Running on Highways

  This past weekend I joined a group of moms from Southern California to run a 205-mile relay from San Francisco to Napa, California. The promise of wine-tasting and 48 hours of family-free time was enough to get me to agree to something so crazy.  Our team name was R.I.O.T. Moms, with the acronym for “Running Is Our Therapy” a fitting description for how exercise and outdoor time can rejuvenate even the weariest of parents.

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The past couple of months have reaffirmed my own parenting journey. My husband and I sold our house in the Pacific Northwest, closed up shop on our jobs, and headed south with kids and dog in tow to relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area.  The promise of good weather and time to focus on family was all we needed to make the jump to a new adventure. Throughout this transition, which included my oldest starting kindergarten, my kids have been relying on each other and my husband and I in new ways.  Amidst the uncertainty they often look to mom and dad for stability, and that trust can be both reassuring and draining.  I’ve been practicing some meditation techniques, channeling my inner calm, so when the chaos threatens to take over – one child is crying, another is telling a loud story, the dog is barking, the dinner on the stove boiling over – I can take a deep breath and keep my core calm and regulated.

 

Children feed off our nerves. A child who easily becomes dysregulated is looking for outside sources of strength to bump up against.  Sometimes, this is figurative – needing a calm presence to reflect back to them the way to cope with a situation.  And sometimes they actually ARE bumping into things – crashing into you, into their sibling, hitting walls, or tripping over their own feet – to seek some sort of barrier or boundary to the chaos coursing through them.  How we react – kneeling down, modeling deep breaths and quiet words, giving hugs and pressure squeezes when needed, reflecting their emotions with words and simple phrases – can mean continued shouting and tears, or a de-escalation of the situation.

 

Running a relay takes you on beautiful trails through the woods, winding streets coursing through quaint little towns, and hot, gravely highways with semi-trucks roaring past. I have a hard time on those highways, thinking I have little shoulder to run on, my footing irregular and my temperature rising.  The sound from the trucks can be overwhelming, moving me to frustrated tears if I let it. A dysregulated child feels the same.  Senses on overload, fear of the unknown driving action, uncertainty of how to proceed. For many of our children, being unable to get the train pieces to fit together, or an incessantly itchy tag bothering their neck, is all that is needed to get on that chaotic highway.

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I worked on my meditation techniques during those miles. The face of calm on the inside.  Ironic, since I probably looked a hot mess on the outside.  Breathing, keeping my blood pressure at a steady state.  Visualizing my end goal and the steps to get there.  Using my thoughts and words to channel chaotic emotions.  These all mirror many of the strategies we use with children to help them regulate their bodies. Self-soothing strategies are lifelong lessons we can teach, to deal with frustration, chaos, and situations outside of our control.  Check out more links below to strategies you can use at home...

Avoiding Meltdowns

Self-Soothing Strategies

Behavior Strategies

Anxiety Management

And a big "thank you" to my fellow RIOT Moms, who persevered with me!  205 miles ain't got nothing on us!

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Pack Your Bags!

Traveling with the kiddos...

 

I think as parents we build up our nervous anticipation of traveling with kids.  Usually, trips go more smoothly than we predict they will, and the (sometimes literal) gross disasters are fodder for years of family stories to come.

 

And what better way to educate our children than to travel?  For it is through travel that we see new sights and sounds, eat new foods, experience new cultures, and push our comfort level.  Our children learn to occupy themselves when bored, become comfortable with their own thoughts and imagination, and communicate with others in a whole new way.

 

Travel can be as simple as a road trip around your state.  Each town has a unique personality to meet along the way.  An airplane flight to a neighboring state to visit grandparents teaches children how to wait patiently, how to follow oral directions, how to read signs and posters, and how to find gate numbers.  What better way to get hands-on learning?

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Your children experience new people with all that people-watching: new mannerisms, new ways of dressing, and overhear conversations on novel topics.  What could be a better “classroom” lesson for the day?

 

When schedules allow, it isn’t hard to get away for a weekend.  I believe prioritizing your child’s education, as we all do, includes these rich experiences.  Patience, flexibility, and fortitude are lessons taught remarkably well on the road.  As parents, we can prepare our children for the journey ahead, knowing full well that hiccups will occur, but they often won’t be something we can’t handle.

 Here are a few things to try on your next adventure:

  • Talk with your child about expectations and what the traveling will be like.  Kids do well with a framework on which to map their experiences.

 

  • Allow extra time to pull them aside, out of the hustle and bustle, and explain what is happening next.  Before you go through the security gate at an airport, for example, take them aside and kneel down, telling them what to expect in the next few moments.

 

  • Help them use their eyes and ears to observe the world around them. Give them a visual scavenger hunt (like “I Spy”) or pictures in their journal to find and draw.  For an upcoming trip, I'm printing photos from the internet and sticking them inside journals.  My daughters will be able to use the pictures to identify important landmarks and historical monuments.  They can color or write their own ideas, too!

 

  • If your child has special needs, they will need some accommodations in your plans.  But even our special kids need these experiences.  Plan ahead and bring some fallback comfort items to keep them at ease.  They will respond well to your energy level, so take a deep breath and meet them where they are at.

 

You can find all sorts of great suggestions on the internet for travel-specific tips and tricks for kids.  Use what works for you, discard things that don’t.  But by focusing on the actual travel as a learning experience, you can see the experience through your child’s eyes and focus your attention there. 

Where will your next trip take you? Do you have a great kid-friendly travel experience to share?  Leave a comment below and let us know how you did it!

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*My family and I are heading on a road trip soon to visit a new baby niece.  I’ll take my girls on a plane flight to visit grandparents for spring break, while my husband stays behind.  Our girls have proven themselves good little travelers, other than the occasional baby explosion, so we’ll put them and their potty-trained backsides to the test on an international trip in late spring.  I will let you know how it goes!

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Want to go on a bike ride?

This post is part of the Blue Bike Blog Tour, which I’m thrilled to be part of. To learn more and join us, head here.  

The new year ushered in a new chapter for our family as my husband and I sat down to reevaluate our priorities and solidify our family purpose statement.  We’ve aspired to live more simply, more intentionally, with greater balance in our lives, something that is equal parts intuitive and challenging with young children.  The art of communicating with our children, my passion and study, flourishes with intentionality, and learning expands with simple, purposeful moments.  It is these moments that we strive to cultivate, to water and fertilize as our children grow.

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But where to start when the garden seems overrun with demands?  Work schedules, information overload, and personal expectations and perfectionism all cling like weeds to our lofty goals, and at times I feel paralyzed to even make change.

 

And so it was fitting that on the heels of the start of the new year came the release of a book “Notes From a Blue Bike”, by one of my favorite authors.  Tsh Oxenreider lives with her family in nearby Bend, and her reflections on living a life with intentionality echoed within our family’s discussions of the new year…how to cultivate that life that you seek… how to swim upstream and at times turn your back on mainstream culture… how to recognize that just because it’s “the way it is” doesn’t mean it’s the right way for your family.

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“Almost everybody in my life stage – parents with kids at home – craves a slower life.  They, too, crave a more meaningful life, a life that made margin for doing nothing, for not bowing down to calendars, for saying yes to long walks with their kids and cooking seasonally from scratch because there was time.” –Tsh Oxenreider

 

And so, it was with these thoughts in our mind that my husband and I stared around our little 1500-square-foot house and considered downsizing (!) in pursuit of the right job opportunity.  It was with this intentional living mantra that I clicked the “reservations” button on the American Airlines website, to send us and our two young daughters on an international trip, where we hope to dine, hike, and sleep under the stars of another culture.  It was with Tsh’s words clanking around in my head as the gears turned and I reduced my work load to a more manageable schedule.  Who knows what other changes lie in the works for 2014?

 

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I would love to hear how you are choosing to live with intention this year.  What is one change that you are making for the better?  Leave a comment below, and head to http://notesfromabluebike.com/ to find Tsh's book.

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Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.

Tips for the Weary Mom

We all experience fatigue in this job they call “parenting”.

One moment I can feel on my game, the house is tidy (ish) and the kids are happy, playing, and learning as they go.  The next moment I round the corner into the kitchen and find the dog licking spilled juice off the floor, while one child pleadingly calls to me from the bathroom to help her wipe her bottom.  At times it can feel overwhelming.  I was entrusted with these little humans? To raise, to teach, to keep safe in this world.  Me?  How can I manage?

Interestingly, I sometimes feel the same way at my job.  I’ve been entrusted with helping this child?  The one who struggles to learn?  The one who has such a thin line of perseverance that the slightest misstep can push them into dysregulation and a full meltdown?  The one who has been written off by his teachers, or labeled and filed away by a relative? And yet we do it, day after day, week after week.  We parent, we teach.  Because it does make a difference.  It does matter.

There are a few strategies I’ve learned to help me with those days when I am feeling especially weary.  The days when I wonder if I have it in me.  By focusing on a few things, I can move an otherwise overwhelming interaction into a positive one.

 

  • Let your face light up when your child walks into the room.  The first thing they see when they round that corner should be you, glad to see them, happy to have them here.  It can be a mood changer.

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  • Still your hands, kneel down to eye level, and give your child your calm focus and attention.  If there is one thing I recommend to parents, it’s to kneel down in front of their child when they talk to them.  It does wonders.

  • Listen.  Really listen. Hear your child from where they are.

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  • Give a mental break.  Teach your children how to have quiet time.  Reinforce the idea of alone time with your child, where they can explore their own thoughts.  It might be five minutes at first, but build that resilience.  After lunch is usually a good time, and can give a much-needed pause to the busy day.

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  • When you come back together, center yourself on them.  Snuggle time for the fussy toddler.  Words and eye contact for the preschooler.  Use yourself as their calm center for the afternoon.

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  • Think of what their bodies need.  If the mood is sour, head outside.  No matter the weather, bundle up for a walk and go.  The fresh air and activity will be a game changer.

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  • If you’re staying in for the afternoon, feed their bodies.  Ride bikes in the garage, build forts by the couch, do sensory and physical play.  Put on some music and dance.

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Meet your child where they’re at, setting aside your adult pace to take in the world at their level.  By doing this, you are communicating at their developmental level, building language, problem-solving, and fostering exploration.  Kneel down and look into their eyes: the ones that reflect your image and that reveal their heart.  Kneel down.

That First Cup

The early morning silence before the house starts stirring is for my soul alone.  I try to wake up a few moments before the rest of the creatures in this house start stirring, but with a noisy dog and an early-waking husband (who passed his early-waking genes to our daughters), it is often difficult to do.  I silently slide out of bed, head for the coffee pot, and listen as the creak of my bones on the stairs tell me I'm getting older. But to have a moment of reflection.  Ah, now that's how I center.  The whirlwind of energy that young children bring, the chaos of fun-filled days, the demands of life... it all pauses for a moment with that first sip of coffee.  I can read a blog, journal a bit, or reflect on God's purpose in my life.

Even now, sweating in the humidity around me, my now-empty coffee mug beckoning for its second refill, I have my moment.

Just ten minutes.  It makes me a better mom, a better wife, a better person.  Into the stillness I breathe "me", and with that I am ready for the day.

Have a wonderful one, friends.

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Watching the Door Close Behind Them

A Reflection for a New Year Schools are starting this week in Oregon.  Back to school can bring a mix of emotions for parents and for kids.

Whether your child is taking the bus or getting dropped off at school, the first day can break a parent’s heart.  May you find time to share a warm cup of coffee with a friend, a glass of wine tonight with your spouse, or a moment alone to marvel at a baby picture and appreciate the gift you’ve given the world.

Time goes quickly on this crazy journey of parenthood.  The bond you have forged with your child makes them stronger, more daring, and more courageous as they step through that door.  You’ve done a good job.  Savor that hug at the end of the day when they come back through the front door.

Getting the Environment Right (and focusing on the positive)

   “He can’t sit still at school!”  “She always gets annoyed by her brother at home when they are playing!”  So often we want to focus on the problem areas, the situations where our children aren’t meeting our expectations, that we forget to look for clues in the activities and environments where they are excelling. As you work on communication skills with your child, give thought to the environments where they are thriving.

 

I work with children who can hold it together well at school, but unleashed upon the home environment, every bit of self-control seems to fly out the window.  They disobey, push their parent’s buttons, and antagonize their siblings.  Conversely, I also know children who can’t seem to focus at school on their academic work, but stay occupied and focused for an hour building a Lego set with 1000 pieces in their backyard at home.

 

You can find clues in your child’s favorite pastimes.  If they hold it together well at school, look at the structure in place within the school environment.  There is a set schedule, set rules, and announcements which are reviewed every day.  The expectations are consistent, the transitions mostly predictable, and the time for breaks and down time logical.  Some of our most difficult children need the most structure. They need overkill with repetition, transition preparation, and a review of expectations.

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If your child is falling apart at school, consider how their learning can tap into the multisensory environment they love at home.  Outside time, physical breaks, sensory reinforcement (like sitting on a wiggle cushion or having a hand-fidget), hands-on learning… all can help refocus and energize their learning.

 

What ideas can you find from the activities your child loves?  Why do they love that karate class?  How about digging in the backyard?  What makes them read for hours in the backyard hammock?  Make a list of everything you can think of that about that environment (“She loves reading fantasy, she can go at her own pace”), and include the sensory components of each (e.g. “it’s sunny and quiet, the hammock rocks back and forth,”etc.)  Then circle the elements of each activity that you could replicate for another, more challenging situation.

 

Need help?  List your child’s favorite activity and environment below, and we’ll come up with some ideas.

Kids Do Well If They Can

daydreaming at schoolBehind every challenging behavior is an unsolved problem and a lagging skill. Every child demonstrates frustrating behaviors at times.  As they grow and develop, children challenge the world around them, sorting through their own feelings to find an individual voice.  Some children demonstrate mental overload by whining, crying, or withdrawing into themselves.  Others reveal behavior that is more outwardly-focused, such as yelling, shouting, and spitting.

Still for others, a mental switch is flipped, and being unable to process a situation takes them into a “fight or flight” response where they bolt from the situation, lash out physically, hit, punch, or kick.  The problem is, once the switch is flipped, they often don’t have the cognitive capacity to process the situation appropriately.  What’s a parent to do?

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Language processing problems, and/or anxiety often lie behind an apparent behavior outburst.  Consider the following list of skills (adapted from Ross Greene’s “Lost at School”) frequently found lagging in challenging kids:

-Difficulty handling transitions, shifting from one mind-set or task to another

-Difficulty persisting on challenging or tedious tasks

-Poor sense of time

-Difficulty reflecting on multiple thoughts or ideas simultaneously

-Difficulty maintaining focus

-Difficulty considering the likely outcomes or consequences of actions (impulsive)

-Difficulty considering a range of solutions to a problem

-Difficulty expressing concerns, needs, or thoughts in words

-Difficulty understanding what is being said

-Difficulty managing emotional response to frustration so as to think rationally

-Difficulty attending to and/or accurately interpreting social cues/poor perception of social nuances

 

These skills require quick and flexible thinkingMost children with behavioral challenges already know that we want them to behave.  They also would like to behave the right way.  What’s lacking are important thinking skills that allow them to regulate their emotions, consider the outcomes of their actions, understand their feelings and those of others, and respond to changes in a plan.  Such flexible thinking skills are challenged when the demands in a situation are more than the child is able to handle adaptively.

They aren’t doing it on purpose.

The kids who are most often described as being manipulative are those least capable of pulling it off.

 

While a clear diagnosis (language processing disorder, attention-deficit disorder, anxiety disorder, etc.) is helpful in pointing us in the right direction, a child is more individual than their own diagnosis.  There are also many children who fall through the cracks in receiving a true diagnosis, meaning they don’t fully qualify for all the conditions of that disorder.  But you don’t need a diagnosis to have a problem.  You just need a problem to have a problem.

The situations which are most challenging for our children vary depending on the strength and development of their organizational and flexible thinking skills.  The challenge for parents and professionals is to break down situations where these behavior outbursts are occurring and develop strategies, in collaboration with the child, for better behaviorIt is also important to truly address lagging skills in processing and flexible thinking in order to fill the holes a in a child’s development.  Children who experience the most success with behavior modifications are those who are considered an integral part of the team, who are asked for their insight, who problem-solve with their parents and teachers, and who are asked for their opinions every step of the way.

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For more information on collaborative problem-solving, check out Dr. Ross Greene “The Explosive Child”

 

Costume Time!

 

Why a dress-up box is so important

Facilitating Pretend Play in Young Children

It starts around the age of one.  I see it with my own daughter as she puts “baby” in the cradle, covers baby with “blankie”, looks up, and, placing a finger to her lips, tells the room “shh”.  She then repeats with “baby”, “blankie”, and “shh” as the running script.  After several rounds of bedtime for baby, the doll goes in a stroller for a “walk” around the room, then repeat.

Facilitating this play in your child can sometimes be tricky for the parent who wants to direct the play.  We want to talk the whole time, praising our children and commenting on every new move we see.  It’s often best to sit on the floor nearby, smile, label slowly, and let your child repeat the sequence until they are ready to move on.  Try this experiment: sit cross-legged near your child, keeping your hands folded in your lap.  When your child looks up at you, give a word or two with animation.  Be consistent in your message, and allow for silence.  See what develops.

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As your child grows with imaginative play, they often take on the character role themselves.  A super-hero cape (or a sheet!) transforms a child into a new role.  If you want to join in the play, don your own cape, but try and let your child take the lead.  Question-asking: “What’s this big mountain over here?” and problem-posing: “On no! I hurt my shoulder!  What should I do?” can allow your child the opportunity to problem- solve and create their own storyline.

My go-to dress-up clothes include the following:

(I opt for things that can be interpreted and manipulated many ways, rather than entire pre-fab costumes)

~Several scarves (for sashes, head wraps, arm wraps, etc.)

~Gloves, hats, and glasses

~Shirt/Skirt/Dresses

~Capes (I have a super-crafty mother-in-law who fashioned a sleek cape with a Velcro closure.  Just be careful of capes that tie around the neck.)

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~Nametag holder and lanyard (like what a parent might wear at a conference)

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Optional:

~Wands, swords (they do make handy weapons, so be careful)

~Masks for older kids (age 5 and up)

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Opt for items your child can mostly put on themselves, to save you time and interruptions.  Once the box is overflowing, purge a few items.  Until then, keep it open and available for free play… and watch what transpires!

Why I run those mommy miles…

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I enjoy my alone time, all the more so since becoming a parent. I am a firm believer that we need space to separate ourselves from family life to pause, reflect, and reenergize. Parenting can be draining and depleting, even as it fills our souls. I like being with my thoughts, in calmness and in stillness… usually over a good cup of coffee.

I’m trying to find more of that time for reflection in my running, since as a mom my alone time is in short supply. It appeals to my multi-tasking nature to get exercise, spend time outdoors, and do something for myself, all in one chunk of time. Often I am huffing and puffing, glancing at my watch, my awareness of my surroundings heightened right along with my heart rate. It is my time to sort through the daily happenings, the ups and downs, the draining points and the small successes.

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I often run without any music, and, until a recent marathon training season, without a watch. Because really, it doesn’t matter how far I go or how fast, but how I feel. With each step I let myself find a rhythm, get back in sync with the thoughts in my head, and pound out a purpose on the path.

When I return I am more present. I am more present for my children, more present for my husband. I am in the moment, without my mind spinning in other directions.

“Even if the weight of our responsibilities remains the same, cultivating the ability to be in the moment is a gift – to ourselves and to those we love.” ~Kristin Armstrong

Running might not be your thing, it wasn’t for me for many years. But there’s something about walking, running, hiking, or trail-trekking that gets you outdoors and centered for life. I encourage you to try. Find your escape, whatever it is, that refills your soul. It is a gift that you deserve.

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Wait, did you say I can still use Facebook??

I mentioned that I would follow-up my post on SCREEN TIME for younger kids with some ideas and suggestions for healthy screen time for older students. To sum up my previous post, I encouraged you to keep children under 2 away from all screens, to look at decreasing or eliminating screen time for preschool and kindergarten children, and to structure limited viewing for school-age children.  Be honest with yourself about how much screen time your child is actually having every day.  The ability to play by oneself and occupy oneself with imaginative thoughts is a learned skill.  Children need practice and time to be able to form that skill. While even my 1-year-old seems to intuitively know how to turn on, swipe and unlock an iPhone (no, I don't let her play with it... she just has grabby little hands), that “tech knowledge” does not translate into an understanding of how an iPhone actually works.  In the “olden days” a child could figure out how to build a radio by taking apart and rebuilding the gadgets inside.  But an iPhone, computer, or television is now so complex that even programming one is difficult for the brightest high school students.

You can find support for nearly any view on the internet, but when I look at language and social skill development with my SLP lens, I’m identifying circles of communication.  A message produced, sent, and received, followed by the recipient producing and sending his own message.  Email falls into this category, as does text or instant messaging if received the correct way.  (Many of my students struggle with innuendo, sarcasm, and humor, which are often lost in an email or text, however.)

When we look at how to incorporate screen time into an older child’s life, we can first looks at PDAs and online homework.  Those two systems should be used as a backup system for a planner and binder with in-class notetaking on assignments.  Many schools use Edline of PowerSchool as online systems, or a similar system.  In my experience, teachers often forget to update their online schedules, don’t add valuable information, or are unavailable to respond to after-hours emails regarding assignments.  A middle- or high-school student needs to know how to record their own information in class, asking questions as needed while they are still face-to-face with the teacher.

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At home, having a designated place to charge and keep the cell phone can be vital for homework efficiency for a student.  I often tell my students that if they keep their phone off, Facebook logged out, and computer powered down, they will be much more efficient at completing their homework.  As a result, they will free up “down time” after the work is through to play video games or check their Facebook.  I have one student who has decreased his homework time from 6 hours every night, down to 2 hours every night by staying off the computer.  (He’ll get on at the end of his two hours if he needs to type something.) He LOVES the extra time he has for free time after his homework is finished.  It’s a win-win situation for him.

My thoughts on video games for middle and high school kids?  If they enjoy playing in their down time, let them.  Wait, what??? For a child who is going through the tumultuous process of growing-up-with-hormones-racing and the insecurities that come with that growth, video games are often their only platform for controlling their own destiny.  There should be a few guidelines, however, that parents follow.

  1. Set a certain amount of time on screen time “down time”
  2. Encourage other “down time” in the absence of screens where your child can be alone in their thoughts
  3. Don’t forget about exercise and outside time!
  4. If your child struggles with social skills, beware of the tendency to retreat into video games.  Make sure they are involved in at least one extracurricular that encourages them to be social.

I’m actually a big fan of Facebook and other social media, especially when used well.  Studies have found that the more social a child is, the more frequently they reach out to others through social media.  For a child with limited social skills, great.  For the social child with ADD/ADHD, not so great if they haven’t completed their “to-do” list.  Sit down with your child and decide what the boundaries are.

I often recommend that parents provide a lot of structure around these outlets, at least initially.  Bullying and inappropriate contact can occur, and it is wise to be cautious of your child’s independent use of media.  Placing the family computer and the cell phones in a central place can help you keep tabs of your child’s internet surfing.  A child who can effectively navigate social media gains a confidence and expertise in social relationships needed for school and the workplace.  As parents we can teach them how to let it add value to their lives, rather than taking away from real-life experiences, friendships, and holistic health.

Simple Living at Home

I've been working on simplifying clutter, toys, and distractions in my own house lately. I've blogged before about Kim Payne's book "Simplicity Parenting" and the view that so many if our kids, especially those with attention, processing, or regulation difficulties, need a simpler environment. My munchkins seem to benefit from a calm environment, and sink deeper into imaginative play when left with just a couple of toys to let their stories run wild.We have a small house, and with two kiddos I've noticed that toys seem to multiply! It can be a never-ending battle. Our MOPS group just did a spring cleaning Swap N' Drop, with the extras being donated to the Northwest Children's Outreach. A great excuse to purge a few toys! Here are a couple shots of our living room and my attempts to simplify the toys left out.

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It doesn't always stay this neat, but at least it's manageable pickup once the girls are done playing. I'm curious, how do others manage the toy situation at their house? What are your child's favorite toys for imaginative play?

 

Where Was I...?

  Do any other parents do this??

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I have to leave my reading material open to the page I'm on (bookmarking doesn't seem as effective) since I am "called away" so frequently when reading. The life of a mom, I s'pose! It can take me several days to finish one magazine article!

I also have an ever-growing pile of books on the nightstand! Seems like my library "holds" all come up at the same time. So much to read, so little time... :)

Reading Ahead in Summer

The transition from third to fourth grade is probably the most important transition a student will make during their school career, especially as it relates to reading.  20130222-193654.jpg If your child is struggling with reading fluency during the early elementary years, summertime can be a critical season for intensive literacy intervention. Deciphering exactly where your child is missing pieces in their foundation is key. Difficulties with phonological awareness, reading comprehension, and reading fluency can have different underlying causes, and it's important for a thorough evaluation to determine what you as a patent can do to help support your child. For an interesting article from the International Dyslexia Association, click here

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As parents, the thought of intervention when our kids are still so "young" is often troubling. But I have yet to meet a professional who doesn't advocate for early intervention services when warranted. It can change the direction of your child's academic path.

Anger... and Maintaining R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I've been working with several students on their anger outbursts and how to regulate their intense feelings.  Then I happened on THIS from Ahaparenting.com about how parents fight in front of their kids has a neurological effect on their children.  The strength and ferocity of the argument can cause a child's stress hormone levels to escalate, which takes some time to diminish after an argument (this flight-or-flight stress response.)  A few tips for managing anger and keeping it from turning into a full-blown argument, from Dr. Laura Markham: "Is it ever okay for parents to disagree in front of kids?  Doesn’t it model the resilience of relationships, and how to repair them?  Yes, if you can avoid getting triggered and letting your disagreement disintegrate into yelling or fighting.  For instance:

1. One parent snaps at the other, then immediately course corrects: “I’m so sorry – I’m just feeling stressed – can we try that over? What I meant to say was…” Kids learn from this modeling that anyone can get angry, but that we can take responsibility for our own emotions, apologize, and re-connect.

2. Parents work through a difference of opinion without getting triggered and raising their voices. For instance, if you and your partner have a good-natured discussion about whether to buy a new car, your child learns that humans who live together can have different opinions, listen to each other, and work toward a win/win decision – all respectfully and with affection. Having these kinds of discussions in front of kids is terrific, as long as you agree to postpone the conversation if one of you gets triggered and it becomes an argument.

3. Parents notice that they have a conflict brewing and agree to discuss it later. Hopefully, this happens before there’s any yelling -- or you’ll be modeling yelling! And hopefully, you can close the interaction with a big, public, hug. If you're too mad, take some space to calm down and then prioritize the hug in front of your child, with some little mantra like “It’s okay to get mad….We always make up.” This takes some maturity, but it models self-regulation and repair."

When we teach our children and students how to handle their emotions, we want to make sure we are providing an appropriate model to back it up.  It is healthy to express emotions and not keep them bottled up inside, but we need to show our children a productive way to handle that anger.  An angry child can turn that passion into a quest to change to world, with the right guidance and structure.

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For tips on teaching your child to self-soothe, read my previous post here about essential tips for self-soothing.

Breathe for the Weekend

I thought this was a great post from "The Power of Moms" about setting your expectations up to help you live through raising a family.  In my season of young motherhood, I am learning to let some things go.  I expect a lot of myself, but I know that as I juggle work, motherhood, family obligations, volunteer events, and housework, some things just aren't that important.  Breathing through my experiences, enjoying the moments of peace, and trying to live an authentic life by being fully present and honest when I interact with children or talk with adults, are my defining mantras at the moment.  Read below for more:  

"I have five young kids who have five sets of needs that often seem mutually exclusive. I co-direct this website. My husband is working hard on tons of his own projects. We’re both involved in parenting and church and community obligations and trying to make ends meet financially.

Given all this, should I expect my life to be generally calm and serene? Should I expect my house to be neat and tidy? Should I expect to be on time to everything? Or should I just go ahead and accept that my life is generally going to involve a fair amount of hurrying, juggling, and messes mixed with laughing, learning and working hard?

Certainly, I can and should work towards peace and happiness in my life and in my home. But I’ve found that when I accept that life is often hard and keep my unrealistic expectations in check, that peace and happiness I want actually happens more often.

As moms, if we go into each day thinking, “This is going to be a wonderful day – I’m going to get all this stuff done and have magical moments with my children all day long,” we’re bound to be disappointed somewhere along the way. While it’s great to be positive, it’s also great to be realistic!

I used to psych myself up about taking my three preschoolers to the grocery store – “This is going to be fun! I’ll let each child pick a fruit or vegetable. We’ll talk about all the colors and letters we see. It’ll be great!” Inevitably, I’d end up SO disappointed. My plans for fun and learning in the grocery store would fade away while my baby cried inconsolably (I did just feed her before we left home!), my toddler threw tantrums (I tried to get him interested in the colors!) and my 4-year-old got on the side of the cart and just about tipped it over.

When this would happen, not only did I feel frustrated about the way my children were behaving, but to add insult to injury, I felt so sad that my great expectations had been dashed. I felt like a failure as a mom because I hadn’t been able to bring my visions and plans to fruition.

After a while, I wised up. learned to keep my expectations LOW when taking my kids to the grocery store (and to avoid taking them whenever possible!). I learned to head into the store with this attitude: “Even though I’ve gone over the grocery store rules with my kids, there will probably be hard times in this store. There may well be a tantrum. There will probably be some whining. I may not get to everything on my list but that’s OK. If things get bad, we’ll just leave. This probably won’t be super fun but it’ll be OK.”

When I kept my expectations low, I found that I was often pleasantly surprised with the outcome and was better able to handle the hard stuff when it happened. “Yep, here it comes – I thought this might happen but I’ve done this before and I’ll do it again and it’ll be fine.”

I used to really care about having my home look lovely all the time. My old house was beautiful. It was clutter-free.  It was clean.  Everything was designed and decorated with great care. Each paint color, each piece of furnishing was chosen with great deliberation (and stress) by me. But what was I thinking trying to raise five little kids in an immaculate house?  It was really all about control.  I felt like maybe I couldn’t control the diaper explosions or the bickering of my kids and I couldn’t control the flailing economy or my husband’s worrisome work prospects, but I could control that house.  I could make it be clean and beautiful.  And I’m sure that little element of control did help me sometimes.  But overall, I learned that keeping a house quite constantly beautiful when kids live in it is an exercise in futility and I needed to seriously re-vamp my expectations.

When we moved into a different house a couple years ago, it was the perfect chance to change my expectations. My new housecleaning philosophy is one I got from my Power of Moms partner April: “clean enough to be healthy, messy enough to be happy.” There’s some clutter here and there. We could probably vacuum and dust a little more. Window washing doesn’t get to the top of the “to-do” list often. There are furnishings that could be replaced. But you know what? This house is a home. We live here and living is often just plain messy.

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I’m not saying we should just throw up our hands and let everything go. We need to be deliberate about what we hold onto and what we let slide and realize that what we decide to let slide will likely be different from what some other moms choose to let slide. We need to “plan for the best but prepare for the worst.” Every Sunday, my husband and I sit down and look at what’s coming up that week and plan for how we’ll handle tight times in the schedule and discuss issues in our family that need thought and action. Living life with goals and plans is important. But making those goals and plans realistic is vital.

As I sit here working on my long to-do list in my somewhat dusty house with remains of the craft project my son had to do for homework last night scattered across the table next to me, I can feel a lot of peace when I think “Yep, this is pretty much what I expected for today and it’s totally fine.” As I think about tonight when I’ve got a meeting at the same time that one child needs to babysit for another family and another child needs to be at scouts, I remember that we planned this out and it’ll be tight and we’ll have to be late for one thing but everything will be OK.

I don’t expect life to be perfect. I expect it to be hard and messy and exciting and wonderful in its own imperfect way.

QUESTION: What expectations have you adjusted in your life?

CHALLENGE: Pick one expectation you should adjust and make that change.

Latest News on Autism

I thought this post (copied below) was an interesting reflection from parents in the trenches. Lately, there have been several new studies examining causes and correlations of autism, including the link between air pollution and autism. For a parent of a child with autism, this can be equally promising and exhausting, and doesn't take away from the day-to-day challenges and wonders of parenting a child with special needs. Quoted from The Guardian: Last week, Kristina Chew wrote about how she's struggled with whether it's right to support the medical community's efforts to find a cure for autism. We opened up the issues raised Kristina's piece to Guardian readers, and asked parents of autistic children to weigh in on what finding a cure means to them. Nearly 200 parents wrote in with their thoughts and we've published ten responses below.

Jane Daniel, London: 'I'll take the cure, please'

At diagnosis, the paediatrician said, "I'm afraid it's autism," and gave me a leaflet from the National Autistic Society. This pretty much set the tone for our experience with physicians: generally woefully ignorant, and not interested in investigating beyond the diagnosis. The lazy Rain Man references are as insulting as they are dull. Why on earth wouldn't you want to find a cure? There is no hope that my son will ever be able to live independently, and I'm terrified at the prospect of what will happen when I'm no longer around to advocate for him. I'll take the cure, please.

Miriam Cotton, Ireland: 'The concept of a cure is offensive'

My doctors accept my son's condition and don't speak of it as something that can be cured. The concept of a "cure" for autism is as offensive as wanting to cure Down's syndrome. There are therapies and supports that can substantially help the person to mitigate the symptoms of their condition – to develop strategies for living with it optimally – but the condition is there for life. Early diagnosis and help improve a person's capacity for independent living exponentially. It's the same for ever disability, of course, and yet our governments steadfastly refuse to confront this fact.

Dave Korpi, Oregon, US: 'I would love a remedy as much as a cure'

I don't feel like autism is as much of a stigma as it used to be. On the other hand, the US media sends mixed messages about why autism rates are rising; the CDC attributes it to better diagnostics, which is laughable. I would love to have a remedy that would lessen the intensity of the symptoms, as much as a cure. My son is brilliant in some areas, infantile in others, and non-verbal. Trying to develop independent living skills is woefully not enough, but it's better than no strategy, or warehousing, which is still commonplace.

Gordon Darroch, Scotland: 'The idea of a cure is meaningless'

The doctor has had very little input into the lives of either of my two autistic children, mainly because they aren't taking medication. Speech and language therapists, educational psychologists, child psychologists, paediatricians, schoolteachers, music therapists, respite care workers and social workers have got most of the bases covered. I find the idea of a cure meaningless. I want my children to acquire skills that let them get on in life and become happy, sociable, thoughtful, considerate people, but they'll always be autistic. If I'd been able to prevent them being born with autism I would have done so, but dwelling on that notion is just denying the reality of the situation they're in. They need practical help and therapeutic support now, not the dubious benefits of a miracle pill at some point in the future.

Leila Couceiro, California, US: 'I still have hope'

The researcher who works on new medications is not the same person who will think about smarter ways to include and support the adult autistic population. My child is only nine years old, so I still have hope that a new drug to lessen his symptoms will be discovered in his lifetime. And at the same time, not a day goes by without my worrying about his adulthood after I'm no longer alive and able to make sure he's safe.

Rob Gentles, Ottawa, Canada: 'I would jump for joy, but I am doubtful'

For my family, we just need help getting Alex as independent as he can be. I fear for Alex once we are gone. I hope that he will be able to advocate for his own needs. I hope that there will be good people who will help him look after himself. We will do what we can to save money for him now, but we are not rich and we can't predict the future. I would jump for joy if there were a cure, but I doubt there will be one. Whatever the cause of autism, it has probably been with us for a long time.

Tara Hughes, United Kingdom: 'There is nothing "wrong" with me'

I'm autistic. I frequently despair at the coverage of autism in the media. I do not "suffer" with autism. I don't need or want fixing or a cure. Equating autism with cancer is extremely offensive. I don't need curing. I'm autistic; I have a different operating system that's all. I'm not "less than" the majority who run on a different distribution. Some things I can do really well, and some things are harder and I might sometimes need help. Reasonable adjustments, anyone? Autism is not an illness. It's a way of being. It's the way I am. There's nothing "wrong" with me.

Sherry Nelson, New Jersey, US: 'A cure would mean everything to us'

My son is ten. When he was little, it was all about ABA therapy. The hope that he could learn to communicate and function normally was alive and well for a while. A cure would mean everything to our family. Our son is so sweet, happy and loving. But he can't tell us his most basic needs. He can't tell us he is hungry, or thirsty or sick. You can get through the day and make sure he eats and drinks enough, but when he is sick, it is so hard. You are guessing half of the time, trying to help him get better. That is when being his mom just breaks my heart.

Yakoub Islam, Greece: 'We need to maintain the funding'

My son starting taking small doses of Risperidone at age 16 (he's now 20), to help manage his challenging behaviours, which had become more destructive during his adolescence. The medication was effective, as part of an overall programme of behaviour management. We would never have managed him living at home until he was 19 if I had not trained as a special needs (autism) teacher, shortly after he was diagnosed at three. My concern is that my son's specialist autism care placement continues to be fully funded. It sickens me that so-called austerity measures are targeting some of our nation's most vulnerable people.

Michelle, Canada: 'Support is what we need'

My boys don't need a cure – they are not diseased. They were born with autism: intervention was needed as early as the first three months of their lives. To "cure" my kids, I'd be wishing my sons would be different kids than they are today. Support is what we need, not the insulting idea that our kids are suffering from a disease.

Surviving Arsenic Hour

This is a pretty spot-on post (see Dr. Laura Markham Surviving Arsenic Hour) for us these days.  Either my husband or I swoop in to relieve the nanny at... just about dinnertime.  I'm all about adding some focused structure and thought to the time of day that hollers for peace. My 15-month-old is ready for cuddles and food, so I've taken to strapping her in the Ergo carrier while I prep.  My preschooler has questions and afternoon recaps to share, so there is constant chatter.

I usually haven't used the restroom in several hours, my husband is still dressed in his work attire, and the dog is greeting us with her normal barks and booty-wags (she is a tail-less Aussie).

Basically, it's chaos.  On a good day: happy, fun, excited chaos.  On a bad day: Pour the wine, and get ready for arsenic hour!

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