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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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”

 

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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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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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?

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?