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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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.

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”

 

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.

Anger Management

Everyone experiences anger and frustration.

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

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

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

For other regulation strategies, click here.

 

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The Fine Art of Distraction

My nanny and I were laughing the other day about my 15-month-old being a wiggly bag of worms on the changing table.  I mentioned that I try to distract her when I’m changing a messy diaper, in an effort to curtail her movement and keep her hands north of the mess.  I’ll ask her to point to her body parts: Where’s your nose?  Where’s your mouth?  Where are your…teeth?, and have her name animal sounds: What does a doggy say?  How about a cow?  Can you make a monkey noise?

Needless to say, at her recent pediatrician appointment, besides telling the doctor a resounding “No!” before her shots, my Roly-Poly demonstrated far more than the 3-word minimum.  With her trotting skills and language skills, I guess she is officially becoming “Walkie-Talkie #2″ rather than “Roly-Poly”!

It is amazing to me how distraction can change the direction of a toddler’s behavior meltdown or single-minded insistence that things go exactly. the. way. they. want.  Try these tips at home:

~When putting on your child’s shoes, rather than pinning their wiggly body down with one arm, start asking them questions about where you are going.

~Make up a song about anything, add the tune of a basic “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, and serenade them through the store (Yes, I have done this…  As quietly as possible.  But it’s a lot better than a tantrum!)  I have made up a song about “I wonder what we should have for dinner… oh my, that’s too expensive… just one more can of this…” with a little drum action on the cart from my daughter.

~Use a toy or book to draw their attention to something else when you get the sense that they are about to head down the meltdown road.

~Keep your child well-fed and restedbut remind yourself that bad behavior is often your child just trying to understand limits and their place in the world.  Getting down on their level, making eye contact, and slowing the frantic pace of life can help them feel heard and secure in the uncertainty that surrounds their little world. 

~Keep a bottle of wine or some favorite tea bags handy for when they are sleeping like a little angel.

 

How do you positively redirect your child?  What tips could you add to this list?

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.