Art of Recovery

The role of recovery

Stress communicates an awareness of what’s at stake. Stress normalizes and signifies normalcy; deep bonds form around stress-filled events and assignments. Stress soothes boredom, underpins performance. The ability to manage the stress of school is precisely why asking for help can sometimes feel like a sign of weakness.  The ability to thrive in school depends less on eliminating stress, and more on an ability to recover between stressful events.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the importance of recovery if you’ve been hiking with a group. When the people up front pause for the others to catch up, they have extra time to recover. Over the course of a few kilometres, the recovery time can really add up. School is similar: advanced kids work hard, then rest, and stressed students get little relief.  Doctors Tom Brown and Russel Barkley, renowned for their work with disorders of executive functioning (e.g. ADD), equally recommend strategies specific to mental recovery take priority in their treatment plans.

 

Recovery in practice

After three months of working with, Channing, age 15, we have seen how practicing recovery is as important as his school work between. Our initial work related to ADHD: improve his performance in school. At the intake, he said that school was stressful, but he could handle it. He bragged of erratic sleep: “I get a few hours here and there.” After school lessons with a private teacher lasted until dinner, then he practiced keyboard, basketball, or online college-level math courses until midnight.

Channing’s parents know other students endure more. His schedule is not up for debate. They feel that this is the minimum investment required for a fair shot at university. At home, like school, stress is a metric; the higher it is, the more likely things are going as well as they could. Considering all the tutors and lessons, they felt that his performance was poorer than it should have been. What they failed to realize is that how many tasks he did each day was far less important than how he handled recovery between.

 

Mastering the art of recovery

Channing started improving soon after meticulously building recovery into his schedule. We sent him to school with a basketball to encourage him to be active and social at recess. We scheduled 30 minutes of activity after school daily. Before he began working at home, a visible kitchen timer was set in front of him (visibility matters) to work in 25 minute blocks. When the timer went off, Channing had to set it for 5- 10 minutes and take a break. It was tempting to keep pushing him when he was working so well, but nobody wants to work for a tyrant that can’t keep a promise.

When I first started teaching Channing recovery strategies, we used a three-step drill. It was key that he could practice this in class, at his desk, without making it too obvious. The drill began with: 1) inhaling and counting to seven, and exhaling, counting to eleven, 2) spotting five new things in the room, and finally 3) some form of movement ( e.g. an inconspicuous back stretch at his desk). I explained to him that a screen will exhaust his higher-order abilities, like focusing. I gave him extra encouragement for screen-free time. Some kids don’t know what to do with themselves without a phone. I suggest: drawing, exercise, talking; you get the idea. Channing now schedules his breaks in advance and keeps time on his own. His motivation to work is way up because a finish line is always in his sights. He knows that recovery is an essential part of growth and learning. His favourite way to recover is terrible music and dribbling his basketball around the flat. The neighbours might not appreciate those reasons, but I’ll stand behind them.

 

Author Bio: Dr. Rick Smith works with parents and teens as an education consultant with Central Health Partner’s Child Development Team. He helps teens maximise their performance in school. He is also the author of STOP Reading, creator of the Mindset Matters iOS app, and can be reached at:  rsmith@southside.com.hk

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How Difficult Can This Be?

Tan was a good boy.  At 10 years old, he wanted to please his parents and teachers.  He liked football and played well with his friends.  But when it came to his schoolwork, he just couldn’t be helped.

Tan’s teachers complained that he would daydream.  He’d stare out the window and not listen to the teacher. The teacher said he wasn’t trying hard enough to learn. “This is easy, Tan” the teacher would say, but it wasn’t easy for him. Sometimes, he would act silly, as if he were 6 years old, and the other kids would tease him for it.  His grades were going down.  Finally, teacher called the parents in for a conference. Tan’s parents tried to discipline him, but that didn’t work.  Tan was sad to disappoint his parents and anxious to go to school the next day. He started getting tummy aches before school.  Things were getting worse.

We found out later that Tan had a learning disability that was hurting him in the classroom.  With a few simple accommodations, he was back on task and proud that he could learn again.  Until we learned that, however, Tan was an anxious, sad boy.  Concerned adults called him lazy, and friends pointed at him and laughed.

What is it like to have a learning disability?  Is it only a problem with academics, or does it affect the rest of your life too?  How can we help kids like Tan succeed?

Clearly, the first step is to understand what it is he’s going through.  Fortunately, we have a resource readily available to help us know just what it’s like to be a learning disabled person, and how frustrating, anxiety provoking, and tense it can be to go to school.

I highly recommend you take an hour out of your busy day to watch this video “How Difficult Can This Be?” It was made over 30 years ago and some of the terms and phrases are out-of-date.  However, it’s easy to understand, and the human dynamics haven’t changed at all.  I’ve share this video with countless parents, students, and professionals over the years and have yet to see someone walk away from it unmoved.  If you can, watch it with your family – it will be a great conversation starter.

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