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?

 

Thoreau

 

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.

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!

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.)

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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Be Kind to Your Child

I thought this was a great post floating around the internet last week.  100 different ways to be kind to your child.  Check it out here:  www.creativewithkids.com

Be Kind to Your Child

Tell to your child:

1. I love you.
2. love you no matter what.
3. I love you even when you are angry at me.
4. I love you even when I am angry with you.
5. I love you when you are far way.  My love for you can reach you wherever you are.
6. If I could pick any 4 year old (5 year old, 6 year old…) in the whole wide world, I’d pick you.
7. I love you to the moon and then around the stars and back again.
8. Thank you.
9. I enjoyed playing with you today.
10. My favorite part of the day was when I was with you and we were _______.

Tell them:
11. The story of their birth or adoption.
12. About how you cuddled them when they were a baby.
13. The story of how you chose their name.
14. A story about yourself when you were their age.
15. A story about how their grandparents met.
16. What your favorite color is.
17. That sometimes you struggle too.
18. That when you’re holding hands and you give three squeezes, it’s a secret code that means, “I love you”.
19. What the plan is.
20. What you’re doing right now.

Play:
21. Freeze Tag
22. Uno
23. Crazy 8s
24. Gin Rummy
25. Memory
26. Go Fish
27. I Spy- especially when you’re tired of driving and feel snappish
28. Catch

Pretend:
29. To catch their kiss and put it on your cheek.
30. That their tickle tank is empty and you have to fill it.
31. That their high five is so powerful it nearly knocks you over.
32. That you are super ticklish.
33. That you are explorers in the amazing new world of your backyard.
34. That it’s party day!  Decorate for no reason!

Try:
35. To get enough sleep.
36. To drink enough water.
37. To eat decent food.
38. Wearing earrings, or whatever makes you feel pretty.
39. Calling a friend the next time you feel like you are about to lose it with the kids.
40. Giving a gentle touch to show approval, rather than saying something.
41. Dancing in the kitchen.
42. To get your kids to bop to the music with you in the car.
43. Showing your kids that you can do a somersault or handstand or a cartwheel.
44. Keeping that sigh to yourself.  Just jump in and help clean up cheerfully.
45. Using a kind voice, even if you have to fake it.

Read:
46. A book of silly poems.
47. A book and then act it out. (Like “I’m going on a Bear Hunt”)
48. Your favorite childhood book to them.
49. When the afternoon is starting to go astray.
50. Outside under a tree.
51. In the library kids corner.
52. The comic book they love that you’re not so hot on.
53. About age appropriate behavior so you can keep your expectations realistic.

Listen:
54. To your child in the car.
55. To that Lego description, and think how important it is to your child.
56. For that question that indicates your child really needs your input.
57. One second longer than you think you have patience for.
58. For the feelings behind your child’s words.

Ask:
59. Why do you think that happens?
60. What do you think would happen if______?
61. How shall we find out?
62. What are you thinking about?
63. What was your favorite part of the day?
64. What do you think this tastes like?

Show:
65. Your child how to do something instead of banning them from it.
66. How to whistle with a blade of grass.
67. How to shuffle cards- make a bridge if you can!
68. How to cut food.
69. How to fold laundry.
70. How to look up information when you don’t know the answer.
71. Affection to your spouse.
72. That taking care of yourself is important.

Take Time:
73. To watch construction sites.
74. To look at the birds.
75. To allow your child to help you dump ingredients in the bowl.
76. To walk places together.
77. To dig in the dirt together.
78. To do a task at your child’s pace.
79. To just sit with you child while they play.

Trust:
80. That your child is capable.
81. That you are the right parent for your child.
82. That you are enough.
83. That you can do what is right for your family.

Delight your child:
84. Clean your child’s room as a surprise.
85. Put chocolate chips in the pancakes.
86. Put a love note in their lunch.
87. Make their snack into a smile face shape.
88. Make sounds effects while you help them do something.
89. Sit on the floor with them to play.

Let Go:
90. Of the guilt.
91. Of how you thought it was going to be.
92. Of your need to be right.

Give:
93. A look with Kind Eyes to your child.
94. A smile when your child walks into the room.
95. A kind touch back when your child touches you.
96. The chance to connect before you correct so that your child can actually hear your words.
97. Your child a chance to work out their frustrations before helping them.
98. A bath when the day feels long.
99. A hug.
100. You get to choose the next one!  What is your favorite way to be kind to your child?

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Modeling and Expanding Language in Toddlers and Preschoolers

A large part of my job entails some sort of parent training.  Many parents are “speech-language pathologists” in the making, they just don’t know it.  All parents are their child’s teacher and coach, and with a little guidance from a skilled clinician, can learn what to look for when working with their child.

Today I’m writing about toddlers and preschoolers who are slow to develop language.  (Click Speech and Language Milestones for a list.)  I’ve written before about waiting and listening to your child to give them enough time to communicate.  Five seconds of wait time is the unwritten rule when waiting for your child to respond, which can seem like an ETERNITY when you are trying to get out the door.  (Click here for that post: Walkie Talkie)

The type of language you use can have a large impact on your child’s understanding and use of language.  Using language that is directly related to what your child is doing can enhance your child’s understanding of the message.

1. Simplify your language.  Use language that is slightly more complex than your child uses.

2.  Speak slowly.  As adults, we tend to speak too fast for our little munchkins.  Slow it down.

3. Stress important words.

4. Be repetitive.  As I wrote about before, routines are one of the best ways to use the same language over and over.

5. Gesture.  Point to what you are talking about.  Hold the toy up by your mouth and reference it with your eyes.

6. Use a variety of words.  When you’re helping your child express herself, it’s natural to tell her the names of things.  Besides names, however, include words that describe (soft, big, all gone), action words (sleep, eat, hug), words for feelings (happy, sad, tired), location words (up, down, under), social words (night-night, bye-bye), words that express belonging (my, Mommy’s), and question words (what, where).

It is important to feel comfortable and knowledgeable when communicating with your child, even if they are experiencing delays.  Many speech-language pathologists who work with children specialize in parent training as part of their intervention.  Early intervention programs, such as the Hanen “It Takes Two to Talk” are available for parents who want to hone their “speech-language-pathologist-in-training” skills.  Your child’s pediatrician should know a few clinics to point you in the right direction, as well.  The American Speech and Hearing Association (www.asha.org) has links to clinicians and programs across the country.  It is a great place to start if you are looking for more information!

Baby Sign ~ To sign or not to sign?

In my opinion?  Go ahead and sign.  It doesn’t take much time or effort for moms, dads, grandparents, and siblings to learn 10-20 basic signs, and the benefits can be endless.  For one thing, you can have a head start on helping your child communicate their wants and needs before speech development has caught up to their ideas.  If your child ends up having language delays, you will have set the foundation for communication, regardless of their current developmental level.

Some signs we used with our daughter:

  1. more
  2. bottle/milk
  3. water
  4. book
  5. read
  6. eat
  7. drink  (I love throwing some verbs in there since we spend so much time introducing our children to nouns)

8. finished/all done

 9. please (another way to request and paves the way for two-word combos “water please”)

10. thank you (can close a circle of communication, and acknowledges that the intended message was received)

11. play

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World Read Aloud Day

Wednesday is World Read Aloud Day!  Try setting aside some extra time to read your child’s favorite books.  After all, you’re doing great things for their language skills when you read aloud to them.

Research has shown that children who are read to regularly and frequently before they begin school have better oral language skills than those children who are not read to.  When a child listens to stories and discusses them with an interested adult, they develop knowledge about the world and understand words and concepts that cannot be learned easily from casual conversation.

Although you may get tired of reading that same book over and over, your child benefits from hearing the language over and over.  And don’t just read the book, give it all you’ve got.  It’s your time to perform ~ be dramatic and animated and look excitedUse different voices, create characters, get your child involved in making sound effects, and model how to ask questions about what is happening.

What are your favorite family books to share?  Tell us which ones capture your child’s attention the most!

The Big Experiment

In an effort to simplify our life and downsize our budget, we recently embarked on the “Big Experiment” in our house:  eliminating cable.  Partly as an effort to make sure our time together with our busy schedules was truly a time of connection.  Partly because the cable around here has gotten ridiculously expensive.  And partly because, as a therapist working in a child development field, I felt I needed to at least try to “practice what I preach.”

In general, we didn’t let our daughter watch television before we axed the cable.  But the television was often on during the weekend, tuned to the latest sports game.  At night, after our daughter went to bed, my husband and I would watch a show or two.  After all, after a long day of work, when you really need to relax, some mind-numbing show can do the trick!  But the thing we’ve noticed over the past two months or so is that we don’t really need it.  During the day my daughter is playing or reading books.  And at night, my husband and I can actually talk to each other, and there is always the internet to stream our favorite show (“Parenthood”).  Every few weeks we will sit down on a Friday night for a “date night in” (yes, we are getting old, people!) and watch several episodes of Parenthood.

Personally, I have loved the change.  Yes, I have only one child, so giving her attention throughout the day isn’t as difficult as it might be for a bustling family of five or six.  And yes, I supplement my “screen time” with the internet and my iPhone, but also with books, magazines, baking, and conversation.  My husband has also taken to The Big Experiment, reading, talking, cooking, and getting more sleep.  (As it is, I will have a hard time convincing him that this change should be a permanent one come college football season in the fall.)

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