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?

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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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.

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!

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.

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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Anger Management

Everyone experiences anger and frustration. How we handle it depends on how we've developed our coping strategies.  Many adults don't handle anger in a mature way, which makes it even more difficult for us to demand that our children do the same.

We want our kids to advocate for themselves, to assert themselves, and to challenge the status quo.  As we guide them through their anger at home, we help them to assert themselves positively and independently.  Give them words for their emotions, and help them regulate their own behavior.

For tips on self-soothing, see my post here.

For other regulation strategies, click here.

 

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Nature Inspires Wonder

We just got back from a day trip hiking the beautiful Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. I mentioned on my Facebook page how my 3-yr-old chatted the entire way up (probably because my husband and I were busy huffing and puffing with the kids on our backs!) I'm always amazed by the magnificence of nature and how it lets us just "be" with each other. My children had our undivided attention, and the family bonding and communication time was wonderful.

A walk with your child may be just the thing needed for them to open up about their behavior, for them to tell you what's going right or wrong in their day, and provides endless fodder for a toddler learning new words ("bird!" "tree... Green tree!" "Plane... Flying fast... Woosh!")

Studies have shown the outdoors serves as a calming environment for children with attention difficulties, and even the most reticent adolescent will open up during a walk. Take a moment for yourself, as well, and enjoy.

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Tips to Quit

Convinced of the negative cognitive impact (see: attention difficulties, underdeveloped language systems, social communication difficulties, behavior challenges, limited abstract thinking...) of too much screen time? Where's a parent to start? I thought I'd follow up on my last post about Screen Time with a few practical tips for decreasing your child's screen time. I'll focus here on children up to 5th grade, with a follow-up for older students later.

(As my friend Kathleen and I joked the other day, you have a pass if you have a newborn in the house and are desperately trying to sink into a new family routine with siblings. You also have a pass if your child is sick. While nothing is better than being cuddled and read to all day, I understand you have other things to attend to! A favorite movie or show can do wonders to soothe feverish kiddos.)

As parents, we have to teach our children how to down-regulate to soothe themselves and get relaxation time. We want to end up with adults who are comfortable with their own thoughts and energy. Here are a few helpful ideas that have worked in my practice and in my own home:

If your child is 0-2 years old:

1. No screen time. Just turn it off. Put the remote controls out of sight, hide the iPad, and keep your phone in your purse. During this age range, it comes down to parent discipline. They don't need it, and they won't want it later if you start the good habits now.

If your child is 2-5:

2. Remember the power of distraction. Again, just turn it off. Keep the devices out of sight, and use the power of distraction ("Hey, let's read this good book!") to redirect attention when they start requesting (whining *cough*) for it.

3. Have other options for "down time" available. Books, books, books. The families that are most successful at this step have books, magazines, newspapers, postcards and letters available for their children in every room of the house. Also place out dolls, trains, play dishes ~ whatever their fancy for imaginative and pretend play.

4. Put on music to fill their auditory space. You can also start introducing books on tape or podcasts if they are having difficulty leaving the technology behind. This step works well for parents who need the time for themselves to accomplish something.

5. Ask them to help. I know, believe me, how much faster chores go when you can do them yourself. But a child who is helping around the house is not getting in trouble, is not complaining about being bored, and is getting positive quality time from their parents. And during this age, they like to help! Take advantage of it.

This is an important age for screen time structure. They won't complain for it very often if they aren't used to it. Go cold turkey if you can!

If your child is school-age:

6. Try the tips mentioned above. Set the structure in place, grit your teeth, and repeat the mantra that you are doing what's best for their little minds.

7. Transfer screen time to a task-specific reward, rather than a "down time" activity. After homework completion or chores, say, the reward is 20 minutes (timed on a Time Timer or analogue clock) of iPad time. "Down time" on the weekends or afternoons is time for books, free play, sports, family games, etc., that foster communication and learning. Focus on rewarding a specific task (or positive effort -timed- on homework), rather than good behavior, or the screen time becomes a bribe rather than a reward.

8. Use screen time for research time. Spend some time with your child showing them how to look things up in Wikipedia, Google, or find supporting documentation for a book report. Help them use media as a tool.

9. Model other "down time" activities (like book reading, shooting hoops, etc.) Watch your grownup shows after they go to bed. I love a good Downton Abbey episode, but even that subject matter is too adult for most kids. And the ads on t.v... don't get me started.

10. Go to the game. As one mom put it, if your child doesn't have the attention span to attend a football game, they don't have the attention span to watch it on t.v. Take them with you to the game. Or, if that's not an option, organize a gathering and let the kids play in the garage or outside with their friends while you watch.

It can be done. One family I work with has six children, some with learning challenges, and all with varying temperaments and energy levels. Screen time is just not an option in their house. The computer and iPad are used on occasion for schoolwork, but the calm and steady demeanor of their parents keep these kids learning, creating, and interacting with each other throughout the day. Oh, and did I mention that this mom homeschools? It can be done.

(One last note: Lest you think I blame screen time for all our society's woes, think again. I have two fabulous brother-in-laws who make a living in the video game industry. Their "technology" genius? Being able to communicate ideas clearly and effectively, energize and manage teams of people, and use social and pragmatic language skills to introduce new products. Those skills are acquired through hands-on learning, book reading, and interactions with people. Screen time can serve its place if used effectively, which I will delve into in a future post focused on our middle school and high school students.)

Screen Time... Is it really that bad?

I recently read a couple of blog articles about screen time, and it got me fired up again. As a parent of two young children, I understand reality in a chaotic household and the modern family life. But I feel very strongly that this is an area where even the most well-intentioned parents choose to turn a blind eye. The following article examines the research for young kids (under 2). What I see in my practice are things becoming habit. While it's hard to resist your toddler at age 2, it's even harder to get your middle schooler to put down the iPad or phone. We're not perfect in my own house, but I ask that you take a good look at your child's use of screen time. Here's a link to that article:Screen Time for Kids http://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/music-math-more/how-true-are-our-assumptions-about-screen-time

How True Are Our Assumptions about Screen Time?

By Lisa Guernsey

Video, TV, interactive books, screen-based games: Young children today are practically bathed in this stuff as young as toddlerhood. What is the impact? As a parent who is simultaneously fascinated by and worried about the impact of electronic media on my children─and as a journalist and researcher specializing in education, technology, and social science─I have been digging for answers. Along the way I’ve come upon several research findings that overturn conventional wisdom. Here are five common parental assumptions that the research does not necessarily support.

Assumption 1: As long as the content is “educational,” it’s good for children.

What the research shows: Children don’t always learn what the program creators intend; sometimes they actually learn the opposite.

When I started the research for Screen Time, I expected to find what many of us have been brought up to believe: As long as a program is teaching the children something, as long as it seems to send positive messages, as long as it is produced by an educational station I trust—everything is fine. But I wasn’t prepared for the wide variation among programs that label themselves as “educational.” Many parents wrongly assume that their children will automatically understand what is happening on screen. But the way information is presented can support or get in the way of a child’s ability to comprehend. Simply having characters utter nice new words, for example, doesn’t mean that toddlers or preschoolers will learn what those words mean. A show that has characters pointing to and labeling objects can be a big help, but a show designed by people without a clue about the language development under way among its audience (in my book and presentations I pick on Veggie Tales and Bob the Builder) may not be building language skills at all.

One eye-opening study focused on the program Clifford the Big Red Dog. Researchers (Mares & Acosta 2008) asked whether kindergartners were grasping messages of tolerance and kindness in an episode about a three-legged dog. Although the point of the story was to show that friendship overcomes physical differences, the University of Wisconsin researchers found that children were likely to be more intolerant after watching the show. How could that be? The researchers theorize that the story’s delivery backfired. Because the bulk of the episode was focused on the dog’s physical differences (with only a few minutes at the end dedicated to all the characters joining happily together), children may have been too preoccupied with the dog’s three-leggedness to catch the moral lesson. The designers of the show didn’t seem to recognize how kindergarteners interpret, recall, and learn from what they see.

Assumption 2: The TV may be on in the background, but my children aren’t affected.

What the research shows: The TV shows in the background may be impacting your child more than you think.

Nearly 40 percent of families with children up to 4 years old have the television on most or all of the time (Rideout, Hamel, & the Kaiser Family Foundation 2006). When my daughter was 1, I remember thinking that it didn’t matter whether the television was on or not. Look, I would tell myself proudly, she barely notices. She’s not lured in the least. But once I delved into the research, I learned that even if young children don’t seem to be paying attention to it, background television can have a more negative influence than one might think.

Some of the most potent research on background TV comes from a series of experiments in a lab at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (Schmidt et al. 2008). The lab was set up to look like a living room, with toys, a TV, a couch, a coffee table, and some magazines. Mothers brought their 1-, 2- and 3-year-old children to that room, where for 30 minutes of their visit the TV was on. For another 30 minutes, it was off. Careful observation of the children in these experiments showed a significant difference between the way children played with their toys in each condition. When the TV was on, children bopped from toy to toy, spending significantly less time with one toy than when the TV was off. Even when they weren’t looking at the TV, and most children in this study weren’t, it seemed as if something was distracting them. The background TV, whether it was the noise or the flash of images, was interfering with their play.

University of Massachusetts researchers also looked at how parents’ interactions with their children differed under TV-on and TV-off conditions. They found that when the TV was on, there was a 21 percent decrease in the amount of time that parents spent interacting with their children. And the quality of those interactions (as measured by how actively they played together) decreased too (Kirkorian et al. 2009).

Assumption 3: All media for children under age 2 is damaging.

What the research shows: If parents use media with children under 2, they should make sure that screen time leads to social interactions with their babies and toddlers, instead of replacing those interactions. Parents should avoid exposing their very young children to adult-directed programming.

In 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics reiterated its recommendation discouraging parents from using media with children under 24 months of age. The AAP’s statement cited three reasons: a lack of evidence on children learning from television or video before age 2; a few studies showing a link between the amount of TV that toddlers watch and later attention problems; and some studies pointing to how parents and playtime are affected by always-on TV. From a “do no harm” perspective, AAP’s reliance on this research makes sense, and much of it is based on respectable peer-reviewed work in medicine and health.

But the fact is that many children under 2 do use screen media, so some researchers point to the value of paying attention to how those families select and use that media. Researchers are coming to agree: How parents approach media matters. For example, Alan Mendelsohn, a pediatrician and researcher at New York University, has shown that negative impacts typically associated with television watching can be lessened when parents talk to their babies about what they are seeing on screen (Mendelsohn 2010).

Another way of looking at young children and screens is to explore whether a child might learn from watching or playing with what is on screen. A growing number of studies show that what is on the TV or tablet (the content) can make a big difference. For example, when researchers followed up on their study that originally showed links between television viewing and attention problems, they determined that the content of the programs mattered. When they looked at children under 36 months old who had watched “educational” programming (defined in part by programs that contained no violence), the link to attention problems disappeared (Zimmerman & Christakis 2007).

Also important is how parents manage media use in daily routines and interact with their children before, during, and after they watch and play (the context). The needs of the child have some bearing here too. Even at the same age, children can be very different developmentally. A verbally precocious 21-month-old may be able to learn some words directly from a video while another 21-month-old may not, as was shown in a 2005 study on Teletubbies (Grela, Krcmar & Lin 2004). That study, it should be noted, was conducted in a laboratory and designed to look specifically at whether babies could pick up the meaning of a word when it was connected to a particular object labeled by speakers on screen. As shown in other studies, the way words are used in children’s programming is an important factor in determining whether children will learn them. And a vast collection of findings from other studies makes clear that learning language (not just learning words) is dependent on social interactions between people.

By synthesizing the studies on children’s health, learning, and media interactions, I’ve concluded that we as parents could do the most good for our children by focusing on the three C’s—content, context, and the individual child.

Assumption 4: Scary movies and TV shows just go over children’s heads.

What the research shows: Scary programs influence children’s sleep and more.

In my interviews and conversations with parents, I have come across a fair proportion who don’t worry about showing their preschoolers movies or TV shows that were made for older children and adults. Their children, they say, don’t seem to be bothered by moments of aggression or distressing scenes. And surely they are too young to really understand what they are seeing anyway.

But research on the content of TV and video programs watched by young children suggests that parents may want to pay more attention to what appears on their TV set or tablet after all. A growing number of studies are finding links between children’s cognitive development and “adult-directed television” (think C.S.I., the evening news, or even PG-rated movies that have scary scenes). A study at Georgetown University, for example, gathered data on family media habits and tracked children’s growth over several years (Barr et al. 2010). It found that children who performed poorly on cognitive tests at age 4 were the same children who were put in front of adult-directed TV when they were 1 year old. Poor scores also were linked to the watching of these programs at age 4. One theory is that when watching adult-directed TV, children’s minds are in fact quite busy trying to figure out what is going on, but the scenes and characters are appearing faster than they can fully understand and mentally process given how little background knowledge they have to draw upon.

Research (Garrison & Christakis 2012) reported in the August 2012 issue of Pediatrics highlights another reason to pay attention to content: sleep schedules. Anyone with a young child understands how critical sleep can be—especially for parental sanity—so it’s worth examining whether exposure to violent content could interfere with bedtime and naptime. Using data from a randomized controlled trial with 565 families in Seattle, researchers Michelle Garrison and Dimitri Christakis at the University of Washington examined the impact of a parent-support program intended to help moms and dads choose age-appropriate and nonviolent media for their 3- to 5-year-olds.

The program worked. Sleep problems declined for children of parents assigned to receive the support (coaching and educational materials) compared to those who didn’t. And the support was most effective for families that initially reported watching higher levels of violent media than other participating families. In other words, the mechanism for reducing sleep problems was the reduction in exposure to violent TV.

Assumption 5: E-books are distracting to young children.

What the research shows: It’s all about how they are used.

It’s true that many e-books for children come with so many bells and whistles that children merely click around on the screen without paying much attention to the storyline. It’s also true that some research has uncovered parents’ tendencies to focus on the technology (telling their kids when and where to click) and not the story when reading an e-book with their children. This is leading children to recall very little about what was read. In a small study conducted at Temple University, for example, “behavioral directives went through the roof” while reading comprehension sunk (Parish-Morris, Collins, & Hirsh-Pasek 2006).

But after reading these studies carefully, it becomes clear that at least two factors are at play: the design of the e-books and the behavior of the parents. Tackle these issues, and electronic books could be no different or better than printed books. Some e-book companies, for example, are designing picture e-books to favor highlighted text and engaging storylines over distracting playthings. As e-books become less of a novelty, parents may also become less inclined to order their children around on how to use them. A more positive approach to e-books, however, will require parents and educators to stress the importance of content, context, and the individual child (the Three C’s) in choosing media for our children.

Note: Technology changes quickly. Use the research-based NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center position statement on “Technology and Interactive Media in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8” for guidance on when and how to use technology with young children in ways that will help, not harm. www.naeyc.org/content/technology-and-young-children

References

Barr, R., A. Lauricella, E. Zack, & S. Calvert. 2010. Infant and Early Childhood Exposure to Adult-Directed and Child-Directed Television Programming: Relations with Cognitive Skills at Age Four. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 56 (1): 20-48.

Council on Communication and Media. 2011. Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years. Policy statement. Pediatrics 128 (5). http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/10/12/peds.2011-1753.full.pdf+html

Garrison, M., & D. Christakis. 2012. The Impact of a Healthy Media Use Intervention on Sleep in Preschool Children. Pediatrics 130 (3): 492-99. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/3/492.full.pdf+html

Grela, B.G., M. Krcmar, & Y.J. Lin. 2004, May 18. Can Television Help Toddlers Acquire New Words? www.speechpathology.com/articles/arc_disp.asp?article_id=72&catid=491

Kirkorian, H.L., T.A. Pempek, L.A., Murphy, M.E., Schmidt, & D.R. Anderson. 2009. The Impact of Background Television on Parent-Child Interaction. Child Development 80 (5): 1350-59.

Mares, M.L., & E. Acosta. 2008. Be Kind to Three-legged Dogs: Children’s Literal Interpretations of TV’s Moral Lessons. Media Psychology 11 (3): 377-99. http://commarts.wisc.edu/mares/three-legged-dogs.pdf

Mendelsohn, A.L., C.A. Brockmeyer, B.P. Dreyer, A.H. Fierman, S. Berkule-Silberman, & S. Tomopoulos. 2010. Do Verbal Interactions with Infants during Electronic Media Exposure Mitigate Adverse Impacts on Their Language Development as Toddlers? Infant and Child Development 19: 577-93.

Parish-Morris, J., M.F. Collins, & K. Hirsh-Pasek. 2006. Electronic Books: Boon or Bust for Interactive Reading? Paper presented at Boston University Conference on Language Development, November 3.

Rideout, V., E. Hamel, & the Kaiser Family Foundation. 2006. The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Their Parents. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation. www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/7500.pdf

Schmidt, M.E., T.A. Pempek, H.L. Kirkorian, A.F. Lund, & D.R. Anderson, 2008. The Effects of Background Television on the Toy Play Behavior of Very Young Children. Child Development 79 (4): 1137-1151.

Zimmerman, F.J., & D.A. Christakis. 2007. Associations Between Content Types of Early Media Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems. Pediatrics 120 (5): 986-92.

Lisa Guernsey is the author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media—from Baby Videos to Educational Software—

Affects Your Young Child (Basic Books, 2012).

The A says "ah", the A says "ah"...

This post first appeared on Kids Communicate in early 2010.  Lately, I've been fielding questions at my daughter's preschool about early literacy awareness, and I thought I'd share some ideas here. 

...Every letter makes a sound, the A says "ah"!

One of my favorite topics to talk about with families is early literacy.  When a child first learns to sound out words and discovers the meaning behind the printed letters on a page, a whole new world opens up for them.  There are several components of literacy that a child must learn, including phonological awareness, which is an understanding that letters make sounds and we combine those sounds in various ways to make meaningful words.

Most of you probably read to your children several times a day.  Those reading and snuggling times can be very precious pauses in our otherwise busy lives.  As a child begins to link letters and sounds, I encourage parents to focus on the sounds letters make, rather than the letter names.  Most children in kindergarten enjoy using their whole bodies to learn.  If your 4- , 5-, or 6-year-old is working on associating sounds and letters, try these activities at home:

~Place large foam letters on the ground, maybe 4 or 5 at a time (you can also just draw letters on paper.)  Play some music, and when the music stops, shout out a letter sound (e.g. "Mmm!") and your child can run and stand on the letter (M).  Start with some of the easier letters (B, D, M, T, S, etc.) leaving those tricky ones (vowels, X, Y) for later in the game. Slowly add new letters to the mix.  *To up the ante (and have your child demonstrate mastery) let them be the boss.  When the music is off, they have to shout out the sound of the letter.

~Vowels are some of the trickiest letter sounds to learn.  Make giant (A, E, I, O, U) letters on pieces of printer paper.  Tape them to the wall, turn off the lights, and use a flashlight to "spotlight" the letters.  Have your child shout out the sound of the highlighted letter.  Then try to think of a word that starts with that sound.  FYI: In my experience, E ("eh") is the hardest vowel to master because it has a very neutral position in the mouth!

~Mold your body into a letter shape as you say the sound.  Mold play-doh into a letter shape as you say the sound.  Mold your brother into a letter shape as you say the sound.  Mold the dog... you get the idea.

~Using a "Zoophonics" approach, choose a letter (B), pretend to be an animal (Bear) who says the sound ("Buh!")  You can even give the animal a name ("Betty the Bear says Buh!") and act it out.  (Check out Zoophonics website for actual program: http://www.zoophonics.com/)

As your child begins to link sounds and letters to "decode" a 3-letter word (C-A-T), they will be ready to tackle some basic reading books.  The Bob Books http://www.bobbooks.com/ are great early readers, but they can be kind of boring if read more than once (think black and white stick figures.)  The National Reading Panel recommends reading a book out loud 3 to 9 times to achieve mastery of new words.  With this in mind, my favorite early readers are the "Animal Antics" books by Nora Gaydos.  They will definitely keep even the most active child engaged in reading for the entire story.

For some more tips and book reviews before you head to the library or bookstore, check out: http://litforkids.wordpress.com/blog/

I'm interested to hear from parents out there.  What are some of your kids' favorite early readers?

How About Fall Meltdowns?

Wow, it's been awhile since I posted! The steady days of summer are now gone ~ all too fast, in my opinion. Many of the kids I work with took amazing vacations with their families. Roadtrips across the states, trips to the beach or Hawaii, and even some European vacations. One of my families cashed in Dad's/Mom's sabbatical time and took their two teenage sons around the world. Talk about a great learning experience!The slowdown was great for me, as well, and I spent the extra time with my girls and extended family. Ah...

And then September hit. Oh yes, my last post reflected on the summer meltdown that often occurs for our kids as we transition off a set school schedule and into more unstructured summertime. But there's a reversal to this shift when school comes around again, and the shift can be exhausting for both kids and parents alike. I have heard from so many friends and families about the meltdowns happening after the school day. Our kids can hold it together while at school, but it's very taxing for them! And then we then get home... boom!

A few tips from an SLP perspective: 1. Give your child lots of "down time" on the weekends in September and October. While soccer and pumpkin hunting can often fill the weekend time, it's important that your child has sufficient time to decompress.

2. With that free time, help them schedule it. For example, make a schedule with BREAKFAST-OUTSIDE PLAY-LUNCH-READING-QUIET TIME-CHORES-DINNER so they know what to expect. They will be able to relax into the "known", rather than the "unknown".

3. Set aside time with each child individually. If you need to tag team with your spouse or a grandparent, do it. Arrange for each child to have some quiet alone time, reading, playing a game, or going for a walk with Mom or Dad.

4. Email/chat with your child's teacher. (I know that you are busy, teacher friends!) But check-in, just briefly, with your child's teacher to get a read on how things are going at school. Establish open-lines of communication from the get-go. If your child has a Resource Room teacher or case manager, leave them a message, as well.

5. Know that you'll all get in a groove, it just takes a few weeks. Recognize that back-to-school stress often happens for Mom and Dad (speaking from personal experience here!) and it magnifies what your child is going through.

10 Tips for Avoiding or Decreasing the Summer Meltdown

All kids have meltdowns.   Some kids fly off the handle, and lose the ability to process anything complex (including language!) around them. Other meltdowns may appear mild to the outsider, but to mom or dad are distressing. Some kids go through phases of extreme meltdowns, followed by periods of relatively few disasters.  But all kids have them.

Where does language fit into this?

When your child is overloaded, the first thing to go are the higher cognitive processes (like language and executive functioning/problem-solving abilities).  This means that your child is going to have a much harder time understanding what you are telling them, using words to express themselves, or problem-solve to come up with a solution.  So, not only is your child tired, hungry, or on sensory overload, but they have even fewer coping strategies than pre-meltdown.

It's a signal to reset and recharge.  Just like adults, kids get overloaded, overwhelmed, and over-tired. Dealing with stressors is natural part of life, and we can teach our children positive ways to handle them. We can also be on the lookout for times when we can avoid or decrease the meltdown, both in frequency and intensity.

Here are 10 ways to avoid or decrease these meltdowns in your child:

1) Eat healthy.  Avoid high sugar and salt in your child's diet.  We have heard about the ups and downs that come from a sugar rush.  Be very aware of what you are having your child put in his body.  It is as powerful as medicine!

2) Run one or two errands at a time. For the sake of efficiency, I always want to try to group my errands into one big blast of shopping mayhem.  But most children under 5 can only handle about two stops before needing a break.  Many children get sensory overload from shopping malls and grocery stores.  Try and recognize their need to take a break.

3) Use positive reinforcement. When your child is doing a good job of managing a tiring situation, build them up. Let them know that you recognize their perseverance. I try to recite the mantra in my head: "Ten praises for every one criticism."

4) Get  regular exercise.  Like food, exercise is medicine for the body.  It will help your child regulate their emotions and behavior.  It will also help them decompress.  In my neighborhood, it is common to see entire families out for a walk in the evening.  It's a great way to de-stress for kids and for parents.

5) Establish a soothing, quiet space where your child can be alone. A calm space can be a bedroom, a special place in the backyard, or even a space in a closet.  Depending on your child's needs, make this a serene environment by using cool colors, comforting textures, and quiet. (For your child, "quiet" might be total silence, white noise from a fan, or soothing music.)

6) Maintain a routine. Meltdowns can often be a signal that your child is getting overwhelmed by choices or uncertainty.  A regular set of expectations can provide the structure to get back on track.

7) Get enough sleep. It's hard in the summertime to get your children to bed on time!  It's still light outside when my daughters head to bed in the Pacific NW. Blinds and blackout curtains can help with this, and a fan for white noise (to drown out the high school students down the road!) can help your child drift off to sleep.  Again, it goes back to routine, and sleep is a large part of your daily schedule.

8) Use signs, gestures, and facial expression to communicate with your child.  When your child is on the precipice of a meltdown, it's time to scale your language way back. Try leading your child to a quiet corner, get down to their eye level, and use as few words as possible to bring them back around.  Your eyes and smile can speak more than a thousand words, and chances are, your child will be better able to process the feeling of warmth and understanding rather than your words.

9) Give your child an outlet for their energy. Summer is a great time for playing in the pool, running through the sprinklers, shrieking and letting loose. Make sure your child has access daily to such freeing pursuits.

10) Prep your child ahead of time on what to expect, and recap afterwards on how they handled the situation.  You can build your child's language around a situation.  In the heat of the moment, during a meltdown, your child may not be able to use their words to express themselves.  Helping them decompress at a later time can also help them build language scripts to problem-solve during tricky situations.  Give them some strategies on what to do during a stressful time.  For example: "I could tell you were really tired at the grocery store this morning.  You did a great job of breathing slowly and asking Mom for a snack to get through it.  I liked how you used your words ~ 'Hey Mom, I'm feeling tired!' ~ to tell Mom how you were feeling."  Help them identify their emotions (frustration, anger, etc.) so they can better use language to manage the situation.

One last note...

Don't forget, you are their model!  How you manage your meltdowns can be helpful to your child.  "Mommy needs to take a break because she is getting frustrated." Identify your emotions verbally so that your child can learn to map language onto what they feel.

Summertime, and when to take a break...

After a couple of conversations with the parents of a now-9th-grader (get ready high school!), it was decided that he should take a break from services for the summer and tackle summer on his own. Many of the students I serve have received therapy services for most of their childhood.  Some are on-again, off-again services.  Some students have transitioned from early intervention services to specific intensive services within the fields of occupational therapy, psychology, speech-language pathology... you name it, these kids (and families!) have sacrificed many hours to intervention. As a parent, how do you know if it's time to take a break?  Some summer backsliding occurs for almost all kids, regardless of their outside support.  But there are also areas of positive growth ~ from exploring during free play, to reading books of their choice, to helping out at summer camp.

It's hard to do as a parent of a special-needs child.  To say "buh-bye" to the support for a few months and let your child have a break.  But honestly, it's sometimes the best thing for both your child and the professionals in their care.  Having a break allows for all to reinvigorate for the fall.  It allows your child to just "be", to not focus on "what's wrong", but on "what can we do today?"

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You know your child the best.  I try to challenge my students.  I try to push them just a little bit harder than their other teachers or parents might push them.  I try to increase their resiliency bit by bit throughout the year. And I love seeing their confidence and perseverance grow as a result.  But just like adults, children need to work towards something.  Knowing that hard work will be rewarded with a vacation at the end of the summer.  Knowing that they have two weeks off to just play. Whatever it is, make sure you help your child work towards that "break".  A time without focusing on therapy appointments. You need it, too!

Just another day in the life...

I thought it was time for an update from the home front. I've written before here about when my first daughter hit the Walkie-Talkie stage.  My little Walkie-Talkie spends her playtime immersed in imaginative fairyland, complete with characters and drama.  Most naptimes have turned to "quiet time" at our house, and while she is in her room the stories really run wild.  She sings songs to her animals, talks to her dolls, creates elaborate stories to tell herself, and in general has a fine time high in her tower waiting for her prince (or mommy to come and tell her quiet time is over). I keep meaning to put a tape recorder in her room to hear exactly what she is saying, but what I can glean from my eavesdropping makes me laugh, and amazes me. Kids say the darndest things! This imaginative play has done wonders for my sanity, as I get a few moments every day to sit back and let her daydreams run wild.  I've written before about the power of free play, and I am even more of a believer as I raise my own kids.

Our newest addition, the "Roly-Poly", is already five-months-old!  Her coos and gurgles have turned to bird-of-prey-style squawks, followed by big smiles and sparkling eyes to get our attention. From my "speechie" lens I'm always amazed by how quickly babies can change from day-to-day.  I've written before about baby signing here, and my husband and I are starting to use signs with our Roly-Poly, especially when she fusses, in an effort to show her that she can communicate a specific need or want. The circles of communication come so naturally to many babies - it makes me appreciate even more the parents who have to work extra hard for their child's attention.  Communication is such a vital part of our lives, even from this age humans seek out and reinforce those interactions.  The Roly-Poly also likes to make those flirty eyes at 2:30am when I finally drag myself out of dreamland and stumble into her room.  That little girl know how to get her need met and keep everyone loving her to bunches.

Some of you may remember our family's big experiment where we cancelled cable for 8 months.  It actually was a pretty easy switch, since we didn't spend much time watching it normally.  I wanted to see if, as a family, we could stomach what I try to encourage many of my clients to do: significantly reduce our screen time. I have seen children for therapy who spend 3-4 hours every day in front of the t.v., and another couple of hours on the computer.  Seven hours in front of a screen is no good.  When we are focusing on self-soothing, increasing social communication, and exploring pretend play, screen time runs counter to what we are trying to accomplish.

I check my computer or iPad several times a day, and the iPhone has been my sanity while spending countless hours breastfeeding, so I didn't focus on our overall "screen time".  I'll be the first to admit, that "window" to the outside world would be very difficult for me to totally eliminate.  Our Walkie-Talkie only uses the iPad on rare occasions, so our focus turned to the television.  We canceled the cable, caught a few shows on basic cable, but didn't really miss the tube during our busy days.

But then the Oregon Duck football season started.  Needless to say, in order to get his sports fix, my husband asked for the cable back. We'd already gotten in a nice rhythm of not watching television, and our oldest daughter didn't expect it as part of her day, so we turned the cable back on.  Realistically, I'd say we currently catch about 3-4 hours of grownup shows a week (mostly On-Demand, I hate commercials!), a couple of hours of sports, and my daughter watches about 1 hour per week. Her favorite shows (again, On-Demand usually) are the Super Why! super reader shows, and Angelina Ballerina. We've established that it is a special, irregular treat, so she doesn't expect it every day. Now, don't get me wrong. I understand that as parents we are often on our last strands of patience, and the television can be a sanity saver. Some children are very high-energy and need some forced down time. In my opinion, however, what is important is to continue to practice having your child entertain themselves, because it's the only way they will learn to regulate their behavior, play through boredom, and explore some of their deeper cognitive capacities.

With that, I'll leave you with this little tidbit from the Walkie-Talkie tonight: "When you go to bed, you rest your body and your hair... AND your brain!"