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PostHeaderIcon Back-to-School Challenges and Solutions

Back-to-School Challenges and Solutions

Hello, Parents!

It’s time for the annual adjustment to school schedules, and with them, renewed demands on your children.  Some of us feel great about the start of the new year, and some are not so enthusiastic.  Some are a combination of the two, depending on your child, and his or her previous challenges.

Here’s a list of ways to take care of not only your child, but also yourself, as the school year begins.

  1. Speak to your child in a matter-of-fact, curious manner when it comes to school. If you’re too enthusiastic, it could cause an anxious child to feel discounted, as your upbeat energy might express a feeling that’s the opposite of his or her own.  This could result in a negative response from your child, something many parents find mystifying. “I was just trying to be enthusiastic for the new year, and all he does is growl at me!”  If you’re not “reading” your child, you may be inadvertently causing him to feel unseen, which will always bring a growl.
  2. Gather the needed supplies, with your child in charge of the checklist. If you take care of it all, he or she misses an opportunity to choose wisely, and to feel empowered.  (Note: if you’ve already bought the supplies, keep the concept – empowerment is the “anti-anxiety.”)
  3. Let your child know you trust him to make good decisions and to do his best. This is different from telling him to make good decisions and do his best.  It’s a much more effective way to encourage him, as it says you think he’s capable, which allows him to think the same of himself.
  4. Keep the lines of communication open, but don’t drill your child for details after school. Allow some down time before you ask about her day.  Instead of “How was your day?” ask specifics, such as, “Who did you share lunch time with today?” or “Did anything funny happen at school today?”  Share your day, and ask your child for some advice.  This evens the playing field, and avoids a feeling of interrogation.  Also remember that it’s hard to remember your day when you’re a child, so go easy if they can’t recall much. Specific questions can help a lot.
  5. Take care of yourself by taking a moment to breathe and relax every few hours.  It’s stressful being the parent of school-age children, and the demands on you are significant. Accept help when it’s offered. Plan some evenings out, get a manicure, hit the tennis court, spend time with a friend.  Do not expect to just keep piling on responsibilities without balancing them with rejuvenating activities.  You’ll do yourself and your family a huge favor by practicing and modeling self-care.If you’d like help with this or any other parenting issue, click here.

 

PostHeaderIcon What to Do When Meltdowns Happen

What to Do When Meltdowns Happen

We’ve all been there, wondering how in the world we’re supposed to react when our child is out of control.  Here are some tips for dealing with meltdowns from children of all ages, not just the little ones.

  1. Start with compassion. Understand the child’s phase of development and inner state.  This sounds too academic for many, but it’s the answer to so much conflict.  If your child is very young, or has had traumatic experiences, realize that emotional regulation in the brain is not yet developed. This is why we see so many meltdowns.  Compassion can come when parents realize that these kids are not being “naughty”, but just having a hard time regulating HUGE feelings.  It’s exactly the same for tweens and teens.  For great info on this topic, view PBS’ Inside the Teenage Brain. It will help you see what’s happening inside the child, so you can be relieved of judging him or her.  It’s not talked about much, but many parents don’t like being harsh with their children, as it goes against their loving nature.  This is the way out of that trap.
  2. Calm yourself.  You may have heard me talk about children’s amygdalas firing in their brains when they overreact to a perceived threat.  As adults, we’re in a much better position than are children to have perspective on our responses.  We can think about our own behavior in a way that kids can’t.  That said, adults have amygdalas, too! We overreact when we feel a threat from a defiant child. So this takes some forethought, to decide in advance that we’re not going to have such a huge reaction. We can do it, because the payoff for not overreacting is tremendous.  Remaining calm can  prevent that all-too-common volley of screaming when you lose it with your child.  Tantrums are now reduced from 20-30 minutes to only a few, and their intensity is lowered, too. Well worth it.
  3. Connect when you can. Kids of all ages who are having a  meltdown need the opposite of what it seems.  Most of us get the urge to “teach them a lesson” and then “leave them alone.” But the best approach is to connect, as an upset child is actually asking for your love when the upset occurs.  So as soon as the storm has passed, reassure the child that you understand he or she was having a very strong feeling, and that you are not angry.  Ask how you can help.  Listen deeply, and reflect what you hear.  “I hear you saying you were frustrated that I didn’t give you what you wanted right away.” Then pause.  Let the message sink in to the child – the message that he has been seen and heard.  You don’t need to fix the problem.  Listening deeply will soothe the strong feelings.
  4. Make a plan.  Have a family meeting to discuss times when meltdowns occur.  It’s healthy to talk about this, and though your child may not want to, if you approach strong feelings as perfectly normal parts of being alive, you may see more willingness to participate.  For more information on family meetings: how to plan, who does what, what to say, and ways to recover from meltdowns, read Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child.  Or listen on Audible.
  5. Remember that parenting in a compassionate way goes against most adults’ ways of thinking.  We think that our authority should rule, and children should just listen and comply.  If this has not worked for you, there is a better way.  Give yourself time and space to adjust, and don’t blame yourself.  You were only doing what you knew how to do.  Now it’s time for something that works.

For help with his or any other parenting issue, parent coaching can help.  Click here for more information.

PostHeaderIcon I’m Sometimes Too Hard on My Child, Sometimes Too Easy

I’m Sometimes Too Hard on My Child, Sometimes Too Easy

Whew, this is a very common parenting issue.  How do you figure out whether to let things slide or be very strict about what should happen with your child?  If he or she is bright, intense, and opinionated, it can be all the more confusing as to how to hand out the discipline.

 

 

 

Here are 5 tips to help with these decisions:

  1. Remember that it’s almost impossible to be “consistent” all the time, especially when you and your partner/spouse, who likely have different styles, are raising your child together. That said, have a family meeting to get some “rules” or “traditions” established, along with what to do when a rule is broken. That way,  everyone in the house is on the same page. (See page 38 in Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child for all the details of the family meeting and rule-setting.)
  2. Give intense children your calm and certain response.  “It’s time to get your clothes on for school,” can result in an all-out battle every morning.  “I don’t want to get dressed!” is heard all too often. Instead of getting into a back-and-forth conversation, simply decide the night before that these are the clothes to be worn, and there will not be any discussion about it tomorrow. Then don’t have any.  This isn’t ignoring your child. It’s just letting him know where the energy is and isn’t. The energy is on making a plan and keeping your promise not to talk about it. It is not on engaging in a conversation or negotiation.
  3. Talk about the situation, not the child or yourself.  Children often have radar for relational rationale. “Mommy just really needs you to get done eating so we can go to the store.”  As soon as it’s about your need, somehow the strings are all pulled and the battle for power is on. (You’ve noticed that the teachers at school rarely see these delay tactics, nor a lot of attempt at negotiation.) Instead of making it about your needs or feelings, do what teachers do: state the next steps as facts. “It’s time for …” or “This needs to happen,” are more effective ways to phrase the request. It sounds a little less loving, but it’s actually more loving when you avoid the emotional string-pulling. Your child can transition to the next thing without all the messy feelings in the way, which is a gift.
  4. Allow more time when you need to get ready to go.  It may feel as if you’re already depleted, time-wise, but 10 extra minutes in the morning can make all the difference. If you come across less rushed, your child picks that up and feels less rushed, which results in a more peaceful routine.  Always anticipate “one more thing” that the child will need to do before leaving, and make a plan with the child that “it’s only going to be one more thing, not 12.” Thank him or her sincerely for smoothness whenever you see it.
  5. She’s too lenient, he’s too tough on him.  I get it. Parents are wired differently when it comes to how to handle child behavior. I’d like to offer the too-lenient parent the idea that consistency helps the child feel secure, so please don’t change your mind if you can help it.  This involves asking for a few minutes to think about what should happen, rather than making snap decisions. Children can learn to let parents take their time to think! And for the too-strict parent, I offer that if you loosen your grip on how things should go, you’ll see a more relaxed child, and a more relaxed child will oppose you less.  Keep the “next steps” consistent, but allow small decisions on the child’s part to acknowledge and honor his ability to make them.  Bedtime is bedtime, but he can choose whether it’s a race to brush teeth or a piggy-back ride, which side of the bed he’ll sleep on, and which book to read. If one book is the limit, don’t change it. That confuses the child about who’s in charge, which is deadly for your routine. Simply refer to the previous decision: “We only have one book each night. Tomorrow we can read the other one.” And don’t waver because an open door causes your young experimenter (what happens when I …?) to never come to a clear conclusion. The experiment has to continue until a consistent answer is known, just like what adult scientists do in labs!

Parenting is a tough job. You deserve all the help you can get. Do not hesitate to reach out, as it’s in your best interests to learn how to navigate this most complex relationship. Also, parent coaching makes a great holiday gift! Your health savings account works, too. Click here for more info on parent coaching.

PostHeaderIcon Self-control or Self-regulation: What’s the difference?

Self-control or Self-regulation: What’s the Difference?

My fellow parent coach, Becky Fischer, just shared a powerful resource with me about Self-regulation, and I thought it would be a great topic for parents. Stuart Shanker has a new program called “Self-reg,” if you want more info.

Two types of self-regulation and self-control come into play – parents’ and children’s.  We could all, even as adults, be struggling with self-regulation and mistaking it for self-control.

Self-regulation issues come from the body’s sensitivities.  If our bodies are wired to overreact to input (compared to typical responses), then we are in the realm of self-regulation.  This comes from brain wiring, where some of us, and some of our children, are simply more responsive to input to one or more of the five senses than are other people.  The sensitivity can be to light, sound, touch, taste, or smell. It can also be to other people, which is a sixth sensitivity I’ve identified in children. We and our kids are not making a choice to react in big ways to the things that trigger us. The reactions are built in to our wiring, just as “knee-jerk” reactions are unavoidable in the doctor’s office when she uses a little hammer to check for reflexes.

Another source of these knee-jerk reactions is trauma. If we experienced trauma as children, or even in adulthood, the reactions remain, unless we’ve sought help to relieve them.  The brain’s amygdala and hormonal responses (flight, fight, flee) are constantly alert to threats to our survival, left over from actual previous threats, and they don’t give up easily, even when we’re not in danger. This is why we over-react to some events that others would not. It’s never our “fault” and therapists who specialize in trauma can definitely offer techniques that help to relieve its effects. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is quite effective for this, as are some somatic (body) techniques.  Just search EMDR and your zip code online to find practitioners in your area.

If our children have experienced trauma, often trauma that we or they don’t remember (it can even happen in utero) they will over-react to us in ways that we can easily interpret as disrespect.  This is where parent coaching and occupational therapy can be highly effective.  Parent coaching can help you identify the over-reactions as out of the child’s control.  Occupational therapy and EMDR for kids can help the child self-regulate.

Co-regulation is another wonderful tool for helping parents and kids. With small children, holding the child in a loving way and deep breathing together works like magic, if the child is able to do it. Preparing in advance will be the ticket here – rehearse co-regulation when there’s no issue, just so it’s familiar and safe-feeling to the child. Co-regulation has the effect of calming you both down. With older children, advanced rehearsal and deep breathing together can also bring about the calming effect. Take a breath in, hold for a count of four, let it out naturally. Do this slowly, as rushing can cause light-headedness.

We know that self-control is a learned response that occurs with maturity and guidance from parents. It comes over time, and requires help from adults. When we as adults are regulated, our job is much easier, which is why it’s a great idea to seek help if we have triggers that could interfere with our effective parenting.

The good news is that the effects of trauma and sensitivities can be relieved by learning ways to decrease them through occupational and mental health therapy. This can have an incredibly positive effect our daily interactions with our loved ones!

For more information on parent coaching, click here.

 

 

 

PostHeaderIcon When Your Child is Diagnosed and You’re Not Sure What It Means

ADHD, ODD, RAD, ASD, SPD, … the alphabet soup of labels can be mind-boggling!  When your child is diagnosed and you’re not sure what it means, life can be so overwhelming and confusing.

What I find so often is that a parent will say, “My child has a diagnosis of ADHD and anxiety.  It’s driving me crazy that she can’t remember to pick up her clothes and her room is a mess!” My first response is often that these are signs of ADHD, which comes as a bit of a surprise to the parent.  Even though she has looked up the symptoms on the Internet, she hasn’t put two and two together – that right now she’s seeing the symptoms of her child’s diagnosis.  It’s trickier with mental health diagnoses than it is with physical ones. If your child has a rash, you can see the rash and you fully understand why she wants to scratch it.  You normally don’t call a parenting coach to say, “I don’t understand why she wants to scratch!”  But since the symptoms of ADHD, ODD, etc., are not in clear view, and since they are behavioral, it’s easy to jump to “bad- behavior-make-it-stop” than to reflect on the reason behind the behavior.

The other day I spoke with a parent whose child is grieving. She said, “The child is really clingy and we don’t know how to make that stop.”

Last week I worked with a family whose child has an anxiety diagnosis. The parent said, “He constantly asks when we’ll be doing every single thing, and it’s driving me crazy.”

A month ago I had a client whose child was diagnosed with giftedness.  She said, “She acts like she knows everything already, and challenges us at every turn. It’s exhausting just trying to get through the day.”

I recently spoke to a parent whose child has Sensory Processing Disorder related to taste and texture.  He said, “I can’t get him to eat the dinner we put on the table. Shouldn’t he just be grateful for a good meal?”

All of these parents love their kids and want the best for them. It’s just that when you’re in the thick of raising a challenging child, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really going on. Each of these parents, after gaining insights into the root cause of their child’s behavior, can reduce their own irritation with the child, who is simply demonstrating the effects of the diagnosis, not being disrespectful.

Once the irritation is reduced, understanding and compassion can come into play. Most parents want to be compassionate toward their children, but they don’t know how to navigate the behavioral aspects of the diagnoses without feeling like they’re “giving in,” which feels awful.  The last thing parents want is a child who thinks she can “run the show.” When your child is diagnosed, or even just suspected of having a diagnosis, this is a really tough spot to be in as a parent.

The good news is that parent coaching can help you see what you’re looking at, and to learn new ways of interacting that truly work and don’t involve “giving in.”

For a quicker view of how this works, read Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child.

Or if listening is more your style, get the book on Audible.

And as always, parent coaching is an option.  Don’t wait. You can be released from thinking you have to be the “heavy” with your child, and find ways to communicate that cause great harmony.  Sound good?  We think so, too.

 

PostHeaderIcon How Can I Tell if My Child Has Trauma Effects?

How Can I Tell if My Child Has Trauma Effects?

You hear a great deal about trauma in the news these days, and you wonder if your child is showing the signs of having been traumatized.  It’s often hard to tell if the trauma is having ongoing effects on your child or if it was even traumatic to him at all!  Here are some examples of trauma and the signs of their effects:

The most traumatic event for a child is the death of, or removal from, a parent. Due to the internal imperative to survive, the child is biologically wired to connect with her parent, and if that connection is broken, even at birth, the signs of trauma can be seen.  But not in every single case. Some children are adopted at birth or later, and never show signs of trauma. Some who are adopted at birth feel the separation deeply.

If the connection to the parent is broken by physical abuse on the part of the parent or other adult, the effects are also significant, and trauma signs are likely to be evident.  Physical abuse is spanking, hitting, choking, restraining for long periods, burning, cutting, and more.  It’s hard to think that a parent would ever do such things to a child, but when a parent has mental illness or a chemical addiction, the urge to protect the child or avoid harming her is dampened or obliterated, and impulse control goes out the window. The child does nothing to provoke this, although the parent will insist that she does. It’s the parent’s lack of restraint that leads to physical abuse.

Similarly, sexual abuse will bring signs of trauma.  Again, it’s never the child’s doing that brings on the abuse, but the parent will insist that he or she caused it somehow.  It’s very likely that the adult has deep pain which is causing the sexual abuse, and also that the adult has been abused as a child. This is why sexual abuse is so horrific. It makes a criminal out of the victim. Sexual abuse profoundly confuses loyalty to the adult with sexual involvement, and can have lifelong effects on the child’s ability to form a healthy sexual relationship. There is no form of sexual interaction with a child that is OK.  Hugging, kissing, massaging, and washing are all part of normal child raising, but touching of genitals for pleasure – either the child touching the adult or the adult touching the child, is abuse. Showing pornography to children or photographing them in sexual positions or without clothing is also sexual abuse.

Emotional/psychological abuse is particularly damaging to a child. The reason this type of abuse (which is also often present with physical and sexual abuse) is so hard to identify and treat is that there are no outward signs of the abuse. In fact, the way systems operate, the abuser is often not stopped, as the law depends on physical findings to prosecute. Emotional abuse, in the form of  blaming children for everything that “goes wrong”, accusing them of things they didn’t do, playing mind games with them, calling them names such as stupid, filthy, unwanted (and worse) has more impact that physical abuse on the future mental health of the child.  It’s insidious, hidden where it cannot be healed, in far too many cases.

Neglect is also highly traumatizing for children. It conveys to the child that he or she is not worthy of parental care, which can go deep into the psychological landscape to create feelings of lack and low self-esteem. Physical neglect, emotional neglect, medical neglect, educational neglect, and exposure to violence are all types of trauma.

What are the signs that a child has had the trauma of abuse?
Children who have experienced trauma often have difficulty trusting others.  When they look to their caregivers as infants or at any age, really, and they don’t get their emotional and physical needs met, their brains undergo a change that involves not being able to trust.  This is not a choice, it’s a physiological response. Once the child touches that hot stove of connection that results in being abandoned, he or she is wired not to touch it again.

Other ways that trauma shows up are: decreased mental ability and memory, lack of “executive functioning” which means they have trouble remembering their homework, remembering to hand it in, organizing their rooms, backpacks or desks, and planning ahead. Constant anxiety is another sign of trauma, as are bed-wetting, lying, stealing, and emotional outbursts for no logical reason.  Sensory sensitivities are also frequently seen in children with traumatic histories. Visual, auditory, smell, touch, and taste input is felt as 1,000 times stronger than for those without trauma.  Another one is “interpersonal sensitivity” where a child is hyper-reactive to the presence of others.  Sensory seeking can also be a sign of trauma, particularly with sexual abuse. These children are absolutely compelled to replay the sexual scene, all on an unconscious level.

The purpose of this article is to highlight the signs of trauma, often also referred to as “stuck grief” for all the missed nurturing the child has experienced.  The next article will offer tips for helping the traumatized child overcome the effects of trauma.

For help with this or any other parenting issue: click here.

To order the book: “Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child” with chapters on help for parents of children with trauma, by Tina Feigal, Amelia Franck Meyer, and Mechele Pitt, click here.

To download the audio book of “Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child, click here.

 

 

 

PostHeaderIcon When All You Get is Resistance

When All You Get is Resistance

by Tina Feigal   Copyright © 2017

No, no, no, no, no!  Are you exhausted from fielding way too many acts of resistance from your child? If so, let’s look at how to get rid of such strong resistance, and replace it with calm cooperation. I can almost hear you saying, “She’s obviously never met this kid!”  You’re right, I haven’t met your child, but I do know a thing or two about how resistance develops and what to do about it.

First, when you see repeated resistance, ask yourself, “Why does she respond this way?”  Figuring out why you see this behavior is the first step to resolving it. Pushing harder to make her comply is a step away from resolution.

Second, imagine you were in your child’s shoes, with a young person’s perspective.  You are totally subject to your adults’ decisions, and you are growing up enough to make some of them yourself.  But the adults don’t seem to see that you’re different, so you must resist them until they do.  The message of resistance is, “SEE ME!”

Third, look for ways that you can actively notice the changes in your child’s abilities to make her own decisions.  Maybe she chose away from a toxic friend last week, or maybe she decided to work on her big assignment with friends instead of going it alone.  Maybe she just put her dirty clothes in the hamper without being asked.  Or perhaps she was thoughtful to you in an unexpected way.  These are all the experiences you can use to see her. 

Fourth, let her know. Write a note to your child saying that you notice she’s changing.  Tell her specifically how you see her growing, for example, “I saw you make a great decision about phone time last night. You brought it to the kitchen for charging at 9, as we’d decided, and you allowed yourself some unplugged time. That’s the sign of a truly grown up person, and I’m going to be on the lookout for more signs, as they are coming fast right now! I need to adjust my thinking as to how old you really are, and start treating you in a way that you deserve. ”

Fifth, watch the resistance melt. When you see your child for who she is right now, in the Present Moment, her need to resist you loses its purpose.  Enjoy your victory, share it with your child’s other parent, and write about it in your gratitude journal.

If you would like help with this or any other parenting issue, click here.

 

PostHeaderIcon The School Year is Wearing Thin Already

The School Year is Wearing Thin Already

The school year is wearing thin already. We parent coaches usually see an up-tick in referrals from professionals and calls for help from parents at this time of year. Parents are distressed because homework struggles and/or behavior calls from school are increasing.  The newness has worn off, and learning issues are coming to light.  Children can’t do their math, they bother their friends, they seem testy and disrespectful, and they are emotionally wrecked by the end of the day. Gifted kids are disrupting the classroom because they are being under-challenged. kids with undiscovered reading disabilities are losing their hope. Those with ADHD are remembering that it’s more of the same every day … I can’t focus enough to do what the others do, and I don’t want to  be different!

What can parents do to help in these situations?  First, understand that if your child is losing interest in school this early in the year, it’s important to

  1. Listen closely to what he’s saying
  2. Avoid blaming him for being unmotivated.

    If the issues persist week after week, asking the school for accommodations and/or testing is well within your rights and responsibility. If it’s math, reading, or writing that’s causing the issue, the evaluation team can try some strategies to help your child. Do not wait for a few more months to go by. If there’s a true learning issue, the sooner you discover it, the better.  If the strategies (i.e., fewer problems or items assigned, moving to the front of the room, or more time allotted for tests) don’t seem to help, the team can decide that a formal learning evaluation should take place.This may involve:
    1. the school psychologist (IQ/learning strengths and weaknesses testing)
    2. the reading, writing or math specialist (grade level achievement testing)
    3. the regular education classroom teacher
    4. your input via surveys and conversation
    5. music, gym, and art teachersIf your child shows that there’s a significant grade-level lag in his or her abilities, special education can be provided for the Specific Learning Disability in the form of an Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP. The child will have programming, often in the regular classroom with the special education teacher co-teaching as a resource for special needs students.  Or the child may be in the special education resource room for math, reading, or writing.  Each school handles this according to their staffing configuration. If no learning disability is discovered, the child may be eligible for regular education accommodations that can support him or her. Many schools have supplemental reading programs, in particular, that can be of great help to your child.

If the problems at school are more focused on behavior and emotions, a similar path can be followed by the school staff.  After a request from parents or a teacher, a team meets to discuss the issues, and then accommodations (i.e., moving to the front of the room, more breaks between activities, and extra guidance at transition times) are made. If there’s not significant improvement, a special education evaluation can take place.  The process involves classroom observation, questionnaires for parents, teachers and familiar adults in the community, and sometimes surveys completed by the child.  The parents, the school psychologist, the regular classroom teacher, the social worker or counselor, and the Emotional-Behavioral Disability special ed teacher could all be involved. If the child is determined to be in need of special education in this area, the EBD teacher would write an IEP, and the parents would be invited to hear the details in a meeting. If the parents approve, the school can institute a regular program of support for the child, with contact with the EBD teacher, social worker, or counselor.

IEP’s follow children from year to year in school, and are reviewed annually. Parents are considered part of the IEP team, and are invited to all annual meetings to learn the results of the tests, and to hear of, and contribute to, changes in the plan. If a need for an early IEP meeting becomes apparent, parents are included in it, too.  Every three years, the special education team re-evaluates the child’s learning disability to be certain that services are still required. Some children mature out of their need for extra support, so they can be “mainstreamed” fully in the regular education classroom.

Some other children have conditions that interfere with their learning, such as hearing or vision impairment, medical issues, or ADHD, that do not qualify them for special education, but require classroom accommodations. In this case, a 504 plan can be instituted. This is a regular education program by which the school team and parents make plans to assure success in school for children whose needs are not in the special education realm, but are still significant enough to require help.  Read more about 504 plans here. 

You may also hear your child talking about the classroom, lunchroom, bus, or gym being “too loud.” She may say that she cannot concentrate in class because of certain smells.  You might hear that your child is struggling because the lights in the room seem to be flickering.  He may say that he cannot stand wearing jeans to school, but can only wear wind pants or sweats.  These all point to sensory processing issues (sensory avoidant), which can understandably interfere with learning. Some children have sensory seeking tendencies, wherein they are always touching a wall, other children, the floor, or furniture. They often bump into others and have difficulty keeping their bodies in their own space.  For some children, sensory avoidant and sensory seeking are both part of their landscape. Click here for information on Sensory Processing Disorder. These issues can be helped by Occupational Therapy, which is usually delivered outside the school setting, but is no less important than school-based services.  OT’s do provide services in school, but usually related to handwriting and other needs that are directly related to school performance. For more concentrated OT, ask your pediatrician for a recommendation, and start with requesting an evaluation from the OT.

Many children whose behaviors are found to be on the autism spectrum receive special education services in autism-specific programs.  Evaluations at school and by medical professionals help to determine if autism is the issue.  If you have a question about whether your child exhibits traits of autism, be sure to start the conversation early, as that will insure earlier intervention and more academic success for your child. Click here for the characteristics of autism in children. 

It’s possible to have sensory issues on their own, and it’s also very common for children with autism to have sensory issues. If your child has sensory concerns, it’s not necessary to assume autism, but it certainly warrants an investigation if some of the other characteristics are also present.

Auditory processing may also be an issue for your child.  This is different from the processing disorder above, where it’s hard for the child to receive auditory input.  This auditory processing issue involves the inability to get the message from the teacher when he or she is speaking. If your child repeatedly says, “I just didn’t hear him,” or “I don’t remember what she said,” this may be your sign that auditory processing is the issue. For children with ADHD, who appear not to be “paying attention,” you can assume that auditory processing is low. Think about how much of school is delivered auditorily, and it’s no wonder kids with ADHD struggle.

It’s also possible to be gifted and have a learning disability. Your child could exhibit “enormous capacity for novelty” and constant curiosity about topics way beyond the interests of her peers, and still struggle with math, reading, or writing. Do not be lulled into thinking your child is not gifted if one of these areas is not up to grade level. Ask for an evaluation to find out if your child is Twice Exceptional, meaning she’s gifted and struggles with learning in one or more areas. Sometimes gifted children have autism characteristics, as well.

Giftedness is determined by IQ testing. If a child doesn’t make the IQ cut-off for giftedness, the school district may consider the overall creativity, verbal adeptness, interest in advanced subjects, or advanced musical or art abilities to include the child in gifted programming. Many parents are reluctant to say, “My child may be gifted.”  Please, please respond if your child is showing signs of giftedness. These children often get overlooked and become discouraged in school, leading to behavior issues. They are vulnerable to depression and anxiety when their learning needs go unrecognized. School personnel who are not attuned to gifted characteristics may not recognize what is causing misbehavior or withdrawal, so it’s up to parents to call attention to this issue, and ask for testing. Again, this is your right and your responsibility.

This can be a dizzying collection of information if you’ve never had to deal with it before. Do not blame yourself if you feel you should have addressed these issues earlier. You could only do what you knew how to do!

If you need help sorting these topics out, parent coaching is the ideal way to get that help. Information on coaching is here.  Please write tina@parentingmojo.com or call 651-453-0123 for an appointment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PostHeaderIcon Fourteen Questions for Parents

Fourteen Questions for Parents

Directions:  On a five-point scale, with “5” as extremely satisfied and “1” is extremely dissatisfied, how satisfied are you with your own parenting?

  1. I know what is expected of me as a parent.                                 1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. I have the knowledge and skills I need to parent my children.                   1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. I have the opportunity to parent my children well every day.                     1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. In the last seven days, I received recognition for my parenting.                 1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. Someone seems to care about me as a parent.                                                 1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. There is someone who encourages my growth as a parent.                           1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. My opinions as a parent seem to count.                                                             1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. I feel my parenting is an important contribution to the family.                    1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. My extended family/spouse/partner are doing a good job with parenting. 1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. I have a best friend to confide in in the world of parenting.                            1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. In the last six months, someone else has discussed my parenting progress. 1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. This last year, I have had opportunities to grow as a parent.                            1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. My children have reflected my positive parenting in the last week.                1   2   3   4   5

 

  1. I feel my parenting is fine, and that I don’t need assistance.                             1   2   3   4   5

 

How did you like your score?  Is your parenting where you want it to be?

Call Tina Feigal at 651-453-0123 or email tina@parentingmojo.com for a free 20-minute consultation on your results.

*Questionnaire adapted for parents from Gallup’s 12 Questions for Employee Engagement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIRST, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

PostHeaderIcon When Children “Take care of” Their Parents and Siblings

When Children “Take care of” Their Parents and Siblings

I had this question from a foster mom yesterday.  “Should I be all right with my child comforting me and apologizing when we’ve had a disagreement, and there’s been some yelling?”

My answer is, mostly “yes.” But with some caveats.

Some children become “parentified” when they have lived in less-than-healthy situations.  If at a young age, their parent(s) have not fulfilled their emotional and physical needs, children will naturally take on the role of the “missing” need-fulfiller. This can be true whether the parent is present or not.  If the parent has mental health needs of his or her own, is abusing drugs to mask emotional pain, is too busy with work, or is physically not able to take care of the child, the child’s unconscious response is: “Someone has to do this. It must be me.”

Note that I said, “unconscious response.”  This is not a choice on the child’s part, but rather an automatic physiological mechanism. So often I hear the phrase, “She’s trying to manipulate the situation by being the ‘little mother.'” Believe me, if she’d had a mother who was able to do her job, she would have remained in the child role.  Yes, some well-loved children are just natural care-takers, and they are not the ones I am discussing here.  I’m talking about the ones who become extremely uncomfortable with adults caring for the younger siblings, or for themselves.

These children will rush to take care of everyone’s needs, without prompting.  They seem blind to their own needs, as well, and can’t seem to even think about them, let alone attend to them.  When prompted to care for themselves, and not get involved in others’ business, they respond anxiously with, “She needed me!” or “I have to take care of him!” If a new adult says, “You can relax.  I have it now,” this child will become very agitated and confused. This is not obstinance, but a normal reaction for a child who has seen a lack and tried, in his or her own way, to fulfill it.

Children will often act as their siblings’ disciplinarian. At first glance, one could judge the child as unduly harsh with the sibling, and label him or her “mean” or “controlling.”  What’s really happening is that the child again feels an internal imperative to protect the younger ones, and is not mature enough to determine which situations require intense warning, and which ones are not really dangerous. This is natural, as it addresses fundamental safety, and yet it needs intervention.

Another way we see this expressed is when a parent has not met the child’s needs, and the child insists on defending the parent. Even when no one is trying to blame the parent, the child is defensive, guarded, and secretive. The imperative to protect one’s parent is STRONG, as the foundational relationship was, at its onset, representative of the child’s very survival. To engage in criticism of that parent strikes a cord of disloyalty that the child cannot tolerate, as it implies a threat to the child’s survival that was established in infancy, pre-memory.

How do we help kids who seem overprotective of their adults or siblings?

  1. First, avoid asking the child to calm down. That will only escalate the issue, as he or she cannot just calm down on command after building protective responses over time.
  2. Second, build trust with the child.  Act as the adult, guiding decisions and providing structure. Regular bedtimes and meals may be foreign to the child, but over time they provide security.
  3. Third, ask the child’s advice on the sibling’s care. If you are new to this sibling group, the older child, most often, IS the expert on the younger ones, and can provide good information. Sometimes it will be immature, and you’ll have to say, “That’s a great idea.  And to be sure he’s safe, let’s also put these sturdy shoes on him.”
  4. If the child is caretaking to an adult, show appreciation for the care, and then ask, “Do you think I might be able to handle it from here?” or “Do you think she’s grown up enough to make her way through this?” Always start with appreciation, and then ask a question that draws out the child’s intelligence. If the parent has not proven to be adult enough, empathize with the child that it’s uncomfortable to watch him struggle.  Also, lightly let him or her know that each person has to find his way, but don’t get into a big discussion about it.
  5. Rather than repeatedly reassuring the child, ask questions that help him question his need to take care of others.  Reassurance can increase anxiety, as the brain immediately asks, “Well what if that other bad thing happens?”  So getting the child to think works a lot better.

    Back to the question above: if my child has gotten louder and more intense than she intended, is it appropriate for her to apologize and comfort me? Yes, if it’s from a desire to connect and empathize. You want your child to grow up with empathy. If you sense that the child is very anxious when you are upset, it’s time to sit down and talk, when this issue is not occurring, about how you are a big person, and can sometimes get angry or cry, but you’re also taking care of yourself.  Again, genuinely appreciate the child’s comforting gesture, but let him or her know that big people can cope with strong emotions.

    In the case of a sibling needing care, express how nice it is that the child is there for her.  Then ask some questions that imply that the child is the expert on the sibling, followed by a gentle suggestion that the sibling may be able to handle his or her own need.  You’ll sense how much of this the older child can tolerate by his reaction, and take the pacing from that. It will take time, weeks to months, for the older child to feel comfortable allowing the younger one to make a mistake or do something mildly dangerous.

    If you would like help with this or any other parenting issue, please click here for coaching information.   If you’d like to explore our findings on parent coaching, click here to see parents’ responses to the experience.

 

 

 

PostHeaderIcon Being Vulnerable as a Parent

Being Vulnerable as a Parent

Tina Feigal, MS, Ed. Copyright © 2016 Center for the Challenging Child

Dad and sonMaybe the last thing you ever thought a parent coach would tell you is “be vulnerable with your child.” You’ve spent your whole adult life making sure your child knew who was boss, working hard to never let him take advantage of you. You thought if you did that, you would lose your authority and never get it back. Who wants to live with a child who thinks he’s the boss of his parents? Wouldn’t being vulnerable give him the wrong idea?

Dr. Brené Brown, a social work researcher, talks about “leaning into the discomfort” in her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. She was NOT built to accept anything uncertain, and railed at the thought of it, as many of us would. You might ask, “What does leaning into the discomfort mean?”

Dr. Brown also talks about “connection” being the reason we’re all here. And she says that shame is the manifestation of disconnection.  Underlying this is “excruciating vulnerability.” To truly connect we need to be vulnerable, she says.

After 6 years of listening to people’s stories on shame, she wrote a book and  published a theory, realizing that the people who have a strong sense of belonging believe they’re worthy of it.  Our fear that we’re not worthy of connection is what causes disconnection, which leads to shame.

Dr. Brown says that “wholehearted people” live from a deep sense of worthiness  and had a “sense  of courage” in common.  This courage is made up of telling who you are with your whole heart, the courage to be imperfect, compassion for self and others, connection as a result of authenticity, and fully embracing vulnerability.  These courageous wholehearteds believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful.  They say it’s necessary to do something where there are no guarantees, i.e. willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. In the words of my dear friend Artem Kuznetsov, this describes “beautiful uncertainty.”

To me there’s nothing more beautiful nor more uncertain than raising a child. Without guarantees of any kind, we rush headlong into the most compelling, uncertain, vulnerable experience of love, usually without a map or compass. And then the children we love so intensely defy us.  They develop their own will, they want what they want, and we feel utterly broad-sided after pouring so much of our hearts into their being. Where’s the gratitude?  Can’t they tell how much we’ve cared?

Frankly, they can’t. Because they’re children.  And it’s completely understandable that parents start to want control, in order to protect themselves from the strong will of their child and the rejection of having your beloved, cherished offspring turn on you. 

It’s normal.  Almost every parent experiences it, especially those with strong-willed children.  So where’s the redemption here? In vulnerability?  Well, yes.

Children who attempt to run the show are often bright.  They may be intellectually bright, interpersonally gifted, intrapersonally astute, highly creative and sensitive, or all of the above. And some average-ability children also attempt to run the show, depending on their own experiences as babies and toddlers.  Whatever the reason, we feel the last thing we should do is become vulnerable with them.  But really, it’s important to do this.

How does it look to be vulnerable to your child? It means stepping off the “perfect, all-knowing adult” platform and getting down to your heart with your child.  When you do this, he starts to realize that you’re human, too, and a switch flips.  He has less to resist when you become less rigid.  Now the grace and light-heartedness for which most parents yearn can begin seeping into your relationship. Herein lies the benefit of “leaning in.”

What do the words look like?  Instead of saying, “I’m your dad and I mean business” when a child is acting out (usually because of a fear), it’s more heart-centered to say, “I know. I had that fear when I was your age, too. Want me to tell you how I got past it? I used to pretend that the monsters under my bed had five eyes, so many that they couldn’t focus well enough to see me.” Here, the father has become a child again, this time for the purpose of connecting with his child. He’s remembering his child-like self, allowing a little vulnerability, and adding a dash of humor to bring intimacy to the conversation.

Dr. Brown’s mission to “control and predict” led her to the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability.

Letting go of the need to control and predict your child and building emotional intimacy is the hallmark of a strong relationship.  You get there by being vulnerable, and you can’t get there without it.

If you would like help with this or any other parenting issue, please click here for information about parent coaching.

If you’re dreaming of becoming a certified parent coach, please click here.

 

 

 

 

PostHeaderIcon Talking to Your Child about the Estranged Parent

Talking to Your Child About the Estranged Parent

Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.  Copyright © 2015 Center for the Challenging Child

mom and child talkingWhen parents are separated or divorced, a gradual or sudden taboo around talking about the estranged parent often sets in.  This can result in some very strong loyalty struggles, with kids feeling guilty for discussing mom with dad, dad with mom, or both.  Many parents have asked how to handle this, feeling completely undone by the rift, and not knowing what’s best for the child.

First, there’s a rule to remember:  Don’t leave the child hanging with no sounding board during the biggest challenge of his or her life. If you are not comfortable having a conversation with your child about the other parent, find someone who can talk to your child.  Do it right away.

Second, it’s very important not to put the other parent down, because as hard as it is between you, that person is half of your child’s sense of self in the world. If you put him or her down, you put the child down. And if the Golden Rule ever applied anywhere, it’s here. Check if you’d want the other parent saying what you want to say to your child, about you. You will never regret holding to this rule. Your child will be eternally grateful, even if he or she can’t express it during the storm of emotion, that you avoided negative talk about the other parent.

Third, and this is the one that most parents don’t know: You can be a sounding board for your child regarding the feelings about the other parent.  Just KEEP IT FOCUSED ON THE CHILD’S FEELINGS IN THE MOMENT. Too often kids get trapped in their feelings, desperate for someone to validate them, and have nowhere to turn. Validating their feelings is your job here.

How do you do that?  Here are some examples:

Parent: “I know it’s hard, now that daddy and I are not together any more, to talk to me about your feelings about him. I promise you I will not put him down.  I also promise you that I will listen to your feelings, because that’s what moms do. You don’t have to feel alone in this.”

Child: “I hate going to daddy’s house because he’s so strict.”

Parent:  “Thank you for telling me how you’re feeling, Honey. I hear you. You feel daddy is too strict, and that’s tough when you have to stay with him.”

Child: “Yeah, he needs to let up on me. He orders me around like I’m a robot or something.”

Parent: “You feel like he thinks you’re a robot when he orders you around.” (This is just affirming the exact expression from the child. It is not a put-down to the other parent, which might sound like this: “What a jerk. He shouldn’t treat you like that. He calls himself a dad?”)

Child: “Yes, and I hate that. I’m a kid!”

Parent:  “You really hate that. You should be seen as a kid, because you are a kid.”

Child: “Yup. I want to be a kid, not some robot. How can I make daddy stop that?”

Parent: “What would you say to telling him that you don’t like coming to his house because he’s so strict that you feel like a robot?”

Child: “I might be too scared to say that.”

Parent: “I sure understand that. But if you want help in feeling strong enough to talk to him, I’m here for you. Think about it for a few days, and we’ll talk about it again.”

Child: “Thanks, Mom. I feel better just being able to tell you about it.”

Parent: “You’re so welcome, Honey. I love that you can tell me.”

The child is no longer trapped by the feeling that she or he can’t express negative feelings. This may be one of the most traumatizing experiences of being in a divorced family, and you have just resolved it for your child.  Remember to keep the focus directly on what he or she says, and not to veer into your opinions.  Ask open-ended questions, starting with “how”, which will keep you on track.  “How did you feel?  How did you handle it? How do you want me to help you?”

If your child wants you to ask the other parent to stop a behavior or start a missing one, be willing to do that, but first encourage direct communication.  You can be the back-up if it doesn’t go well, but always help your child to feel empowered to say his truth to the other parent first.

If you do want to express your child’s thought to the other parent, say or write it like this: “I spoke with Gina last night, and I want you to hear her exact words. She said, ‘Daddy is too strict at his house, and I feel like a robot, not a kid. I don’t like going over there.’ I am just telling you this because she was reluctant to say it to you, and she asked me to do so. I will leave it to you to resolve it in whatever way you see fit.”

The other parent may or may not accept your comments, nor make a change in his or her approach, but at least you’ve done your job in helping your child feel heard.  If no change comes, you can ALWAYS help your child feel heard when he or she is with you. Nothing will ever take that from you and your child.  It’s a lifelong gift for both of you.

If the child expresses that abuse or neglect is occurring at the other parent’s home, you need to report it to your county’s Child Protective Services department. Check with your lawyer before doing so, so you are going about it in a way that works.  Here’s a resource for reporting.

A footnote: Try to remember the good things about your ex, and reiterate them to your child when the emotion has subsided. Do not do this when the child is expressing his or her hard feelings, though, as it could be felt as a rejection of those feelings or of the child. It’s very healing to everyone to remember the good things at a later time, and it may be well worth your effort as you navigate co-parenting with your ex.

For help with this or any other parenting issue, click here for information on parent coaching.

 

 

 

 

PostHeaderIcon Mornings Can Go Well!

Mornings Can Go Well!

Dad and boy in amHere are five quick tips for improving your mornings when the kids drag their feet, delay, get distracted, and don’t seem to understand that you need to hurry.

1. First, take away that idea that they need to understand the urgency of the situation.  They don’t. This relieves you from having to convince them that they must hurry EVERY SINGLE MORNING.
2. Instead of convincing, convincing, convincing, try rehearsing the morning routine in advance at your next Saturday family meeting (which I’m sure you’re having regularly, because you are dedicated to the success of your family and realize it won’t just happen on its own … wink-wink.) After rehearsing the whole morning routine, including starting in bed, a wake-up from the alarm clock, a gentle touch and “Good morning! We’re having waffles today!  I’ll see you in the kitchen, all dressed and ready!”, getting dressed, and coming to the kitchen, the kids will have a map in their brains for what peaceful mornings look like in the “Sandfort (insert your last name) home.”
3. Give heartfelt appreciation for any cooperation you see:  “When you come down all dressed and ready, AND your hair is combed, I feel so relaxed and happy.  We are starting our day with such calm, which makes the whole day better, and you’re doing that!”
4. Talk about happy things that show you are not just focused on the kids’ morning routine performance.  Ask their opinions, advice and ideas.  This makes children feel grown up, and in turn helps them act grown up.
5.  Share your success with another adult. Maybe the child’s other parent, your sister, your niece, your best friend, or your parents, and let your child overhear this conversation.  Think of the huge neural pathway you’ve just formed and strengthened for the child’s cooperation.  You are so powerful!

For help with this or any other parenting issue, click here.

PostHeaderIcon Listen to Tina’s Interview on Taking Care of the Caregiver

Listen to Tina’s Interview on Taking Care of the Caregiver

 

 

PostHeaderIcon Helping Keep Tabs on Kids’ Phones

Helping Keep Tabs on Kids’ Phones

Below is a list of apps that can be helpful monitoring your kids’ phone location and usage.

1. Many wireless carriers have their own apps: (AT&T FamilyMap, Sprint Family Connector, Verizon FamilyBase and T-Mobile FamilyWhere)

2. Below are free or low cost apps:
-Life 360 is a location tracking app
-Time Away helps manage app usage and location tracking
-Mama Bear does location tracking and sends updates on types of social media usage and types of posts
-My Mobile Watchdog has parent controls including phone logs, read text messages on teen’s phones, and location tracking. It can be used to block certain times of use, and block certain apps. It’s not spyware in that the kid is aware they are being watched.
-Mobiflock’s Mobile Guardian has similar controls to My Mobile Watchdog, with more ability for web filtering and content blocking
-Canary lets parents know if teens are using the phone in the car while driving, allows “geo- fencing” – areas the phone can/can’t be used, and allows a phone curfew.
-Mobile Guardian includes web content filtering, application blocking, scheduling use, contacts management and contacts blocking, as well as a GPS tracking and geo-fencing
system

This should be very helpful as you work to keep your child safe!

For help with monitoring phones or any other parenting issue, please click here.