Raising a “Quirky” Child

5 Tips for Raising a Quirky Child

While we want to celebrate what makes each child unique, there are times when we see our children standing out from the crowd and we worry they are standing alone. Our hearts ache when we see our children left out of play, gossiped about, or ostracized from the group because of the little quirks that make their personality their own.

As a parent, there is a fine balance between allowing our little quirky child to brave his own path, and helping him learn and understand the way people interact, why they act a certain way, and how we may better “fit in” at certain times. This is learning that is ongoing, as our quirky kids will experience new situations throughout their lifetimes. But as parents, we can often be by their side, helping them navigate the nuances of the social world.

20130829-200426.jpg1. Practice entering into a conversation or play scenario. Initiating a conversation with another child gets trickier the older your child gets. It’s often hard for a child to come up with a way to enter play. At your child’s level, role play some ways to join a conversation. Hi there… I love Legos, especially Star Wars ones! Can I play, too? Practice together, then let your child practice with another parent or sibling.

2. Be straightforward and matter-of-fact about social rules. After you witness an awkward encounter, talk with your child about appropriate ways of interacting. It’s great to say hello and smile when we see our friends, Aidan. We don’t want to hug or kiss them, though, because we need to respect their space. We save our kisses for Mom and Dad.

3. When you know a tricky situation is coming up, prep your child ahead of time. Give them some strategies on how to interact. It’ll be fun to see your friends on the soccer field, Sarah. Let’s smile and say “hi” when we get there.

4. Problem-solve with your child. From problem behaviors to extreme anxiety, the best solutions usually come from letting your child have their own voice. If they are part of the brainstorming, they will be that much more vested in a solution.

5. Give them a chance to express shyness or anxiety in a loving environment.  Everyone gets stressed or anxious by tricky situations. Let them know that you are there for them and will try to help them if they have a question.

Your child’s quirks may one day reveal themselves to be his strengths and individual glory. Celebrate him, support him, and love him for his gift to the world.

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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”

 

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.

Anxiety: When is it too much?

“I’m late, mom. I’m late! I can’t be late! I have a test… We have to go… NOW!” A moderate amount of anxiety in kids is actually normal, and helps them show up and achieve at school. A little bit of anxiety will help your child study for the next test, hoping to do well. It will get them pumped up for their next big game, help them get all their homework in their backpack, and keep them trying their best. Most high-achievers have learned to harness their anxiety and use it for their benefit, all the way into adulthood.

But when anxiety starts to cause negative behaviors, avoidance, and fear, it turns into a maladaptive force for your child. (A mental health professional would look at the intensity of your child’s distress, the impact on how they are functioning, and the duration of their fears to determine an underlying anxiety disorder.) I’ve worked with children who run away from situations, who refuse to speak to their teachers, who push and shove and mouth off, all resulting from underlying anxiety.

Parents see physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches, occurring frequently. Oftentimes there are negative behaviors, like tantrums and avoidance, which occur at home or on the way to school. Social settings may cause your child significant stress, if they are having difficulty processing the complex relationships of their peers.

If your child is having excessive worry, trouble with uncertainty, and extreme emotions associated with an event, there are some things you can do at home to help alleviate their worries.

1. When children are uncertain, give them choices rather than deciding for them.

“I know Joe’s birthday party sounds overwhelming, but he invited your because he is your friend. Should we try to go for a little bit? How long?”

 

2. Allow children to struggle, make mistakes and learn by trial and error vs. taking over

“I know you were worried about that science test, so you stayed up really late studying. But this morning you seemed extra tired. What’s your game plan for the next science test?”

 

3. Label and accept your child’s emotional response rather than criticizing them

“I can see that this is making you worry. You yelled at your sister earlier, and now you’re being short with me. It’s really hard to give a report in front of the whole class.”

 

4. Promote your child’s development of creative self-help strategies

“Let’s use your three “calm” strategies before we work on this presentation anymore.”

Calming strategies can be anything that works for your child. For example:

*Deep, long breathing (have your child lie on the floor with a book on their belly and try to “push” the book up with each breath”)

*Visual imagery (take a “special journey” to a favorite place by talking about what you see, hear, and feel)

*Give a concrete name to their anxiety (e.g. “The Dragon”) and help them “fight back” mentally to beat their enemy. From “The Anxiety Cure for Kids: A Guide for Parents: “Anxiety is like an imaginary Dragon in your head. The dragon seems to be really scary. You can learn to tame the dragon with help from the Wizard you also have in your own head. The Wizard will teach you powerful magic to tame the anxiety Dragon.”

 

5. Attend to “brave behaviors” and ignore anxious behaviors (crying, frequent questions.)

“That’s good breathing. You are being so brave.”

 

If your child is having heightened levels of anxiety which are negatively affecting their life, it is wise to consult with your pediatrician. Most children do not grow out of untreated anxiety, so the earlier it is treated, the better the prognosis. A therapist can also help educate you in home strategies to make your daily interactions more positive and reassuring for your child.

Breathing through the behavior…

I’ve been working with one of my middle school students on recognizing when he’s about to have a meltdown and helping him take the steps to alleviate his stress. He’s been working on it for several years now, every since 4th grade meltdowns would leave him inconsolable and violent. Back then, he just couldn’t process what was happening around him quickly, and the language load of a teacher giving him instruction and discipline was too much. Slowly, though, we’ve been able to help him take control of his own impending meltdowns. He has learned to breathe, take breaks and remove himself from the situation, and come back and use some language to work through the process.
Even parents and professionals working with kids need to remind themselves to breathe sometimes. How we model this for our kids during stressful situations can go a long way towards helping them learn the strategies in their own life.
Take a look at this article about the benefits of teaching kids how to relaxhere… We all could use a little breathing time, no?

What’s an Aspergirl?

When they hear the term “Asperger’s Syndrome”, many people picture a male with eccentricities, sensory sensitivities, poor social skills, and areas of giftedness or hyperfocus.  “Aspergirls” – the term made popular by Rudy Simone, an adult female with Aspergers – highlights the subculture of females with Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as the unique characteristics displayed by female “Aspies”.  One of my favorite, original “Aspergirls” is Dr. Temple Grandin, who has done wonders for the subculture of Aspergirls by sharing her frank and honest personal experiences with the world.

Young females with Asperger’s Syndrome are often overlooked in the early years and do not receive a diagnosis until their teens or beyond.  They are often shy, introverted, and bookish, characteristics which are more socially acceptable in females than in their male counterparts.  Aspergirls usually have areas of strong interest, like males, but again these often manifest themselves in more socially acceptable ways, such as having an interest in fairytales, horses, or art.

The lack of a diagnosis, however, means these girls are often dealing on their own with sensory overload, social confusion, and feelings of insecurity and frustration.  As Rudy writes in her book “Aspergirls”: “If there is no diagnosis then there is a vacuum – a hole in which to pour speculation and fill with labels.”  With diagnosis comes support -whether from therapist and professionals, within an IEP program at school, or from support groups with like-minded girls and families.

I highly recommend reading “Aspergirls” by Rudy Simone if you would like more information about your child or children you work with.  The book was frank and blunt, and Rudy gives practical advice to young girls, women, and their parents.  If your daughter exhibits characteristics of an “Aspergirl”, there are many things you can do at home.

1. Praise and encourage.  Aspergirls are often very emotionally vulnerable, and they need heaps of positive reinforcement.

2. Seek out information online.  Resources like Rudy Simone’s website: www.help4aspergers.com and www.aspie.com offer a lot of helpful information.

3. Find a support group in the area.  Social skills groups run by speech-language pathologists work on pragmatic language skills and peer relationships.  Two groups I know about in the Portland area include: www.artzcenter.org and www.campyakketyyak.org

4. Support your child’s areas of strength.  Those are the areas where they will shine.  As Rudy wrote: “Life is about making a contribution, not about being popular and fitting in.”

5. Create a soothing, quiet environment in your child’s room at home.  Soft music, comfortable pillows, and soft lighting help ease the sensory overload.

6. Help your child maintain a healthy diet and get exercise.  These can help with intestinal issues and alleviate depression and anxiety.  You want to help teach your child what they need to manage their Asperger’s.

7. Love your child for who they are.  You can support them and guide them, but you can’t change them. Forcing them to be someone different will only result in hurt, loss, and alienation as they grow older.  Help them fit the pieces of their life together.

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And breathe…

I had a great morning yesterday at my MOPS meeting.  (MOPS stands for Moms of Preschoolers, and they have chapters all over the country.)  The meetings are a wonderful time in my otherwise busy week to pause, reflect on my parenting, gab with other moms, and hear some interesting speakers.

Yesterday was a “lovefest” in honor of Valentine’s Day.  The speaker, Dr. Steve Stephens http://www.drstevestephens.com/ , spoke on marriage and relationships.  What stuck in my mind was his comment that the stress and anxiety in a home is often heightened or determined by the parents, and kids pick up on their parent’s anxiety.  It makes sense, when my life is busy and chaotic, taking the time to keep home calm and reassuring for my daughter is an uphill battle.  Most moms I know are busy doing millions of things ~ working, raising a child or children, volunteering, organizing events and activities (those MOPS meetings are organized by wonderful volunteers!), and keeping the household running.  For our generation, Dads are there, too ~ helping with the kids, keeping their own business going, cleaning toilets (thanks, honey!)

It is during these busy times, however, that we have to try to remember to slow down and keep our children apprised of what’s going on.  I work with many older children who have anxiety disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Over time, their uncertainty of the world has led them to hold on to whatever they can control.  The uncertainty of the day or the challenges they may face create a significant level of stress inside their little bodies, and they often show “fight or flight” behaviors as a result (hitting others, running out of the room, etc.)

Some recommendations I make for families are geared toward helping their child understand the flow of the day or week.  With calendars or pictures we can help them anticipate the unknown ~ what’s coming next, what that day or the next holds ~ and hopefully help alleviate some of the stress or worry that comes from mom and dad rushing around.  Keeping their environment and their routine structured, predictable, and safe (think calm bathtime/bedtime routine!) allows children to have some control over this big world they are a part of.  For children who have difficulty with transitions, some prep time can be helpful (e.g. “Honey, in five minutes we are going to pick up our toys and get ready for bathtime.)  Reviewing the day’s events, besides helping with retell skills, allows children to decompress from their day. 

Keeping ourselves as parents in check is also important.  Finding healthy ways to decompress and keep stress out of our home will keep our child’s environment a safe and nurturing place.  A good friend once told me that on the way home from work she will drive around the block until she is ready to enter the house.  She will let the day go while circling her neighborhood, so that when she opens that front door, she is centered and ready to be present for her children and her husband.  Just a few deep breaths as she gets out of her car and she let’s it all go.  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?