Month: June 2018

“I’ve Got Anger Issues”

Children with 'anger issues,' or demanding child behavior, need a firm but gentle approach.

One of my favorite kids, Sam, came in to see me this week.

Nearly six and going into first grade in the fall, I’ve been tracking Sam since he was three. Sam’s had issues with “behavioral self-regulation,” as the mental health professionals might say. (In other words, he can’t keep his hands to himself.)

We chat about camp, which just started.  I ask him if him about his counselors.  He tells me that they are all boys except that one of them is a “girl who is in our bunk because of my anger issues.” (Apparently, Sam has a counselor who is primarily assigned to keep an eye on him.)

When he tells me that, I raise an inquisitive eyebrow and ask him, “Oh, yeah.  What are your anger issues?”

Shooting me a sly smile, he doesn’t have much of a response and just shrugs.  I encourage him to draw me his anger issues.  While Sam loves drawing, there’s not much content, maybe a superhero drawing or something.  I compliment him on his drawing.  He then tells me he’d like to be an architect one day.

I don’t know if Sam has anger issues.  I know he has loving parents and pretty good circumstances all around.

“Anger issues” are demanding child behavior

Look, I’m not dismissing that the idea that young kids can’t have “anger issues,” but there is a considerable percentage of kids like Sam who may not have anger issues, although it may look like they do in the way they behave and interact.

My interpretation of Sam’s “anger issues” is pretty simple – he’s angry when he doesn’t get what he wants (when he wants).  In other words, he finds “no” to be something he has trouble handling.  This can occur with other kids, his parents or teachers.

Sadly, so many of kids like Sam are put on medication pretty quickly without taking the time to understand them.

So many of the Sams of the world are quickly “diagnosed” as ADHD and really, who is going to be able to challenge that. The doctor’s word rules.

How to help children with anger issues

As we continue chatting, Sam tells me he calls his mother “stupid” sometimes. He knows it’s wrong, but he gets mad at her when she doesn’t indulge his every whim. (Of course he doesn’t tell me that, but that is what I piece together.)

I try and bring a dose of reality to his head. Making it clear that “he can’t always get what he wants.”

Sam listens (sort of).

I bring his mom in to join the chat.

It’s my theory that his mom needs to toughen her reserves, so she doesn’t give in to his “anger issues” (i.e., his demands).  He can have his moody reactions when he isn’t happy with what is happening at the moment, but he can’t lord over everyone as he tries to do.  She needs to say something to him like, “Sam you can be angry, but not insulting or obnoxious.  Until you pull it together, I don’t want to talk to you.  Let me know when you’re in a better mood.”

Takeaway Point

Don’t be so ready to assume that your kid has “anger issues” or is ADHD when he’s struggling  coping with the “No word.” Simpler explanations are often the best route for understanding your kid.


Copyright, 2018

Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

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Nostalgia Continued – What Experts Told Us in 1964

(Not sure why I have been in such a nostalgic mood lately.

On YouTube I’ve been watching old horses from bygone eras win the Triple Crown.  Perhaps it was seeing my third Triple Crown victory a couple of weeks ago that has sent me into a reverie of remembrance.   (I was there when Secretariat won the Triple Crown at Belmont and watching it still give me chills.)

Following up on last week’s blog where we mined nuggets from the way back machine (See: Mining the Nuggets) I had promised to dip into the Sociological & Psychological Factors in Reading,” from the 1964 Proceedings of the Annual Reading Institute of Temple University.

Staying in the zone of mining the nuggets, I thought I would share a few  quotes from the conference to bring all of you into my current state of nostalgia.

Renowned psychologist, Dr. Jules Abrams, had a few choice things to say in his article, “Psychological Influences on Reading:”

“Reading must always be evaluated as a total process.  When this is done, it becomes abundantly clear that there are innumerable psychological factors which can influence the child’s ability to read.”

“Reading difficulty may be caused by a multiplicity of factors (educational and sociological, as well as psychological) all of which are highly interrelated.  The individual is a physical organism, functioning in a psychological manner.  Reading, being a complex process of a total individual, may involve any or all of these (psychological) aspects, with cause and effect being closely interwoven.  Learning is a dynamic process.  To understand what happens in this process, the attention must always be focused on its complexity and on the total, whole individual involved in the process.”

“If a youngster has been introduced to reading instruction before he is ready, so that his initial experiences are unfavorable, then his attitude toward reading may be unfavorable.  If he is exposed to constant frustration, such as being taught at a level too difficult for him, his resultant feelings of inadequacy may explode in antisocial attitudes or behavior.”

What novel concepts – looking at the whole child and not placing him/her at a level of frustration!

Also in the 1964 proceedings, County Court Judge for the County Court of Philadelphia, Juanita Kidd Stout (who became the first African-American woman to serve as a judge in Pennsylvania), wrote an article called, “Troubled Children and Reading Achievement.”

While some of the verbiage may sound dated (e.g., “delinquency” and the emphasis on the male), she makes many points that are fully appropriate to the current era.

There is general agreement that there must be early identification of the non-reader.  Havighurst (1959) suggests he should be identified no later than the first grade and that failure to help the non-reading six year old may result in a delinquent fifteen year old.  By the time the non-reading male  reaches fourteen or fifteen, he has begun to be aggressive and nothing but heroic measures will prevent descent into truancy and delinquency.”

“The evidence is overwhelming that the inability to read is a substantial factor in the production of delinquency, criminality, unemployment and dependency, all of which are costly monetarily and in terms of human suffering.”

The judge is right on the money and that was written in 1964!

The prisons are loaded with people who were school angry, having never developed fundamental reading, spelling and writing skills and felt the embarrassment and shame that accompany.

Takeaway Point

Not sure how long I will be staying in this mode of nostalgia.  Tonight, I can’t wait to watch the great Citation win the 1948 Belmont and Triple Crown!

What an amazing horse!

Mining the Nuggets

Admittedly, I have trouble letting go of things.  If a magazine had an article about the Rolling Stones, for example, it could never be thrown out.  Boxes of such magazines in my attic, along with an assortment of other memorabilia speak to the streak of sentimental hoarding running through me.

I also have dated textbooks and yellowing professional articles hiding in various places.

With all of the changes in technology, psychology and education, you might wonder why I would hold on to this stuff?

Recently, I was rummaging through an old box. One of the articles I stumbled on was one I had the good fortune to be asked to co-author as a graduate student with my mentor, the late Dr. Stanley Rosner, one of the finest psychologists and people I have ever known..

The article was written in 1982 (egad, you can do the math). (Frankly, I think we hand wrote the draft on yellow legal paper and then had it typed on a typewriter, using white-out to take care of the errors.)

What’s astounding to me is how relevant things still are today.  Here’s a point that was made in the article about remedial instruction.

A major commonality  of good remedial programs is the intensification of sensory input in the presentation of material.  Approaches in the past have suggested that certain youngsters are more efficient in learning when a single avenue of sensory input is utilized (Frostig & Horne, 1964; Delacato, 1966; Kephart, 1960) However, the most valued and lasting approaches appear to be those in which there is a general increase and involvement of as many sensory avenue as possible in a specific learning area ( Fernald 1943; Gillingham & Stillman, 1966;)

Good remedial instruction is teacher-directed as opposed to teacher-assigned. The use of kits, programmed instruction, and work-sheets is a distortion of the concept of individualization….

The utilization of sound psychological and educational practices with the child who has only known failure goes far to renew his or her damaged sense of self and faith in the educational process.  We have frequently observed youngsters who have previously been described as hardened and embittered make seemingly astounding personality changes as a result of finally being taught by a method that matches their unique learning abilities.” (Rosner & Selznick, 1982)

Mutlisensory programs (e.g., Orton-Gillingham) are all the rage now, yet they were being advocated in the 1940s!!

So many of the kids that come in to see me are struggling because they are continually asked to manage “teacher assigned” material.  Worksheet upon worksheet or teacher-assigned work on Chromebook, may be ok for those fortunate to be on the smooth road.

For those who are on the rougher side of the road, the ones with ongoing reading, spelling and writing problems, the teacher assigned material is much of the problem.

These kids detest school and they become increasingly, disconnected and shut-down from the mountain of assigned busy-work they have to get through.

Takeaway Point

I’m quietly glad I am a bit of a hoarder and don’t throw stuff out (much to my wife’s chagrin).  Maybe next week I’ll comment on the Proceedings of the Reading Institute of 1964 from Temple University.  (No, I did not attend that!)


Copyright, 2018

Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

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“Ain’t No Cure For the Summertime Blues”

“Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do
But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues” (Eddie Cochran)

Summertime.  Remember how it used to feel.  The days were long. The sun came up and you were out all day until the waning light at the end of the day.  There were no teachers or parents bothering you. It was bliss.

Now, your child fantasizes about the summer too.  Similarly, he sees his days as hassle free.  The main difference is that the fantasy largely involves being in the basement (or wherever in the house) spending hours upon hours staring at Youtube on the iPad and playing Fortnite on the xBox.  (Picture a basement filled with cotton candy with no restrictions on the devouring.)

While I am reflecting on the state of childhood as we approach summer, something that has stuck in my side that in some ways has nothing to do with summer, but somehow seem connected  is the parade of kids I see who are unable to completely write their address, as well as their diminished sense of word awareness.

So, before your child goes off to his daily dose of summertime screen stupor, I offer two suggestions:

  • Ask your child to write out his address. If he/she can’t do it fully (yes, including town and zip code count), then you need to carve out time and teach it to him and then he needs to practice it to mastery.  The summer will be a great time for your child to practice the skill of writing his address.


  • In terms of increasing your child’s word awareness, go to store like Barnes & Nobles (I know, “how quaint”) and browse around the education section. Look for books with titles such as “The 500 Essential Words Your Fifth Grader” (or whatever grade) Should Know.”  Along with the exercises in the book, go way old school and have your child put 10 words a day on index cards (paper index cards that will go in a real box, not virtual ones).  On the back side of the card, your child can write the definition and  a simple drawn picture of the word.  Practice these words with your child to the point of mastery so that he knows the word and definition automatically.

Yes, you will get a lot of whining and teeth-gnashing as you insist on your child doing these in a daily ritual.

So be it.  Toughen your resolve.  Your child should know where he lives and what represents a complete address.  Vocabulary is the single best skill that can be developed to improve overall reading comprehension and writing skills, and will certainly add to your child’s cognitive development.

Yes, there are vocabulary “apps” and games that can be played and swiped on the iPad.  Don’t go there.  For one hour a day, before the child indulges himself with his screen cotton candy, set up the vocabulary/address practice hour.

If you don’t get decent attitude and motivation while engaging with these activities, then calmly put the iPad and the xBox controller in a locked safe (buy one if you don’t have one for symbolic purpose) – no yelling, no screaming, no punishing.

Just shrug and say, “It’s OK.  We will try and again tomorrow.  Hopefully, you’ll have a better attitude and you will have earned some of your screen time.  Until then the screens stay in the safe.”

 Takeaway Point

There is a seeming inevitability to the way your child will be indulging himself this summer.  Beat back the indulgences by practicing a couple of essential life skills like  knowing his address and increasing his vocabulary.

Adjustment vs. Direct Instruction

Guided practice, not just accommodations, will help your child succeed in the long term.

You’ve been watching your child in the weekly tennis clinics offered at the school and you are not very comfortable with what you are seeing.  In contrast to those kids who look like they play pretty well, your 8 year old stands out.

In short, he isn’t very good.

As his parent, you quietly wonder if he isn’t a bit “tennis disabled,” so you talk to the people in charge of the clinic who make a bunch of recommendations such as:

  • When he is serving, allow him to serve half way to the net instead of from the baseline.
  • Widen the parameters of the court, so that when he hits to the other side he can hit in the doubles area.
  • Lowering the net so he can get the ball over more consistently.

What was most striking to you was the idea that all of the suggestions were accommodations or adjustments that would allow your child to feel like he was more a part of things.

There was no talk about ways to improve his skills.

Accommodations vs. Guided Practice Strategies

I get this type of thing a lot when I read reports on kids.  Often, the reports are very top-heavy on proposed adjustments, but light on how to directly work on the deficient areas.

Some of the common accommodations/adjustments include:

  • Give the child extra time (not that he wants it).
  • Seat child near front of the room.
  • Repeat directions
  • Place desk in area with fewer distractions
  • Use graphic organizers.
  • Use “peer buddies” to assist with comprehension.

While these may be helpful, they do not involve skill improvement involving direct remedial instruction.  Direct instruction means explicitly teaching the child a skill. Then the child practices this skill until it becomes mastered. Sometimes this takes a long time.

Whether a child is “dyslexic,” “learning disabled,” “ADHD,” or “tennis disabled,” there are identifiable skills that are either mastered by the child or they are not.  These skills need to be assessed and identified.

Once identified, the deficient skills need to be targeted and remediated.

Takeaway Point

Accommodations (adjustments) are great, but don’t forget the other side of things (i.e., direct instruction).

Direct instruction with lots of guided practice is essential to move your child along the skills continuum.


Copyright, 2018

Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To receive free newsletter and updates, go to:


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