“Write a sample journal entry and show it to your kids, so they know what the goal is”
Therapist: It’s amazing how much Mimi can accomplish with small changes when she’s focused — in both academics and behavior.
Mimi: Feel less out of control and more empowered. I’m not just reacting to the chaos all day long anymore.
Avigdor: Fine, if it’s so important to you, I’ll stop running, I guess….
"It’s going well with Goldy,” Mimi reports after a few days. “But now I need to get on Avigdor’s case.”
She describes Avigdor as academically successful, but behaviorally challenging. “He runs wildly, gets on everyone’s nerves, and antagonizes everyone around him. He’s not good at expressing himself.
“He was always like this, but now that we’re together so much, these issues are much more front and center, and they’re becoming problematic. Actually…” Mimi hesitates. “I thought journaling would be good for him, but…”
“Journaling is a great idea,” I applaud. “It will help him get everything out, and keep up a lot of the language skills they work on in school.”
“I suggested it,” Mimi says ruefully. “I thought that if I presented it like a fun family project, everyone would get into it. But no one took the bait” [A kid like Avigdor, or even kids in general, need focus and structure for an activity like this to work].
I suggest that Mimi buy everyone new notebooks. And maybe some cool pens, too. There’s something irresistibly inviting about a fresh new notebook. “And then you need to break down the task into small, doable pieces,” I tell her. “Write a sample journal entry and show it to your kids, so they know what the goal is.”
Diaries and journals can be leveraged to serve two purposes for Avigdor: an emotional check-in that can help him regulate his emotions and a record of the day that can help him maintain his language and writing skills.
Mimi will need to guide Avigdor toward both goals. “Introduce him to the six main emotions [The six main emotions are happy, sad, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise]. Every emotion has degrees and shades. So ask him how he feels. If he says ‘happy,’ ask how happy — very happy, a little happy. You can work together to create word lists for each emotion with more specific words, like glad, thrilled, or joyous. The point is to get him in touch with his emotions, and to help him express them, which will result in him feeling calmer.”
Mimi is skeptical. “I honestly don’t think he’s holding there yet.”
“Try reading with him, then,” I suggest. “Like you’re doing with Goldy. Choose books about feelings, or the advice columns in Mishpacha Jr. Read the story together, and ask Avigdor to identify the emotion and then what caused it. Soon he’ll be able to do this with his own ‘stories,’ as well.”
“He won’t know what to write,” Mimi predicts.
“Help him out by telling him to choose a topic and then write about the five WH questions: who, what, when, where, and why.” More advanced writers can be encouraged to include three or more details, and even more advanced writers can be directed to structure the entry like a story, with an introduction that describes what instigated the situation and a resolution.
Mimi seems skeptical. “Try it,” I urge her. “Do it together as a family. It’ll be fun.”
“Okay.” Mimi winks. “At least I’ll enjoy it,” she says.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 696)
D. Himy is a speech-language pathologist in private practice and creator of the Link-It and STARPower curriculums. The fictional characters in this column represent typical client profiles.
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