The Back to School Blues

'Back to school' - it's a term that conjures up a lot of emotions for parents and children.  For traditional students, returning to school is something they look forward to after a fulfilling summer break.  For nontraditional students however, the return to school  feels  quite the opposite. Summer has been a wonderful release from 9 unbearable months in the classroom; going back feels like a return to the struggle, anxiety and defeat they felt the year before.  Even though some nontraditional learners do voice their unhappiness,  few parents or teachers truly get the depth of their despair when school approaches.  Although some children will talk dejectedly about going back to school, more of them are blunting their emotions and are putting on a brave face. 

As a Learning Specialist and former Child Psychotherapist, I try to unveil the inner world of these nontraditional learners for teachers and parents to fully comprehend.  Having worked as an advocate and specialist with these learners for almost 20 years, I know hard they work  to keep up but how they are  often still behind and struggling. The dilemma is that they have OptiKode Learning Styles which cause them to be at a disadvantage in traditional classrooms. They need teaching methods which differ from the ones most teachers  use, and which are different from the ones that reach traditional learners.  Not getting them, these bright, nontraditional learners sit, and they wait, and little by little they lose motivation, confidence and tread water all year.  Is it any wonder that I refer to their predicament as 'school trauma?' I think its a fair descriptor for the chronic helplessness and dis-regulating anxiety they feel day after day.  


  • Understanding and empathizing with your child can go a long way to offsetting the deep isolation they regularly feel in their ives. Let them know you want them to share their feelings about school being hard or pointless.  By all means let them know if you felt this way when you were in school.  Don't hide that information but share how you coped and got through.  
  • If you have a nontraditional child, let them know they are not the only child struggling in their class.  Struggling children always think they are the only ones who are behind.  30% of students in their class are in the same boat - let them know!  Help them identify which other kids are struggling like they are.  Get to know the moms of these students and befriend them. Build community so both you and your child  can get support.
  • Nontraditional learners don't love learning for learning's sake like traditional learners do.  One of the greatest gifts you can give your nontraditional child is understanding that for them learning often feels rote and boring.  Whenever possible find ways to bring learning to life with kid-friendly  outings, movies, discussions and projects that may raise their interest in learning.


It goes without saying that an important next step is to find out if your child is a nontraditional learner.  A simple, free test offered by OptiKodes Academy's  will tell you that in under 10 minutes.

Our mission this year at OptiKodes Academy is to demystify the nontraditional learner. These bright learners don't have to struggle  and their parents  don't have to figure out what to do by themselves.   Discovering your child's OptiKode Learning Style is the first step in bringing out the natural born learner in your child and making this the best school year ever.


Does Your Child Have Executive Dysfunction? Those Who Do Fall Behind in School


Executive Skills are a relatively unknown set of skills that are needed for ongoing school  success.  The group of learners who seem naturally endowed with executive skills are the traditional learners. From day one of grade school they independently begin developing the ability to: 

  1. allot enough time to complete term projects
  2. easily diagnose how and where their learning went wrong
  3. seek help when they need it
  4. know what their learning resources are
  5. get to test days well prepared
  6. plan ahead for  test and project due dates
  7. turn things in on time
  8. get through homework easily and efficiently
  9. prioritize learning tasks
  10. balance school life and extracurricular activities

The surprising things is that these traditional learners seem to develop these executive skills all  on their own without parents or teachers needing to guide them much.  This is because they have a predictable OptiKode where the Reading Modality is Dominant in their Functional Style and a lucky side-benefit of such a traditional OptiKode seems to be strong executive skills.

Non-traditional students by contrast are Reading Dormant in their OptiKode and poor executive functioning comes with their OptiKode. Unfortunately children with non-traditional OptiKodes have a double jeopardy - low interest in reading and poor executive skills.  This creates  huge challenges for them and their family.  

 An online assessment will easily help you identify what your child’s OptiKode is and most importantly what their Dominant 3 modalities are. Every child - and person -  has 3 Dominant and 2 Dormant modalities in their OptiKode.  Knowing what is Dominant for your  non-traditional child  is essential. With this knowledge you can then link the right tools and learning strategies to their Functional Style. This offsets the handicap they face being non-traditional learners in traditional school settings. It also  offsets their executive dysfunction by making learning feel easier and more natural, just like it feels for traditional learners. 

I teach parents how to help their children stay organized, create work plans, and to get good at time management.  These skills can be taught at any age and parents can quickly become effective teachers of these skills. There are many resources online and in bookstores which can help parents begin to understand the mechanics of executive functioning and how to help their children develop them. Two  good titles to search for to help your child improve their executive functioning skills are:

Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning

Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential

Here is a good video that speaks to what executive functioning is and why it is so important in your developing child.  

OptiKodes For Couples - The Power of OptiTuning, Part 1


When I worked as a Clinical Psychotherapist, the greatest challenge for me was working with couples. The picture above says it all - when couples are stuck and defensive with one another, it is usually long, hard work to get them to begin opening up again.  

OptiKodes offer a very powerful way to help couple's see each other in a very clear and non-judgmental way. When couples I work with first see their different OptiKodes they immediately realize that their tension patterns are partly stemming from the inevitable differences in their Functional Styles. This usually creates immediate breakthroughs. Instead of blaming each other for not understanding or meeting their needs, they see that their partner's different OptiKode simply creates a different Functional Style with unique rhythms and  preferences.

Seeing their different OptiKodes,  partners spontaneously grow more curious about each other because they have a new framework for truly seeing the dynamics of each other's OptiKodes. This naturally leads to more mutual understanding and harmony. Intimacy then flourishes as the couple gets better at staying attuned to each other's OptiKodes. 

Being able to understand and work with each other's OptiKodes is what I call 'OptiTuning.'  Its a very rare and powerful tool to have in life.  Being able to interact with others while  knowing the similarities and differences between your Functional Styles creates immediate breakthroughs.

These days neuroscience is discovering that humans are intrinsically wired for connection with each other.  With OptiKodes I am revealing the depths of how differently humans function.  In my work with OptiKodes I am endeavoring to make our human drives for connection and functioning work together seamlessly. When how we connect and how we function harmonize well. we have easier access to the satisfying lives and relationships we seek.

In my next post,  OptiKodes for Couples - Part 2, I will give specific examples of how I have used OptiKodes in couples' relationships. Seeing and identifying with these examples will give you more of a sense of the way in which OptiTuning and OptiKodes can transform lives and relationships. 

Back To School Means Back To Stress


The first week of school is underway in many local school districts and for most families back to school means back to stress.  As a Learning Specialist and former Clinical Psychotherapist, the inner part of peoples' lives is always a top priority for me.  I know that high levels of stress compromise learning and disrupt family harmony.  I'm always on the look out for signs and symptoms that a student of mine is buckling under the stress of school.

In recent weeks most of my summertime students have been expressing real dread about the coming school year.  One 3rd grade student likened it to 'going back to prison.' In his heartbreaking words he spoke about how great it was to be out of prison over the summer, but how awful it felt to be returning. For him, like so any other children, back to school means back to stress.

Whether or not your a child is a non-traditional learner which puts them at risk for academic difficulties, your child is likely more stressed than you realize. Even the gifted learners who excel at school experience a huge hike in stress when school resumes.  Gifted learners  are concerned about maintaining their good grades and being the best in their extra-curricular activities. Believe it or not, being gifted is a huge source of stress for many children and teens. For kids with at-risk OptiKodes, school is a return to a grueling, day by day battle to learn the traditional way.  Their Functional Styles - otherwise known as an OptiKode - are not clear to teachers, much less parents, so they are like fish out of water, swimming upstream for 9 long months!  

What can parents do to help children withstand the effects of school-based stress? Here are a few ideas that will help you play a needed role in minimizing school stress load in your children's lives:

  1. Monitor how you check-in with your kids - don't just focus on their grades or tests and getting homework done promptly after school. Key into your kids' mood and mirror them. For example: "You look like you may have had a very hard day; what would help you recharge before starting homework?"  Or, "You've already worked really hard today. Let's have some fun before we begin homework. Everyone does better after getting a break to do something they like."
  2. Help kids get in touch with pressure by modeling that when you are under pressure yourself. For example: "Wow, today was totally overwhelming for me. I never felt like I could catch up and my boss didn't give me good feedback after I worked hard on a project." Or, "Sometimes I just feel like quitting work when I have a rough day.  I need to do something really nice for myself right now to feel better.  If I take care of myself, I'll probably feel like going back to work tomorrow."
  3. Create a 'mood wall' where you mount a dry erase board or coat it with chalk board paint in a color your kids like. Encourage them to draw pictures or write words, poetry or sentences that express their stress and concerns. Be sure and add yours. Set up a regular time when your kids can tell you about what they put on the wall and you can do the same. This kind of practice models emotional intelligence and coping skills - two important things that school does little to teach.

Kids in today's high-pressure school system need to have a safe place to express their feelings and know parents care.  Without an ear to hear their troubles, kids internalize their stress which then crops up in anger, depression, anxiety and worse. Back to School doesn't have to mean back to stress. Attuned parents play an important role in listening closely and offering their children deep emotional support.