Several years ago, occupational therapist and mother of six Rivka Stern experienced what she called a “lightbulb moment” and decided she was going to do something about it. Before long she developed Invite Calm, a one-on-one coaching program uniquely tailored for parents to help them address the challenging behaviors of their children.
“Challenging behavior is actually a form of communication from a child,” said Stern, “and I help parents figure out how they can help their child put into words what they are trying to tell them through their behavior.” Often when a child has a meltdown, it is because they are told that they need to stop doing something they are enjoying at that moment. An adult will typically speak to a child in a way that will make perfect sense to any adult, and even to most children. However, for certain children, speaking in a way that might seem perfectly logical to an adult might trigger a fight-or-flight response in a particular child.
Some children can handle being told what to do, understand it, and rationalize it. But for children who struggle with that ability, Stern devises specific strategies and focuses on what that child needs—from that child’s perspective.
Stern regularly made videos for teachers and parents of children for whom she was providing OT services, to explain how those children experience the world. ”Sometimes adults don’t realize that they only see the world through an adult lens, in terms of how we see things or what our expectations are of other people. Sometimes that includes our expectations of how a child should be.”
As Stern worked with children and did private OT, she started to also work with the parents and realized this was the piece of the treatment that had the most impact. “The parents began to understand their child and learned how to respond effectively and meet the child’s needs throughout the day,” she said. Because Stern practices through a neurodivergent lens, which respects the differences in the wiring of the brain rather than trying to repair it, she feels it is easier to find ways to support and empathize with the child.
“You have to have the awareness before you can come up with a strategy,” Sten explained. Once an adult is able to see the world through the child’s eyes and understands and respects that perspective, then the adult can figure out strategies—for instance, how to phrase what they say in a way that will elicit a more positive response.
Stern has worked with children who have all kinds of diagnoses. She regularly works with parents who find their child’s behavior problematic, who have wondered if there was something wrong with their child, or felt that their child required some type of intervention. Many times, parents have sought Stern out after trying several other interventions that haven’t yielded the desired results, and seemed no closer to the source of their children’s behavior.
When parents first contact Invite Calm, Stern has them fill out a detailed questionnaire about their child. She determines whether the child’s sensory needs are being met or if perhaps there are control or attention issues. She assesses various scenarios through the information and holds sessions with the parents to gain more understanding.
“I teach parents to try to be more reflective, to think through things and analyze them, as opposed to always finding themselves in a reactive mode.”
Because parents are so quick to react, they tend to say no when, in fact, there are plenty of times when it might actually be OK to say yes. Although there will be times when a parent must say no, Stern stresses the importance of saying yes as often as possible to children who exhibit difficult behaviors, as long as it aligns with the values of the parents. She is quick to point out that saying yes more often is not reinforcing bad behavior, but rather meeting a child’s needs so a parent can hold firm when it really must be a hard “no.”
“When you meet your child where they are, you are building a stronger connection with your child, teaching him or her about self-regulation, about compromise, and giving them an example of how a parent is coming from a calm place.” That is how the child really learns to self-regulate, Stern believes. “When children feel good about themselves and are getting their needs met, they will eventually become more regulated and not as likely to experience a meltdown the next time around.
“What’s really been amazing is when the parents start looking at themselves and their responses to their child in terms of the way they set things up for the child, and when those aspects change, the challenging behavior of the child begins to abate.”
Stern said it’s not about “fixing” another person but rather learning how to understand them and support them in the way they need to be supported. “It’s also about embracing some of the differences that children have and appreciating them.”
You can also call 917-499-5882.