Language Difficulties in the Classroom

Language Difficulties in the Classroom

8 February 2019

The start of the new school year has finally commenced, so I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about how our child’s language development can impact them in the classroom and school settings.

Language difficulties impact on every aspect of a child’s life, but sometimes that impact can be felt most intensely in the classroom. Why? Language demands in the classroom are much higher than in other environments. The language they need to be able to understand is more complex, and there are fewer opportunities for instructions and lessons to be given one-on-one or repeated. Children will also need to be good at obtaining new vocabulary at a rapid rate for learning, and will be required to express themselves in more detail than ever before.

There’s also the secondary impact of things like background noise, distractions and being required to sit still and focus for long periods. For children with language delays, this can be a big challenge.

So what effect can language difficulties have on a child’s experience in the classroom?


1. Overall Learning

The biggest concern when it comes to the impact of language delays and disorders for school aged children is their overall learning. If a child is experiencing difficulty comprehending what is said and communicating in the classroom, they are going to be significantly limited in what they are going to be able to learn.


2. Academic Performance

Academic performance is likely to be effected by both receptive and expressive language difficulties. Many academic measures are based on the child’s output, and this may mean a child with adequate receptive skills but difficulty with expression can fall behind in their academic performance based on testing.


3. Literacy

Reading and writing are forms of communication. Children with language difficulties will often experience difficulty learning the alphabet and sounds, decoding words (for tasks like identifying sounds in words, sounding words out, hearing rhyme, etc.), understanding what they have read, spelling, using appropriate sentence grammar and more.


4. Numeracy

We often think of numeracy as separate from the language subjects like English and literacy. However, numeracy is taught using spoken and written language. Without age appropriate language abilities, many children will also experience difficulty in learning numeracy.


5. Social Experiences

Social experiences may also be more challenging for children with language delays and disorders. Finding it difficult to understand or have a turn in a conversation with peers can make forming strong social bonds and friendships difficult.


So, What Can We Do?

What can we do to make school a more academically and socially successful place for children with language difficulties?

  1. Collaborate with your child’s teacher.
  2. Communicate with your child’s teacher from the beginning of the school year about their difficulties. This will help them to best support your child.
  3. Collaboration between your Speech Pathologist and teacher, as we can work with your child’s teacher to identify strategies and tips that can help your child achieve their best.



How to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Children

How to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Children

1 February 2019

It’s natural for your young child to feel anxious when you say goodbye. Although it can be difficult, separation anxiety is a normal stage of development. With understanding and these coping strategies, separation anxiety can be relieved—and should fade as your child gets older. However, if anxieties intensify or are persistent enough to get in the way of school or other activities, your child may have separation anxiety disorder. While this condition may require professional treatment, there is a lot that you as a parent can do to help ease your child’s fears and make them feel safer.


What is separation anxiety?

In early childhood, crying, tantrums, or clinginess are healthy reactions to separation and a normal stage of development. Separation anxiety can begin before a child’s first birthday, and may pop up again or last until a child is four years old. However, both the intensity level and timing of separation anxiety vary tremendously from child to child. A little worry over leaving mum or dad is normal, even when your child is older. You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits. Some kids, however, experience separation anxiety that doesn’t go away, even with a parent’s best efforts. These children experience a continuation or reoccurrence of intense separation anxiety during their primary school years or beyond. If separation anxiety is excessive enough to interfere with normal activities like school and friendships, and lasts for months rather than days, it may be a sign of a larger problem: separation anxiety


How to ease “normal” separation anxiety

For children with normal separation anxiety, there are steps you can take to make the process of separation anxiety easier.

  • Practice separation. Leave your child with a caregiver for brief periods and short distances at first. As your child gets used to separation, you can gradually leave for longer and travel further.
  • Schedule separations after naps or feedings. Babies are more susceptible to separation anxiety when they’re tired or hungry.
  • Develop a quick “goodbye” ritual. Rituals are reassuring and can be as simple as a special wave through the window or a goodbye kiss. Keep things quick, though, so you can:
  • Leave without fanfare. Tell your child you are leaving and that you will return, then go—don’t stall or make it a bigger deal than it is.
  • Follow through on promises. For your child to develop the confidence that they can handle separation, it’s import you return at the time you promised.
  • Keep familiar surroundings when possible and make new surroundings familiar.
  • When your child is away from home, encourage them to bring a familiar object.    
  •     Minimize scary television. Your child is less likely to be fearful if the shows you watch are not frightening.                                  
  • Try not to give in. Reassure your child that they will be just fine—setting consistent limits will help your child’s adjustment to separation.


What is separation anxiety disorder?

Separation anxiety disorder is NOT a normal stage of development, but a serious emotional problem characterized by extreme distress when a child is away from the primary caregiver. However, since normal separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorder share many of the same symptoms, it can be confusing to try to figure out if your child just needs time and understanding—or has a more serious problem. The main differences between normal separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorder are the intensity of your child’s fears, and whether these fears keep them from normal activities. Children with separation anxiety disorder may become agitated at just the thought of being away from mom or dad, and may complain of sickness to avoid playing with friends or attending school. When symptoms are extreme enough, these anxieties can add up to a disorder. But no matter how fretful your child becomes when parted from you, separation anxiety disorder is treatable. There are plenty of things you can do to make your child feel safer and ease the anxiety of separation.


Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder

Kids with separation anxiety disorder feel constantly worried or fearful about separation. Many kids are overwhelmed with symptoms such as:

  • Fear that something terrible will happen to a loved one. The most common fear a child with separation anxiety disorder experiences is the worry that harm will come to a loved one in the child’s absence. For example, the child may constantly worry about a parent becoming sick or getting hurt.
  • Worry that an unpredicted event will lead to permanent separation. Your child may fear that once separated from you, something will happen to maintain the separation. For example, they may worry about being kidnapped or getting lost.
  • Refusal to go to school. A child with separation anxiety disorder may have an unreasonable fear of school, and will do almost anything to stay home.
  • Reluctance to go to sleep. Separation anxiety disorder can make children insomniacs, either because of the fear of being alone or due to nightmares about separation.
  • Physical sickness like a headache or stomach ache. At the time of separation, or before, children with separation anxiety problems often complain they feel ill.
  • Clinging to the caregiver. Your child may shadow you around the house or cling to your arm or leg if you attempt to step out.


Common causes of separation anxiety disorder

Separation anxiety disorder occurs because a child feels unsafe in some way. Take a look at anything that may have thrown your child’s world off balance, made them feel threatened, or upset their normal routine. If you can pinpoint the cause—or causes—you’ll be one step closer to helping your child through their struggles.


Common causes of separation anxiety disorder in children include:

  • Change in environment. Changes in surroundings, such as a new house, school, or day care situation can trigger separation anxiety disorder.
  • Stress. Stressful situations like switching schools, divorce, or the loss of a loved one—including a pet—can trigger separation anxiety problems.
  • An over-protective parent. In some cases, separation anxiety disorder may be the manifestation of your own stress or anxiety. Parents and children can feed one another’s anxieties.
  • Insecure attachment. The attachment bond is the emotional connection formed between an infant and their primary caretaker. While a secure attachment bond ensures that your child will feel secure, understood and calm enough for optimal development, an insecure attachment bond can contribute to childhood problems such as separation anxiety.


Helping a child with separation anxiety disorder

None of us like to see our children in distress, so it can be tempting to help your child avoid the things they’re afraid of. However, that will only reinforce your child’s anxiety in the long term. Rather than trying to avoid separation whenever possible, you can better help your child combat separation anxiety disorder by taking steps to make them feel safer. Providing a sympathetic environment at home can make your child feel more comfortable. Even if your efforts don’t completely solve the problem, your empathy can only make things better.

Educate yourself about separation anxiety disorder. If you learn about how your child experiences this disorder, you can more easily sympathize with their struggles.

Listen to and respect your child’s feelings. For a child who might already feel isolated by their disorder, the experience of being listened to can have a powerful healing effect.

Talk about the issue. It’s healthier for children to talk about their feelings—they don’t benefit from “not thinking about it.” Be empathetic, but also remind your child—gently—that they survived the last separation.

Anticipate separation difficulty. Be ready for transition points that can cause anxiety for your child, such as going to school or meeting with friends to play. If your child separates from one parent more easily than the other, have that parent handle the drop off.

Keep calm during separation. If your child sees that you can stay cool, they are more likely to be calm, too.

Support the child’s participation in activities. Encourage your child to participate in healthy social and physical activities. They’re great ways to ease anxiety and help your child develop friendships.

Praise your child’s efforts. Use the smallest of accomplishments—going to bed without a fuss, a good report from school—as reason to give your child positive reinforcement.


Tips for helping your child feel safe and secure

Provide a consistent pattern for the day. Routines provide children with a sense of security and help to eliminate their fear of the unknown. Try to be consistent with mealtimes, bedtimes and the like. If your family’s schedule is going to change, discuss it ahead of time with your child. Change is easier on kids if it’s expected.

Set limits. Let your child know that although you understand their feelings, there are rules in your household that need to be followed. Like routines, setting and enforcing limits helps

your child know what to expect from any given situation.

Offer choices. If your child is given a choice or some element of control in their interaction with you, they may feel more safe and comfortable. For example, you can give your child a

choice about where at school they want to be dropped off or which toy they want to take to


Easing separation anxiety disorder: Tips for school

For children with separation anxiety disorder, attending school can seem overwhelming and a refusal to go is commonplace. But by addressing any root causes for your child’s avoidance of school and by making changes at school, though, you can help reduce your child’s symptoms.

Help a child who has been absent from school return as quickly as possible. Even if a shorter school day is necessary initially, children’s symptoms are more likely to decrease

when they discover that they can survive the separation.

Ask the school to accommodate your child’s late arrival. If the school can be lenient about late arrival at first, it can give you and your child a little wiggle room to talk and separate at your child’s slower pace.

Identify a safe place. Find a place at school where your child can go to reduce anxiety during stressful periods. Develop guidelines for appropriate use of the safe place.

Allow your child contact with home. At times of stress at school, a brief phone call—a minute or two—with family may reduce separation anxiety.

Send notes for your child to read. You can place a note for your child in their lunch box or locker. A quick “I love you!” on a napkin can reassure a child.

Provide assistance to your child during interactions with peers. An adult’s help, whether it is from a teacher or counsellor, may be beneficial for both your child and the

other children they’re interacting with.

Reward your child’s efforts. Just like at home, every good effort—or small step in the right direction—deserves to be praised.


Help your child by relieving your own stress

Kids with anxious or stressed parents may be more prone to separation anxiety. In order to help your child ease their anxiety symptoms, you may need to take measures to become calmer and more centred yourself.

Talk about your feelings. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.

Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress.

Eat right. A well-nourished body is better prepared to cope with stress, so eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats, and try to avoid junk food, sugary snacks, and refined

Practice relaxation. You can control your stress levels with relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing, or meditation.

Get enough sleep. Feeling tired only increases your stress, causing you to think irrationally or foggily, while sleeping well directly improves your mood and the quality of

your waking life.

Keep your sense of humour. As well as boosting your outlook, the act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a variety of ways.


When to seek professional help

Your own patience and know-how can go a long way toward helping your child with separation anxiety disorder. But some kids with separation anxiety disorder may need professional intervention. To decide if you need to seek help for your child, look for “red flags,” or extreme symptoms that go beyond milder warning signs. These include:

  • Age-inappropriate clinginess or tantrums
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, or peers
  • Preoccupation with intense fear or guilt
  • Constant complaints of physical sickness
  • Refusing to go to school for weeks
  • Excessive fear of leaving the house

If your efforts to reduce these symptoms don’t work, it may be the time to seek professional help from a Psychologist.




Back to School Tips

Back to School Tips

25 January 2019

It’s almost back to school time! That usually generates a mix of responses, from sighs of relief from parents of older kids, to a few tears from the parents whose children are just starting school. Regardless of where your child sits, there are strategies you can use to help make the transition (back) to school as easy as possible.

For all of us, when there is a change in routine, there are bound to be some challenges. Back to school time can be stressful for kids and parents alike. Most kids have just had weeks to play, sleep, perhaps go on holidays, all without the confines of a classroom or regimented routine.

Helping kids prepare for school gives them the best chance at a good start for the year and success throughout.

When is the right time to start that preparation?

This can depend on your activities and family situation. At the end of the day some preparation is better than none, so starting now will still help come the first day of school.

What can you do to achieve a smooth transition back into a school day?

There are two things you can do that are vital to making the transition simpler and less stressful for everyone.  

  1. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Children need much more sleep than we often think they do, several hours more than the average adult. Begin to establish a healthy bedtime and wake-up schedule for your child before school begins. If your summer routine is very different than school time, make the change gradually. Even quiet evening time reading or drawing in their rooms can help to establish healthier sleep patterns. 
  2. Plan healthy meals and snacks. Your child, like you, needs to be fuelled with healthy foods to maintain focus and energy throughout the day. Talk to your children about any foods that they like, or better yet, take them shopping and let them pick out a few things they like and will happily eat for breakfast, lunch and snack time. 

How can you help your kids readjust to the learning environment of school after such a long break? 

During the summer holidays, kids’ brains are still learning and working hard but the type of learning and focus is quite different than in a classroom. 

Help your kids switch their brains back to classroom learning by following these 3 simple rules:

  1. Turn off the electronics! Teachers can’t move or entertain like video games and movies can. Kids’ brains need some time to slow down and adapt to a learning environment based on human interactions, rather than screen interactions.
  2. Open more books. Books provide exposure to vocabulary, information, and different processing skills than TV or electronics do. Read to your child each day, even if it’s the newspaper or comics, and take your child to the library so they can find books they are interested in to read over the summer. 
  3. Practice math basics. More kids nowadays, lose their basic math skills and have to re-learn them every year. There are many affordable math practice books available in stores or websites that provide free math practice and worksheets.  Have your child complete just one page of these a day, or better yet, incorporate addition, subtraction, multiplication and division into card or board games that can be played by the entire family!


Top five first day back to school essentials 

  1. A good night sleep (for both you and your child).
  2. A healthy breakfast that includes some protein and little or no sugar.
  3. A healthy lunch and snack, ideally foods that your child enjoys eating.
  4. A calm family.  Stress or fighting on any morning before school always disrupts a child’s day.
  5. Enough time to complete the morning routine. We all get stressed when we are rushing, so do as much as you can the night before, like getting lunches ready, laying out the uniform and packing the school bag.


Tips for first timers, those with kids going into Kindergarten

Try to relax and trust those teachers who are taking your child.  They really do know what they are doing and they also understand how hard it is for you to pass your child over to them. Be honest if you need to stay for a few minutes the first few days so that you can rest easy.  Remember, the teacher is not going to do things the same way that you have done them as a parent but your child will learn the expectations and routines and will be just fine.


Next week we’ll be looking at some more specific strategies for children who experience Separation Anxiety.



How to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick! - Part 2

How to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick! - Part 2

18 January 2019

Leap Over Resolution Hurdles

No one’s perfect, and your quest for your resolution won’t be either. But you can get back on track.

What’s the best way to tackle problems that arise on your way to success? First, remember no matter how well you plan, change is hard. So before hurdles get in your way, make sure you have a plan to jump over them. Here are a few common problems people face in achieving their goals: 

It’s too much and I have so far to go. A perceived lack of progress can be frustrating. Focus on whatever the smaller number is: your progress, or how much you have left to do. 

This “small number” technique is based on a 2012 study published in The Journal of Consumer Research that found that focusing on the smaller number in reaching a goal kept people more motivated. So, for example, if you want to run five miles, which of the following thoughts is more likely to keep you going? 

  • I’ve already run one mile and in another mile I’ll double it
  • I’ve run just one mile and I still have four more to go

According to this theory, you’re likely better off with the first one.

So when you are first starting on your journey toward your resolution, instead of looking at the big number left to get there, look at what you’ve already achieved. Toward the end when that goal number shrinks, it’s perfectly fine to look at your progress, but zero in on what little remains before you hit your goal.

I’m trying to stay positive, but it’s not working. Positive thinking isn’t going to be enough. In fact, positive thinking may be the thing holding you back. A better technique than positive thinking? Try to be positive, but realistic. Yes, imagine the goal or positive fantasy, but then look at what obstacles are in the way and how to get over them. Try the W.O.O.P. technique — Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.

  • Wish: What do you want?
  • Outcome: What would the ideal outcome be? What will your life look like when you hit your goal?
  • Obstacle: You know yourself. What will try to stop you? What has sidelined you before?
  • Plan: How will you get around it?

Answering these questions doesn’t need to take a lot of time.

I can’t stick to this routine. Maybe your routine simply isn’t flexible enough.

Set a plan, but be flexible when life gets in the way. 

I’m getting too much outside pressure. This could be a sign that you’re trying to change for the wrong reasons. Have a talk with yourself about whether you want to make this change for you or because someone else told you to.

I slipped up. The first time you revert to your old ways, forget it. If you keep slipping up, instead of blaming yourself, try to look at your behaviour to figure out where the process is breaking down. If a choice doesn’t succeed that doesn’t mean that we blame ourselves. It means we have more data for our experience and we’re probably going to succeed better next time.


Find a Community

You don’t need to do it alone, especially if your resolution starts in the new year when you’ll have plenty of company in trying to make a life change.


You don’t necessarily need to find a special group, but you should let a person or two know that you’re setting a goal. Tell them your plan and ask them to hold you accountable. That way it’s a public commitment, and you might feel like you have a community supporting you that wants to see you succeed. 


Namely, money. That could mean you give your brother $100 and you can’t get it back until you reach your goal. Or, for something more formal and formatted, use a website where you make a financial pledge that you’ll lose if you don’t reach your goal. If there’s money on the line, the consequences are much larger. 


You may find online support groups and forums (on Facebook or not) full of people who are reaching for the same goal. But real life groups can help too. Support groups can help because it’s a group setting with a lot of social reinforcement and features examples of people who have changed.


While some friends and family want to help, others can hold you back, especially if your resolutions to cut back on a bad behaviour means you can’t participate in that behaviour with them or they see your wanting to change as a rejection of the way they live their lives.

For those who push back against your decision to change – your happy hour buddies, the smoking crew at work - try creating a script that says what you are trying to do without any shame behind it. Look at it like a memo to the people in your life about the change you hope to make.

For example, if you are trying to quit smoking and getting ribbing from a group of people you usually smoke with at work, try this: “I really enjoyed our time outside, but I’m really sorry that I have to back off now because stopping smoking is so important to my health. Hanging out with the gang during the smoke sessions would be more than I could tolerate. Again: My regrets.”

If you clearly state what you’re trying to do, and that person continually pushes back, it could be a sign that the relationship isn’t a good one for you. This can often be an issue in a relationship where one partner continues with a destructive habit when the other is trying to quit. You really need to ask yourself whether this is a red flag about something in a relationship that can be very dangerous for you that you want to be prepared for in advance.

If You Miss Your Goal

You didn’t fail. You’re your own experiment, so here’s what to try on your second, third or 20th attempt.First and foremost: If you fail at your resolution attempt, don’t beat yourself up, and know you’re not alone. We struggle to do the things that we know are good for us because we give into impulses for instant gratification.


Want to try again? Remember, a resolution doesn’t need to be tied to New Year’s. It can be following a weekend or following a birthday, for example. So if you missed your New Year’s goal, you can start again tomorrow, on a Monday, after Valentine’s Day or any marker that means something to you, just as long as you’re ready to give it another go. It won’t guarantee success, but you don’t need to wait until another year comes around on the calendar to give it another go.

And be kind to yourself. We talk in much harsher tones to ourselves than we would to other people. We wouldn’t say to a kid trying to learn something ‘that’s so stupid’ but that’s how we talk to ourselves.

When resolutions run off the rails or fall apart but you still want to try again, talk to yourself like a child who’s feeling discouraged. You wouldn’t say ‘that’s because you’re an idiot.’ You would say ‘come on you can do it.’”  

Here are a few more ways to flip the script:

  • Instead of “I blew it. What’s the point now?”

…say, “That was a bad decision, but a good learning opportunity. What’s my next step?”

  • Instead of, “I’m SO hungry!”

…say, “I’m hungry, which means it’s working! It’s a bit uncomfortable, but I’ve gotten through worse.”

  • Instead of, “My legs are SO sore. I can’t possibly work out today"

…say, “Let’s give my leg muscles a rest today. What can I do to work my arms?”

or: “Of course my muscles are sore. They’re supposed to be. It will get easier."

  • Instead of, “This is too hard!”

…say, “Making it through today is going to really build my confidence.”





How to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick! - Part 1

How to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick! - Part 1

11 January 2019

If you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution and then not stuck to it, don’t worry – you are in good company! Less than 10% of us actually follow through on our resolutions, no matter how committed we feel at the time. There are often a few obvious reasons for this – for starters, why do we assume that we will be more likely to achieve something just because of the time of the year? We might be setting goals that are about what we think we should be striving for, not what we actually want. We might lack the time, money or motivation (often all three!) to actually achieve the task we set ourselves.

Setting ourselves goals and working toward something can be a positive, rewarding experience, if done the right way. Here are some tips for how to make New Year’s resolutions (and goal setting throughout the year) work for you.


Pick the Right Resolution

You’ll give yourself your best shot at success if you set a goal that’s doable — and meaningful too.

A lot of resolutions fail because they’re not the right resolutions. A resolution may be wrong for one of three main reasons:

It’s a resolution created based on what someone else (or society) is telling you to change.

It’s too vague.

You don’t have a realistic plan for achieving your resolution.

Your goals should be smart — and SMART. That’s an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981 for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. It may work for management, but it can also work in setting your resolutions, too.

Specific. Your resolution should be absolutely clear. Making a concrete goal is really important - rather than just vaguely saying ‘I want to lose weight’, you want to have a goal: How much weight do you want to lose and at what time interval? For example - five kilograms in the next two months.

Measurable. This may seem obvious if your goal is a fitness or weight loss related one, but it’s also important if you’re trying to cut back on something, too. If, for example, you want to stop biting your nails, take pictures of your nails over time so you can track your progress in how those nails grow back out. Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviours can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.

Achievable. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life — and both you and your friends and family flail. So, for example, resolving to save enough money to retire in five years when you’re 30 years old is probably not realistic, but saving an extra $100 a month may be. (And if that’s easy, you can slide that number up to an extra $200, $300 or $400 a month).

Relevant. Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons? “If you do it out of the sense of self-hate or remorse or a strong passion in that moment, it doesn’t usually last long,” said Dr. Michael Bennett, a psychiatrist and co-author of two self-help books. “But if you build up a process where you’re thinking harder about what’s good for you, you’re changing the structure of your life, you’re bringing people into your life who will reinforce that resolution, then I think you have a fighting chance.”

Time-bound. Like “achievable,” the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too. That means giving yourself enough time to do it with lots of smaller intermediate goals set up along the way. “Focus on these small wins so you can make gradual progress,” Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit” and a former New York Times writer, said. “If you’re building a habit, you’re planning for the next decade, not the next couple of months.”


Create Your Plan

Your end goal won’t just magically appear. Here are ways to figure out how to get there. Because you won’t just wake up and change your life, you not only need a plan for what to do, but also for what roadblocks you’ll come across along the way.

If you’re trying to form or break a habit, break down that habit into its three parts: a cue, a routine and a reward. 

For example:

Bad Habit: I check Twitter too often.

Cue: I feel isolated.

Routine: I check Twitter.

Reward: I feel connected.

Way to change the behaviour: Instead of checking Twitter, get up and talk to a colleague.


What about if you have a really bad health habit?

Bad Habit: I smoke.

Cue: I’m tired.

Routine: I smoke a cigarette.

Reward: I’m stimulated.

Way to change the behaviour: Instead of smoking a cigarette, replace the stimulus with something else, like a cup of tea. 


Or if your habit affects your whole day?

Bad Habit: I don't get enough sleep at night.

Cue: I feel like I need time to myself in the evening.

Routine: I stay up too late watching TV.

Reward: I'm entertained.

Way to change the behaviour: Instead of staying up late to watch TV, carve out special time each day to spend by yourself, even if that may mean asking for help with your children or taking a break from work each day. 


Make it Personal

Of course, the cue and routine for a common bad habit, like smoking, is as individual as the person trying to quit. You may need to do some work to figure out what the real cue for the habit you want to change is, and then what will replace it. 

Both the cue and reward should be easy and obvious. Let’s look at one example in depth. For running, a cue could be just putting on your running clothes, even if at first you don’t do anything after that. Then add the first step in the new routine: Put on running clothes, walk around the block. You want to create an environment where you’re making very slow progress that is guaranteed to deliver victories to you.  

And then the reward at the end of the action must be an actual reward, too, so that it reinforces the routine and makes you want to do it. Otherwise your brain won’t latch onto the behaviour.

For example, if you run in the morning then rush through your shower and getting ready for work, you might end up at your desk sweaty, so in effect you’re punishing yourself for running. Your brain will pick up on that punishment and push back against the intended activity. Your resolution didn’t necessarily fail because you failed, but because you were trying to do it at the wrong time, which resulted in a punishment instead of a reward at the end. For running, a reward can be a nice long shower, a piece of chocolate or indulging in a feeling of pride, which can be reinforced by tracking your running in a journal and writing that down.

But while your plan should be realistic and encouraging, it should also allow for inevitable hurdles that are going to crop up. Any resolution plan should include room for mistakes. Don’t berate yourself. Focus on what you’re doing good for yourself rather than what mistake you made, and start again tomorrow.


Stay tuned next week for more!



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