difficult to eat foods can create a barrier for eating in public if the child is easily embarrassed or can hinder eating if the effort required is greater than the desire.
- Meats are harder to cut than fish
- Large sizes are messier than very small bite-sizes
- Pre-sliced or cubed cheese involves less preparation than having to slice a block of cheese
- Grabbing a bag of chips or a cookie is much easier than preparing a nutritious snack, so increase convenience through putting portions of healthy snacks in baggies or containers for each day or preparing a platter in advance with cut fruits or mini sandwiches (cut in quarters)
- Practice food preparation in a fun manner with the child to make it less effortful

Rather than emphasizing specific foods or eating patterns, it can be helpful to teach children the value of nutrition for balanced energy and focus, as well as to be aware if certain foods (or lack thereof) make them feel foggy, lethargic, hyper, or irritable. The ultimate goal is to establish healthy eating habits, not necessarily a wide and adventurous food palette.

Books & Articles related to Selective Eating:
10 Tips for Picky Eaters
Picky Eating in Children: causes and consequences
Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating

Children’s Books
Evaluation and Treatment of ARFID

Professional Assistance:
- Consult with pediatrician regarding nutrition levels and growth rate
- Consult with a nutritionist or health coach (find Nutritionists in your area)
- Occupational therapists can assist with eating difficulties related to sensory sensitivity (AOTA)
- Speech therapists can assist with eating difficulties related to oral motor challenges (ASHA)
- Counselors can assist with eating difficulties related to emotions and/or perceptions (Therapists)
- National Eating Disorders Association

Creating an Effective At-Home Work Environment 10.04.20

A Guest Blog from Sam Barnes, Center Director of Star Tutoring Centers in Dallas

It's easier to change the environment than it is to change behavior. If you have made the shift from going into a classroom (or an office) to now learning (or working) from home, get off on the right foot by optimizing your work space. These tips can help both students and adults working from home and are intended to improve Executive Functioning.

1) Externalize your thoughts. Stuck on a problem? Not sure how to kick off a paper or a project? Talk it over with a family member or a friend. This helps overcome what might appear like procrastination.

2) Find ways to replicate your "normal" day. Did you use to do homework with a study group? Meet up with them on Zoom or Google Hangouts. For adults, you can also keep your office-mates on screen throughout the day.

3) Remove distractions. Unplug the TV and game consoles. If needed, install apps on your computer and phone that prohibit accessing certain websites or apps.

4) Ask your family to respect your study / work space. Set clear expectations with your family about study space and blocks of the day for school work.  Help them be mindful about minimizing interruptions and distractions which disrupt your productivity.  (However, parents should also keep a mindful eye that your students are staying on track.) 

5) Keep a normal daily routine. Try getting up at the same time, getting dressed (no pajamas), walking the dog, and trying to be ready for school / work at the same time every day. You can even make a bag lunch for school (or work) – make your lunch in the morning and take it to your work space. Interrupting your day to make lunch can be a huge distraction.

6) Invest in the right computer accessories. If you are going to be at a computer for 8+ hours a day, consider getting a full-size keyboard, Bluetooth mouse, foam wrist supports, and other devices that make your life easier.

7) Get a second monitor (including for students!). If you have to flip between different tabs or apps, you are taxing your working memory. If you have a second screen, you can have more information up at once which relieves your working memory. For example, you can have your e-textbook on one screen and your homework on the other screen - much easier than flipping back and forth.

8) Get a printer! Print out worksheets and notes. "Paper is high-tech for those with ADHD."

9) Have a big work space and spread out. Try to keep all of your papers and binders within arm's-reach. "If it's out of arm's reach, it might as well be on the moon."

10) You don't need to have a "pretty" office like you see in a model home. It's okay if you have your papers and binders out. "If you can find it, it's not disorganized."

For more suggestions and tips, you can reach out to Star Tutoring Centers for a free consultation.  Their program offers online assistance and combines academic tutoring with Executive Functioning skills development.

Ask Your School Psychologist 10.02.20

Did you know that all U.S. public schools have access to a school psychologist?  These professionals hold advanced degrees and serve in various roles from preschool through high school. 

School psychologists or LSSPs (Licensed Specialists in School Psychology) provide an array of services, including:

– consultation with general education teachers in the classroom to help a particular student

– direct counseling or social skills training to students who are eligible

– individual evaluation in a variety of areas, including social/emotional, autism spectrum, attention, behavior, and in many states, academic achievement

– assist with school crisis management

–  training others for how to de-escalate behavior

– working in collaboration with special education teachers

– assisting families with a child’s needs

–  some school psychologists have post-graduate training and certification in School Neuropsychology to provide in-depth assessment for complex students

School psychologists who work for a public school district are often assigned to several schools within the district, so you may see them darting about on campus or between campuses.  Typically, the best way to access a school psychologist is through the school counselor or the special education department.

School psychologists can also work outside of a school district, so you may find them in agencies, hospitals, or private practice.  They can be a helpful resource for collaborating between school, family, and outside sources.

There are many different types of professionals who provide services to children, and periodically, NRventions will try to have a guest blog from some of them to share some insight.

Tempo 08.23.20

We hear this term used a lot in football or music, but it also pertains to a person’s natural rate of being. Most people adjust their tempo depending on the situation and demands of the moment; for instance, I walk fast or maybe even jog a bit when I’m running late for an appointment, but I walk casually outdoors when visiting with a friend. However, each person usually has a preferred mode that is a comfort zone, which varies greatly between individuals – that preferred mode is likely your natural tempo. There are some whose tempo is locked into the same speed no matter what the situation and struggle to alter tempo when needed or expected; this is when challenges can arise.

The Slow Mover
Some children just move at a very casual tempo in everything they do – eating, getting dressed, getting out the door, doing work. This can be especially difficult (for all members involved) in a fast-paced family or classroom. A casual tempo may simply stem from a laid-back personality or a reflective thoughtfulness, which can be excellent, healthy qualities. These children may have a gentle spirit and a calming effect on others. However, a slow tempo may also be related to cautiousness, perfectionistic tendencies, or uncertainty. For some children, a slow tempo may be related to slow processing speed, a low energy level, and/or inattentiveness/decreased alertness. Discovering why a child has a casual tempo can assist with having greater patience with the child, as well as with determining ways to help compensate or, if possible, to adjust pace when needed. Physical activities that may appeal to such children to boost their energy level and help with learning the concept of adjusting tempo include: yoga, dance, paddle boarding, and cross-country running.

The Fast Thinker
Some children thrive in the fast lane. They are active, energetic, and react quickly. These children can often grow into adults who respond well in emergency situations or fast-paced environments. However, they may also lack patience and overlook details. For some children, a fast tempo may be related to intensity, competitiveness, overeagerness, sensation-seeking, and/or hyperactivity. Their energy level may be fun, but also tiring to others. Relaxation techniques can be helpful, along with increasing awareness of when slowing down or waiting can be beneficial. Physical activities that may help channel a fast tempo include: sprinting, rowing, cycling, and downhill skiing.

Some Thoughts About Motivation 07.26.20

Limited motivation is often voiced as a concern by parents and teachers.  Mostly, related to doing schoolwork, but this can also apply to chores and engaging in other activities.  There are various reasons why a child or teen may lack motivation, including value placement, skill deficit, and/or emotional state.

Value Placement
Oftentimes, a person is motivated when they perceive a value in something, which can be different for each person.  The value has to outweigh the cost or the child may withdraw effort.  Does the child value the task or what is gained by doing the task?  If so, does the benefit outweigh the effort, energy, or time required?  The value assigned to a task may stem from how meaningful something is to the child, how enjoyable the activity is for the child, if there is a specific purpose, or if there is a social reward.  Sometimes children are internally driven, so they may respond best when a task is meaningful or enjoyable; thus, linking a homework assignment with learning something that is important to them or incorporating fun ways to learn the material may be helpful.  Sometimes children are goal-driven or purpose-oriented, so explaining the reasoning behind doing an assignment and setting attainable goals to reach throughout lesson may be helpful.  Sometimes children are socially driven and respond best to receiving encouragement, pleasing others, working with others, or earning social time as a reward to completing tasks.

Skill Deficit
If a child does not feel competent, then a lack of motivation to engage in the task can occur, resulting in avoidance due to fear of failure or because the outcome is not reflective of the effort.  Providing assistance to strengthen or compensate for a skill deficit may be needed.  For instance, if there is a skill deficit related to writing, then coaching a child through strategies to improve a sense of competence and using various tools to assist the writing process may be helpful.

Emotional State
Stress, sadness, irritability, embarrassment, frustration, excitement – such emotions can influence motivation.  Sometimes emotions may increase motivation to do something, but sometimes emotions can become overpowering and lead to freezing, apathy, avoidance, and active resistance.  Guidance with how to regulate and channel emotions can be helpful.

Books & Articles related to Motivation:

How to Motivate Children    

Motivating Young Children in Learning 

Strategies to Motivate Your Child to Learn

Understanding How Young Children Learn by Wendy L. Ostroff

Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning by Dale H. Schunk & Barry Zimmerman

The Science of Motivation 

Product Links 07.24.20

Thank you to the many knowledgeable and creative teachers, parents, scientists, and education-related professionals who have developed products to assist children.  Links to various such products are provided throughout the A-I Matrix pages on the NRventions website.  Some products are research-based, some products are based on years of experience, and some products are simply ways to make practicing a skill more fun, all of which are valuable. A product is not necessarily exclusive to the area under which it is listed in the A-I Matrix, and oftentimes, additional products are available by the product developer.  The links are not intended to be an exhaustive list, nor are there any guarantees that a product will be effective for a particular child.  Just trying to share ideas in a convenient location.

Videos 07.24.20

The Dallas Independent School District has a team of psychological and social service professionals who have compiled some videos that have been designed by various people for talking with children about COVID-19. Here is the link.

Managing Stress during Pandemic 03.19.20

Providing some structure to the day can often assist with a sense of purpose and steadiness during times of uncertainty, upheaval, and idleness.  Many schools are currently implementing online distance learning, which is helpful, but can be challenging for families. 

At-home Learning
Discuss the plan with the child and obtain their input when applicable
Set up specific time-frames for children to work on daily lessons
Follow the order of the day that is similar to the normal class schedule
Take 5 to 10-minute breaks in between lessons
Set up a learning space in the home that is designated for school materials (ideally NOT the child’s bedroom)
Check in with the child periodically to see how things are going or when needed, remain in close proximity (even if it’s virtual)
Provide encouragement and positive feedback for efforts
Set up a video-chat with other students from class, teachers, and tutors

Stay physically active
Play in the yard
Work on a sports skill
Follow an exercise video
Do sets of push ups, sit ups, and jumping jacks
Yoga on TV

Designate “family time” each day to enjoy one another (e.g. play a board game, engage in crafts or building projects, write and perform a play within your household, sing and dance, hold a family book club, partake in cooking or baking together, engage in imaginary play, gardening)

Discuss world events to an extent that informs the child, but does not provoke panic (this is different for each child)
Limit access to fear-provoking news headlines

Discuss possible plan of action to reduce risk
Wash hands for the duration of singing the alphabet or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (or count 20-30 seconds)
Wash hands frequently, before handling food, before and after touching the face (eyes, nose, mouth0, after being outside the home, coughing, using bathroom
Clean door handles, light switches, faucets, toilet handles throughout the day
Eat healthy, nutritionists and wellness consultants recommend certain foods for respiratory health: hot green tea, soup, spinach, bananas, papaya, cantaloupe, oranges, kiwi, beans, lentils, salmon, garlic, flaxseed, almonds
Have video conferences / shared activities with friends rather than in person

Discuss possible plan of action should symptoms arise
Stay in one particular bedroom & bathroom in the house to try to reduce spread of infection
Consult remotely with a physician to see what steps are needed
Follow nutritional recommendations
Use of gloves and masks can be scary to young children, so link the look to favorite characters (e.g. Mickey Mouse wears gloves, Super Heroes & Ninja Turtles wear masks)
Seeing a parent fall ill can be disconcerting, so explain what is happening  (the extent of explanation depends on the child) and engage an adult who can provide comfort to the child

Set parameters – parents may need moments of personal time, working parents need times for limited interruptions, siblings may need breaks from each other.

Welcome! 03.18.20
We are excited to introduce this new platform for practical ideas to help children succeed in a variety of ways. The intent is to provide a user-friendly resource for families, teachers, school psychologists, and other professionals who work closely with our precious children. A variety of modalities are presented, including strategies, apps, games, workbooks, links for resources, and books. Content will be continuously added and updated. These are ideas to supplement (not take the place of) formal interventions and working directly with professionals.

Please explore!

Update: In this globally difficult time, we hope to bring some activities and resources for families to access at home. Wishing everyone good health.