Running on Highways

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Avoiding Meltdowns

Self-Soothing Strategies

Behavior Strategies

Anxiety Management

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

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Pack Your Bags!

Traveling with the kiddos…

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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Want to go on a bike ride?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Tips for the Weary Mom

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching the Door Close Behind Them

A Reflection for a New Year

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

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

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

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!