Sunday, January 22, 2012

Raphael Stories

Raphael Stories
Originally, "Annie stories" were designed to help kids overcome fears, like testing anxiety. These have been modified into "Rafael, Sophia and Daisy" stories at my home. Raphael is a biracial (just like my son) 5 year old, Sophia is his sister who is 3 years old (just like Natalia) and Daisy is the baby (and has a name like a flower like Rosa.) Actually, my children didn't know Rosa's name till after she was born, but they knew that Sophia and Raphael were having a new baby sister named Daisy!
Basically, Raphael stories are a made up story to deal with whatever worry, problem or poor behavior choice a child is dealing with. I also use the stories to model good choices my kids and students  are making to encourage those actions to occur more frequently.

I started using these stories with my son when he was 3. He was having severe anxiety and refused to come out of his room after a windstorm for a matter of days. We worked with a social worker, his pediatrician and asked just about everyone we knew for advice, but nothing was working.  Then we started the Raphael stories. Here is something I wrote in my journal after the first week I used the stories.

Today's story was about listening to the wind chime (we have one outside and it seems to remind him of the storm) and going out the front door - two things that currently cause massive anxiety, hysterical shaking and screaming. The story goes something like this:

Rafael is a boy who lives in a yellow house. He has a little sister named Sophia. In Rafael's house there is a bathroom, a playroom, a kitchen. He lives with his Mommy and his Mama. . . (so you get the idea. Basically I describe our own family.)

Rafael was going to go to the farmers market, and so he went to the front room to get on his shoes. He started to feel his heart beating and he started shaking. (Two symptoms he has been having.) So, he took some magical breaths. Rafael breathed in really slowly and breathed out really slowly. Can you show Rafael how to take magical breaths? Rafael was still feeling worried, and so he asked for some cuddles from his Mommy or Mama. Then, he put on his shoes and walked out of the front door.

When he stood on the porch (another difficult area for Mateo), he looked at the tree and started to get scared. Then, he took another magical breath and looked at the strawberry plants. He wondered if there were any ripe strawberries to eat and looked at all of the plants and found a red, ripe strawberry.

He then walked all the way down the stairs by himself and was so proud of himself. He had been scared, but he walked down the stairs all by himself and he was ok.

Anyway, this is the general format for the stories, only they change for whatever seems to be the biggest issues of the moment. The first few times, the stories were so scary for Mateo that he would try to climb back into his crib when I told them and start shaking hysterically.  Now he asks for Rafael stories, and will even listen to them in the play room. He has also been taking Rafael's magical breaths!

We are noticing gradual improvement every day, but this has really been a tough thing for our little guy. I guess we're all learning something - Mateo's learning about being brave after a storm and we're learning a lot about having patience.
Why should you modeling self-control through stories

What do you remember more?
  • The last meeting you attended?
  • The last movie you watched?
I bet you remember the last movie more than your last meeting. Of course there are many reasons why. One of those reasons is because it was a story. Our minds are meant to understand stories. So, I teach self-control by telling both my children and students stories about myself where I model when my strategies worked and when they did not work. As I tell the story, I model the type of thinking I would like them to use.

I might say something like, "Last January it was New Years, and so I made a resolution. Well, mine was that I was going to exercise more. I wanted to work out 5 times a week. So, I decided that I was going to do that. Monday I played soccer with my friends. This is going to be so easy. I can totally do this."

"Tuesday came . . . and I was tired after school, and there was this great show on TV that I really wanted to watch and I told myself - I'll do it after the show. Then I had to cook dinner. And suddenly it was bedtime and I hadn't done it. . ."

It is important to think through and model when you are not successful. Kids can learn from your mistakes.

"Three weeks later, I realized that I hadn't really been exercising 5 times a week.  What type of trouble have you trouble with doing something you said you would do? Like HW or cleaning your room?"

Model what did work and the strategies you want your child to use in his or her life.

"So, the third time I tried to reach my goal, I set up a system. I wrote down what I was going to do on a piece of paper and I set up some rewards and consequences for myself. If I exercised I could go on the computer or watch a TV show. If I didn't exercise I couldn't do those things. I shared with my friends my goal on facebook. . . "

Share these social stories many different times.

You probably remember the last movie you saw, but not the one that you saw 5 times ago. Students are hearing stories from all over. If you want your message to stick, say it over and over with different stories.
Sample Stories
 How to Encourage Summer Reading
Here is one of the Rafael stories that I use to encourage summer reading. Remember, you can use any name you want and change the story any way you want. If your child is in 3rd grade, then make the children in the story third grade students.

Stories work to change behavior. Telling a story  is way more effective than saying, "I want you to read this summer." 

It was the last day of 5th grade. Sophia and Rafael were so excited to be starting summer vacation. "I'm going to the park to play soccer every day," said Rafael.
"I'm going to play with my friends at the park too!" said Sophia.
"No homework." said Rafael.

So school got out and summer started. They went to the park. They played soccer and basketball. The played on the swings. They helped their mom with making dinner most days. They watched their younger brothers while their moms did the shopping and laundry or went to work.  Honestly, they started to get a bit bored.

One day, they were swinging at the park, and Rafael said, "Do you remember what Ms. L told us about the 2 million dollars?"
"Two million dollars? I would like 2 million. I'd be rich! But, no, I don't remember."
"Well, she told us that people who go to college earn 2 million more dollars that people who don't."
"Yah! I'm going to get those 2 million and go to college."
"Me too."

Sophia stopped swinging for a few minutes and looked out at the park. She remembered the conversation about the 2 million dollars. She had said that it's great to say that you want to go to college, but you have to have a plan if you really want it to happen. And the one thing that kids who go to college do is read 30 minutes every single day, including Sundays and summer vacations.

"You know, Rafael, I totally want those 2 million. I could help my mom buy a house and live in a nicer place with more rooms."
"Yah, and I could help my dad buy a new car."
"You know, I really haven't been doing what Ms. L said we had to do to earn that money. I totally haven't been reading anything."
"Me neither."

Rafael got off of the swings and started to kick the bark chips under the swing. He was thinking hard about reading. He had just barely passed the reading test this year. He knew that meant that he was actually not ready for 6th grade. Passing the reading test by 1 point meant that he was reading like a 5th grader should read in December. And not reading over the summer meant that he would loose two whole months. He would start 6th grade reading like a 5th grader in December, November, no October.

"We really need to come up with a plan," said Rafael. "How about a bet or something like that."
"Sure," said Sophia.

Just then the ice cream truck pulled up next to the playground. "You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream," said Sophia running to the truck. I'm totally buying something.
"Ah, I didn't bring any money to the park," said Rafael.
"Well, I did," said Sophia. "I'm getting a Popsicle."
"I know," said Rafael, "Let's make a deal. Every time I read and finish a book, you buy me something from the ice cream truck. And every time you finish a book and tell me all about it, I'll buy you an ice cream."
"Ok, but you really have to tell me what the book was about so I trust you."
"Of course."

Rafael won the first ice cream. He read a Magic Tree House book and told Sophia all about the book. Over the rest of that summer, they read and bought each other ice cream.

So I want to tell you about where Rafael and Sophia are today. They are now both doctors. Every summer and every year they made bets with each other about helped each other with school. Not only did they go to college together, they both went to medical school. They now earn a half a million dollars every single year. Sophia has bought her mom a nice house, like she said she would. Rafael bought his dad a car, and then later went on to buy his dad a house. Both Sophia and Rafael continue to be friends to this day.

Does your child think that they want to be a basketball or football player. They say things like, "Why do I have to learn this?" 

Many years ago there were two athletic, strong boys. They wanted to be basketball players. Their names were Abdi and DeShawn. They were both got ok grades. Sometimes Abdi and DeShawn met, sometimes they were close to meeting.

Abdi and DeShawn were starting 4th grade. Both of them had dreams. They both wanted to become basketball players one day. Both of them loved basketball. They both wanted to become professional players on a team.

Every recess they played basketball together. After school, they stayed at the courts and played some more. This, though, is where the similarity ends.

You see, Abdi wanted to be a basketball player. He decided that he needed a plan. All successful people have plans.

He went to his teacher and asked her, “What can I do to become a basketball player?”

He asked the gym teacher, “What can I do to become a basketball player?”

He asked the librarian, “What can I do to become a basketball player?”

They all said, most likely you will not become a professional player. Almost no one becomes a basketball player. Maybe you want to think about something else.

Abdi said, “I know, but what can I do to try anyway? Basketball is my love.”

His teacher said, “Well, you need to make sure you get good grades and ask for help when you don't understand. Stay after school if you need more help. Make sure you can get a basketball scholarship for college.”

Abdi's gym teacher said, “You need to practice 10,000 hours by the time you are 20. I know that's a big number. Just remember, this means you need to practice 2 to 3 hours every single day from now on.”

Abdi's librarian said, “You should read about basketball and famous players every single day. Do it for your reading homework and for fun. Make sure you read 30 minutes a day, so you learn how to become a great player, and have the reading skills to get a college scholarship.”

DeShawn did not have a plan. He just played at recess and after school. He sometimes did his homework. He sometimes didn't get to go to recess because he didn't turn in his homework. He sometimes missed playing at recess because he got in trouble in class. He didn't really like to read that much. Playing basketball was more fun. So he didn't do much reading outside of class.

Abdi worked his plan. Every day he asked his teacher for help if he didn't understand something. If she didn't have time in class, he would ask her after school. He read about famous basketball players for 30 minutes every day. He did his homework, so he could practice during recess. He didn't get in trouble, so he could practice during recess. He practiced after school and asked the gym teacher to give him pointers.

DeShawn didn't have a plan. By high school his grades were so low that he couldn't joining the basketball team. He eventually dropped out of high school. He doesn't have a job, but he likes watching basketball on TV. He just wishes he could find a job.

Abdi worked his plan. He kept his grades up and joined the high school team. He kept on practicing 2-3 hours a day and asked for help. He got a scholarship to go to college, where he practiced more each day. He kept his grades up so he did not have to pay for college. 
When it came the day of the draft, Abdi was not chosen for any team. He didn't let that get him down. You see, he had a plan for if that happened. After reading so many books about basketball, he knew that teams need all kinds of professionals.

Abdi always had a back up plan. If he couldn't become a star, he would work with the star players. He became a physical trainer, and now works with professional basketball players that have injuries. He gets to talk with them every day. He gets to play basketball with the star players to help them get better. He earns a lot of money because of all of his hard work.

Abdi gets to play basketball every day and do what he loves. He helps hurt basketball players get back on the court and back into the game!

Research Behind these Social Stories: Three self-control strategies that work

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Social Skills: The Question Game

As a teacher, I work all day with very challenging students. Many of my students have special needs including behavioral needs. I also work with a range of regular education students and English as a Second Language students. No matter the background of the student, I am finding that they all need some basic instruction in how to have a conversation with an adult or another kid.

The game is great for introverted children because it teaches them how to engage in a conversation. The game is also effective for extroverted children because it teaches them not to dominate a conversation.

The Question Game is a social skill game that I made up. Kids love the game, and it teaches kids how to have equal conversations with adults and other children. Here is the structure of the game.

The youngest person gets to decide who is person A and who is person B.
  • Person A asks the other person a personal question.
  • Person B responds in 2 to 3 sentences.
  • Person B asks person A a question.
  • Person A responds in 2 to 3 sentences. 
  • Round 1 is complete and you repeat again for round 2.
The game is really this simple. It is amazing, though, how powerful the game is. I play this with my 3 year old and have played it with a college age English as a Second Language student. I play this game daily with my students at the end of class.

Here is a sample round:

A: What is your favorite color and why?
B: My favorite color is green. I like it because trees and green and I like trees.
B: What is your favorite color?
A: I like red best. I like it because it is bright and lively.
A: What did you like about recess today?

 Problems and solutions:

The child says a one word response. 
 A child saying a one word response could be doing this for a number of reasons. It is possible your child feels awkward  trying something new. It is also possible your child doesn't know what to say. For both of those problems some general coaching will help.

On the other hand, it is possible your child does not want to play the game. In that case, I would acknowledge that the child is not interested and drop the game for the time being. I would, though, make a point of playing the game (and having a lot of fun while doing it) with another adult in front of the child.

One word responses sample

A: What color do you like?
B: My favorite color is green. I like it because trees and green and I like trees.
B: What is your favorite color?
A: Red ( long pause)
B: I like red because . . . (roll hands to let your child to know to keep on talking)
A: continues to pause
B: because it's pretty? lively? the color of my shirt
A: because it is the color of my shirt.
B: good job. Now it is your turn for a question. You could ask me about food I like.

Your child does not know what questions to ask
 This is a very easy problem to solve. You can write out a list of questions that your child can ask you. Here are some sample questions:

  • What was a favorite part of your ____? (day, recess, movie, book, school etc.)
  • What was the least favorite part of your ____? (day, recess, movie, book, school etc.)
  • What do you like most about _____? (our house, your bedroom, church, your work, the weekend, reading)
  • What is your favorite ______? (type of car, video game, movie, book, color, food, thing to do outside when it is sunny, thing to do on a rainy day)
My son almost always starts the game by asking about the best part of my day. This is an easy way for him to start the game, and I am modeling how I would like him to respond when he tells me about his day.

Your child will not stop talking
 Instead of talking for 2 to 3 sentences your child goes on and on. Maybe they are young enough they don't know what a sentence is or are just so excited they want to tell you the whole story. Of course, there is a place for your child telling you the whole story, but not in the question game. This is a social skills game. The point of the game for a talkative child is to learn to share the air space!

Here is one thing I do - I let the child know that every "and then" counts as a sentence. After I ask the question, I hold up three fingers. This lets them know that they have 3 sentences. Each time the child says something that is a sentence or says "and then"