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.

Why I run those mommy miles…

 

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I enjoy my alone time, all the more so since becoming a parent. I am a firm believer that we need space to separate ourselves from family life to pause, reflect, and reenergize. Parenting can be draining and depleting, even as it fills our souls. I like being with my thoughts, in calmness and in stillness… usually over a good cup of coffee.

I’m trying to find more of that time for reflection in my running, since as a mom my alone time is in short supply. It appeals to my multi-tasking nature to get exercise, spend time outdoors, and do something for myself, all in one chunk of time. Often I am huffing and puffing, glancing at my watch, my awareness of my surroundings heightened right along with my heart rate. It is my time to sort through the daily happenings, the ups and downs, the draining points and the small successes.

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I often run without any music, and, until a recent marathon training season, without a watch. Because really, it doesn’t matter how far I go or how fast, but how I feel. With each step I let myself find a rhythm, get back in sync with the thoughts in my head, and pound out a purpose on the path.

When I return I am more present. I am more present for my children, more present for my husband. I am in the moment, without my mind spinning in other directions.

“Even if the weight of our responsibilities remains the same, cultivating the ability to be in the moment is a gift – to ourselves and to those we love.” ~Kristin Armstrong

Running might not be your thing, it wasn’t for me for many years. But there’s something about walking, running, hiking, or trail-trekking that gets you outdoors and centered for life. I encourage you to try. Find your escape, whatever it is, that refills your soul. It is a gift that you deserve.

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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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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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Just another day in the life…

I thought it was time for an update from the home front. I’ve written before here about when my first daughter hit the Walkie-Talkie stage.  My little Walkie-Talkie spends her playtime immersed in imaginative fairyland, complete with characters and drama.  Most naptimes have turned to “quiet time” at our house, and while she is in her room the stories really run wild.  She sings songs to her animals, talks to her dolls, creates elaborate stories to tell herself, and in general has a fine time high in her tower waiting for her prince (or mommy to come and tell her quiet time is over). I keep meaning to put a tape recorder in her room to hear exactly what she is saying, but what I can glean from my eavesdropping makes me laugh, and amazes me. Kids say the darndest things! This imaginative play has done wonders for my sanity, as I get a few moments every day to sit back and let her daydreams run wild.  I’ve written before about the power of free play, and I am even more of a believer as I raise my own kids.

Our newest addition, the “Roly-Poly”, is already five-months-old!  Her coos and gurgles have turned to bird-of-prey-style squawks, followed by big smiles and sparkling eyes to get our attention. From my “speechie” lens I’m always amazed by how quickly babies can change from day-to-day.  I’ve written before about baby signing here, and my husband and I are starting to use signs with our Roly-Poly, especially when she fusses, in an effort to show her that she can communicate a specific need or want. The circles of communication come so naturally to many babies – it makes me appreciate even more the parents who have to work extra hard for their child’s attention.  Communication is such a vital part of our lives, even from this age humans seek out and reinforce those interactions.  The Roly-Poly also likes to make those flirty eyes at 2:30am when I finally drag myself out of dreamland and stumble into her room.  That little girl know how to get her need met and keep everyone loving her to bunches.

Some of you may remember our family’s big experiment where we cancelled cable for 8 months.  It actually was a pretty easy switch, since we didn’t spend much time watching it normally.  I wanted to see if, as a family, we could stomach what I try to encourage many of my clients to do: significantly reduce our screen time. I have seen children for therapy who spend 3-4 hours every day in front of the t.v., and another couple of hours on the computer.  Seven hours in front of a screen is no good.  When we are focusing on self-soothing, increasing social communication, and exploring pretend play, screen time runs counter to what we are trying to accomplish.

I check my computer or iPad several times a day, and the iPhone has been my sanity while spending countless hours breastfeeding, so I didn’t focus on our overall “screen time”.  I’ll be the first to admit, that “window” to the outside world would be very difficult for me to totally eliminate.  Our Walkie-Talkie only uses the iPad on rare occasions, so our focus turned to the television.  We canceled the cable, caught a few shows on basic cable, but didn’t really miss the tube during our busy days.

But then the Oregon Duck football season started.  Needless to say, in order to get his sports fix, my husband asked for the cable back. We’d already gotten in a nice rhythm of not watching television, and our oldest daughter didn’t expect it as part of her day, so we turned the cable back on.  Realistically, I’d say we currently catch about 3-4 hours of grownup shows a week (mostly On-Demand, I hate commercials!), a couple of hours of sports, and my daughter watches about 1 hour per week. Her favorite shows (again, On-Demand usually) are the Super Why! super reader shows, and Angelina Ballerina. We’ve established that it is a special, irregular treat, so she doesn’t expect it every day. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that as parents we are often on our last strands of patience, and the television can be a sanity saver. Some children are very high-energy and need some forced down time. In my opinion, however, what is important is to continue to practice having your child entertain themselves, because it’s the only way they will learn to regulate their behavior, play through boredom, and explore some of their deeper cognitive capacities.

With that, I’ll leave you with this little tidbit from the Walkie-Talkie tonight: “When you go to bed, you rest your body and your hair… AND your brain!”