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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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.

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!

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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