Interactive Kids
Marlton, NJ 08053

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Trading Tears for Talking

Dave has a difficult time focusing in the regular education first grade classroom so sometimes he completes writing activities (the most difficult of all) in the library. Today we were working on writing a few sentences while some of his peers were singing songs in the classroom. Dave worked so hard to write neatly and quickly, but by the time we returned to his desk the singing group had finished. Dave was devastated. Huge tears rolled down his face as he realized that what he had worked so hard to participate in was over.

There's something I didn't tell you about Dave, he has had a history of hiting others and destroying property. SO with that in mind I prepared for the worst. I gave him choices of how he may be feeling (sad, happy, angry, frustrated, etc.) and he told me he was frustrated and sad. He did kick the trash can twice before choosing to sing a song with 3 of his peers, but was able to move on without any additional incidents. I was so amazed and proud of Dave's ability to maintain self control and vocalize his feelings instead of having a 30 minute meltdown!

This is a tough lesson for many students to learn, that words can have their needs met as easily as actions. Also, that the actions are not going to produce the reaction they would like. When talking to children, model the language that you want them to use " I am so frustrated" or "Oh no, I really wanted that, I am so disappointed." Then follow up their verbal expression of validating their feelings, even if they can not have what they want, e.g. "I understand that you are disappointed that you did not get to go first, but that's OK you will have a turn to go first later." Remember that maintining control of their bodies and refraining from acting inappropriately which may have been happening for a long time is difficult, but with time and patient coaching children can become terrific communicators!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Getting Back into the Swing of Things

If you saw me yesterday I was dressed in black; mourning the end of a perfect summer. Today, however, I have shaken the blues and am energized by thoughts of warm apple cider, pumpkin carving with good friends, longs walks on crisp autumn evenings, and the start of a new season of social skills. For some of you the last item may appear a bit disjointed, but for me and those with social challenges they fit together like a giant pile of leaves and an energetic child!

Please join us at Interactive Kids as we kick off Session I for the 2010-11 school year by calling 856-810-7599 or visiting us on the web at

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

Isn't summer the time to kick back and relax to enjoy some time catching up on all of the projects you've put off during the hustle and bustle of the three other seasons? When I speak with other parents, many of whom have children who have special needs, it seems that the opposite is true. The kids are home and we are compelled to fill their days from sun up to sun down.

Before I had children I balked at the notion of having multiple memberships to "kids places," as Melissa, my business partner, loves to remind me. In the past 3 1/2 years since Harry was born we have joined: The Philadelphia Zoo, The Please Touch Museum, Sahara Sam's, Storybook Land, The Adventure Aquarium in Camden, and I'm sure I'm missing others. We have dwindled down to just Storybook Land since we moved 9 months ago, but continue to keep the kids involved in something, the pool, the beach, the playground , the park, the Cape May Zoo, and many other day trips, on top of going to school two mornings per week.

It's as if we as parents are searching for ways to entertain our children, but we may be missing out on teaching our children how to entertain themselves. I remember going to my mother when I was younger and reporting, "I'm bored." Her response was usually the same, "Go outside and figure out something to do." I am not advocating for my 2 and 3 1/2 year olds to play outside by themselves (yet), but what I am realizing is that following their lead with what surrounds us may make for more creative and healthy children.

For the many parents whose children need extra "practice" with communicating and interacting with those around them I salute your efforts to keep your children actively engaged to promote development. I caution you though to remember that they are just kids and can be come overwhelmed by over-involvement. What we see as play during a sports or arts camp, which should be pleasurable, could actually be taxing on their young minds and bodies. Not only are the children learning the content of the camp, they are also trying to ascertain when to speak, what to say, when to pursue, when to back up, and how to modulate problem behaviors. It's better to choose one or two activities per day than to enroll the child in multiple programs which could be exhausting for the child.

In an attempt to follow my own suggestions the boys and I were at the park yesterday and I let them lead me on an hour long exploration of the woods. The two of them were simply content to throw rocks in the water, collect pine combs, and search for wildlife. I know they will get sucked into the digital entertainment world soon enough, but hopefully they will also enjoy spending time out doors, entertaining themselves and marveling at nature.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Junior Alarm Clock

Each morning my 3 and 1/2 year old son wakes me up bright and early, usually with the sun. This is our special time to hang out while I wake up and before everyone else does. He tells me about how he slept and we plan for the day. On those mornings when I get up first or we're rushed to get out the door for school and work we can really feel the difference. Initially I noticed that he was more oppositional about getting dressed, having breakfast, etc. Recently I realized that I am more disorganized, often forgetting at least one step in our "morning routine" which can start the day off on the wrong foot.

After conducting a parent workshop last night I realized how often I speak with other parents about preparing their children for the day, whether it's through visual schedules, lists, or talking about expectations. Little did I realize that Harry and I had been doing this for almost a year now. The difference in his behavior ( and mine) has only recently become apparent, but something that I now know needs to happen each morning, even over breakfast or in the car. I guess I really do practice what I preach sometimes!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

General Social Skills Tips

1. Realize children with poor social skills probably aren’t picking up social cues, so don’t expect them to be able to without skill practice. Demonstrate what to look for in the other person’s behavior to see what effect your behavior is having, e.g., “See how Johnny is frowning? He’s not happy with what’s happening. Did you say or do something that might get that kind of reaction?”

2. Pair children with poor social skills with a socially skilled peer to help them observe social skills and feel accepted by a socially-adept peer.

3. Read or tell an incomplete story that involves social judgments and have children complete the story and discuss the consequences.

4. Give children 3-6 pictures of people and have them tell a story, describing how each person in the situation feels. Suggest other possibilities if the child doesn’t, e.g., “Do you think this boy feels anger or happiness?”

5. If a child is shy, co-play with them, asking for help and suggestions from the child to get them to lead.

6. Use conflict to promote social thinking. Ask two warring children, “Let’s cool down and discuss this.” “What’s the trouble?” “What did each of you say and do?” “What’s another solution?”

7. Look for signs of stress build up. Ask children to, “take a deep breath, close your eyes, and take yourself in your mind to a safe and happy place.” Provide encouragement that the children can do the work or if they can’t, reduce the workload until the child is back in control.

8. Ask the child what their social goals are and what would make them feel good if they reached their goal. Implement a reasonable reward program.

9. Talk one-on-one with children who act inappropriately in class and tell them, “Let’s set up a private sign between us that I can give you when you start to _________ or _______in class.

10. Provide small group social skills training once the children have beginning social skills.

11. Assign special class responsibilities to children who don’t have many social skills so they appear in a positive light to their peers.

12. Teach listening, accepting feedback, praising, and giving feedback communication skills in class. When someone interrupts, can’t accept a compliment, doesn’t know how to give a complement or listen, use that scenario to ask for another way to handle this situation and ask children to role play different possibilities. Trying out social skills is the best way to learn them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Groups Forming....

I can't believe that the last session of the year has already arrived...I feel like we just wrote the schedule! Classes begin the week of April 17 and run through June 14. Some classes are already closed out, so don't delay.

Please check the schedule for additional information:

To register call 856-810-7599 and ask for Colleen Wells.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Terrific Staff

When looking around the room at last night's staff meeting I was amazed by the diverse group of highly talented individuals we have on our team at Interactive Kids. And what a range of skills and interests: social skills, clinical behavior assessment, teacher/paraprofessional development, professional workshops, mentoring, toilet training, mediating challenging situations, consulting with diverse populations, and so much more. When the opportunity to collaborate with one another presents itself, as it did last night, Melissa and I are truly proud of the many gifts each person possesses and wishes there were more opportunities to express these sentiments with our staff. THANK YOU to all of our staff, from interns to group facilitators and assistants to consultants to program coordinator to clinical director and everyone in between!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Top Ten Strategies for a Successful Play Date

1. Planning - Help your child to select someone that he/she can be successful with, e.g if your child is very outgoing and physical perhaps someone a little quieter could be helpful or if your child is quiet and timid an outgoing nurturer who will draw your child into the play activity may be best. Try to avoid (at least until your child has some successful play dates) the out of control child who has difficulty following rules and/or may instigate your child to get into trouble.

2. Identify a goal - You're probably setting up a play date in the hopes that your child will play appropriately with someone of a similar age. With that in mind, make a list of areas for improvement in the realm of social skills (if you have difficulty thinking of specific targets go the Interactive Kids website and look at the part of the application labeled "Social Skills Menu" to get you started). Then choose one or two goals (hopefully with the help of your child if possible) to target and work on until they are mastered. Talk to your child about strategies he/she can use to reach that goal.

3. Preparation - We wouldn't go into a job interview unprepared, so neither should our children. The night before, talk to about who they will be playing with, where they will be getting together, any rules established, and most importantly expectations for them (e.g. sustaining the play activity, saying "hello" to the peer, keeping hands and feet to yourself, or any other targeted skills). Also remind them of the reinforcer they may receive (if appropriate) for practicing the skill(s). Just before the children meet up review the targeted skill and how your child can practice it; keep this to a couple of sentences so as not to overwhelm your child.

4. Meet at a neutral location - This is true particularly for children who may struggle when needing to share their own toys. Also, being at ones own house when a sibling is present can result in the child who came for a play date socializing with the sibling instead. You could consider a park, playground, the zoo, a pool, indoor play place, etc.

5. Have an agenda - Many children do better if there is a specific, structured activity to participate in instead of "free play." Coming up with mutually interesting activities on their own can be a struggle for the children. If an art activity, organized sport, cooking project, etc. is ready for them they may have more opportunities to appropriately interact.

6. Keep play dates short- For those children who are having difficulty playing with others it's best to start with brief encounters to better ensure success. Usually 30-45 minutes would be plenty for the first encounter. With my own children I know that by the time we're getting to 2 hours they are done with most play dates, and they enjoy socializing with others. Let your child have that feeling of wanting to play with the peer again, it will make setting up the next get together so much easier.

7. Debrief- Talk to your child, when they're ready, about their experiences with their friend. Allow them to vent if needed or be excited about how much fun they had (even if your assessment was quite different than theirs). If your child brings up a particularly challenging situation don't jump right to telling him or her what they should do next time. Instead use probing questions to guide the child in the right direction. For example, What were you doing when that happened? What was the other child doing? How did you feel? How do you think (other child) felt? What do you think went well? What could you have done differently? Always try to end the conversation by letting your child know how proud you are of him or her; play dates seem so easy to us, but for some children it would be as difficult as me trying to perform calculus - an insurmountable task!

8. Rewards and reinforcement- Reinforcement is anything that follows a behavior and increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. For some children simply saying that you are proud will be enough, but others may need something additional. Whether you choose to give a sticker on a chart, an M&M, new toy, special activity, or other reward just be sure your child is receiving it for engaging in some behavior that you want to see more of (e.g. respecting personal space, using an appropriate tone of vice, sharing, etc.).

9. Try, try again - Even if a play date doesn't occur successfully, believe me I've been through some total disasters, don't stop trying. You may need to re-evaluate the components listed above to determine where the breakdown occurred, but it will be a learning experience for you and your child.

10. Ask for Help - That's why we at Interactive Kids established this blog, not just for me to vent about my own parenting challenges, but to serve as a forum for others to ask questions and share experiences.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Playground Politics

What are the "rules" of the playground, not just for the kids but for the parents as well? With the recent warm weather the boys and I have been walking to the playground for some much needed energy expulsion. Usually they run around, climb, and explore, but this weekend we encountered the first of this season's playground parenting challenges.

Harry seems to gravitate toward the children who constantly run around and engage in the "grey area" behavior on the playground. A very simple example is the kids who always go up the slides regardless of who is at the top. Or the child who stands on the top of the monkey bars and jumps off. They're exciting and, as my husband puts it, doing things that Harry knows he wouldn't be allowed to do, but may be able to get away with since someone else was doing it.

On this particular encounter a little boy about 4 or so was running around calling everyone "poopy head" to which Harry thought he was the most eloquent conversationalist imaginable and followed him around like a lost puppy. This child's eyes lit up when he realized that he'd hooked Harry and continued to then take turns chasing or being chased by Harry. I wasn't able to identify this other child's parent initially, but realized that I couldn't let Harry run around yelling "poopy head" (I do teach social skills to others after all). We had a conversation about how we don't use those words because they could hurt other's feelings. As you may have expected Harry pointed to the other child and said, "but he's saying it." What else could I say, other than, "I'm not his mom." I was proud of myself, I had squashed that behavior before it could blossom. As I turned around to look up at my well behaved boy poised to go down the slide he shouted, so that attorneys in the office across the street would be able to hear, "YOU POOPY HEAD" before he slid down the slide. Completely mortified I snatched him by the arm and said (a little louder than I would have if I possessed some composure), "I don't care what anyone else is saying. Poopy head is not nice and you can sit on the bench until you can remember that." Shockingly it worked for Harry, we haven't heard that choice phrase again, but I did get a very nasty look from the father of the boy whom I had inadvertently criticized.

So was I wrong to correct my son in this manner. I don't believe I was. I actually would have been OK with someone else gently saying to Harry that it wasn't a nice thing to say. What's the old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." Unfortunately, I don't think that parent and I would be inhabiting the same village!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The health insurance conundrum

On August 13, 2009, New Jersey’s Autism Insurance Reform Bill, P.L.2009, c.115 was approved requiring state-regulated health benefits coverage for certain therapies to treat autism and other developmental disabilities. Sounds great, right? We at Interactive Kids were so excited for the vast opportunities individuals with autism would now be able to access when previously they were financially unable. Since the coverage began on February 9, 2010 we have received a steady stream of phone calls from interested parents wanting to begin service. On our end, we have spent numerous hours every day seeking the approval under each individual's plans with some success, but many hurdles exist for us to leap until final approval is achieved. At times, I think the process is intentionally difficult to navigate to discourage those who are covered from seeking the services their child desperately needs. For families the best way to begin to seek coverage is to call your mental health provider (usually on the back of the card) and ask what types of services you're entitled to under this bill and your current plan as it pertains to services provided by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The home "office"

What seemed like sheer brilliance pre-kids has become almost a joke during the kids' waking hours. As some may know my husband typically works anywhere from 2-4 overnight shifts as a nurse, basically leaving me on my own for the days and nights since he sleeps during the day. Today was one of those days. Andrew's asleep, I just laid Drew, our almost 2 year old, down for nap and have diligently attempted, for almost an hour, to coerce Harry (3 1/2) to take a nap, to no avail. I knew I needed to make an important phone call that required both my attention and quiet.

After explaining that I needed 10 minutes for him to entertain himself I set up Harry in the sandbox in the yard and I took my chance with the phone while on the porch in view of the backyard excavator. Mid-way through the call Harry pops his head in the door asking for his new "digger" which I thought was with the rest of the toys in the shed. So I waved him off to retrieve it while refocusing myself on the phone. Less than a minute later I look up and realize that the shed door is closed and Harry's nowhere in sight. I hear some commotion out front where a road crew is fixing some pot holes and had come across my little explorer walking along the curb. As I rush to grab him (still with the phone in my ear and attempting to muffle the sounds coming from the work crew) I can only imagine what could have happened to Harry had no one been there and what the workers are thinking of the Mom who is too busy on the phone to even keep an eye on her son. After thanking the men and rushing him back around to the yard I wrap up my conversation as quickly as possible. Harry thought the digger was in the garage then heard the "working men" out front so he thought he'd say "hi." I didn't know whether to yell at him, make him stay inside for the rest or the day, or hug him. Ultimately he got a stern talking to about staying in the yard followed by some quality time together.

In the end, it turned out fine, but once again I'm reminded of how work and my own kids don't often mix which baffles me since I spend the majority of my "out of the house" work day with children!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The end of a sunny day

Yesterday was one of the first beautiful spring days after a LONG winter! My boys (3 1/2 and almost 2) couldn't get enough of our newly sodded yard and the sand box that finally has sand in it. They loved being outside so much that when I said it was time to come in they ran crying in opposite directions. The older one began yelling that he wasn't going in because he was "still trimming the bushes" and the younger one cried while rolling down a hill. Needless to say, the bliss of a warm sunny day soon faded into longing for the containment of indoors.

The parent in me wanted to scream and tell them no more TV, snack, or anything else if they didn't go inside and stop drawing the attention of the entire neighborhood. The behavior analyst in me prompted me to remain calm, approach each child, and provide a firm direction to go inside while pointing out the positives of going in (TV time, yummy dinner, playing cars, etc.).

Who won? Well, a little bit of both, my older son was able to "clip" three more branches and went inside when reminded that he could build a fort with the pillows on the porch. The younger one could not have cared less what I was saying and needed to be carried inside kicking and screaming. At that age no amount of talking or "reasoning" could have changed his mind and actually would have just delayed him going inside. So I guess I broke even, at least until the next challenge....the dinner menu :)

Here we go....

Welcome to a journey into the many interesting ideas, encounters, challenges, and success we at Interactive Kids encounter. The posts are designed to be informative, fun, somewhat relaxed, and at times just plain entertaining!!! Topics will range from managing challenging situations at home to how can we know if a child is receiving a good education t0 navigating the insurance maze to interesting parenting tidbits from my personal parenting challenges (and there are many). Also welcome and encouraged are questions and feedback. So thanks for coming on board and hang on for an interesting ride!!!