Having Fun with Parenting

2015-04-life-of-pix-free-stock-photos-kid-boy-bubbles-back-leeroy-copieI saw an article in the December 2014 issue of Today’s Parent magazine and it was a good reminder that we parents CAN have fun while parenting. We think that being parents means that we have to be serious when it comes to dealing with our children’s behaviours.

Here are some fun ways to deal with some of those day-to-day things:

MORNING ROUTINE:
Can’t get your child to get dressed in the morning? This can be a real pain so add a bit of silliness.
Put your child’s pants on his head and as you struggle to put them on his head, you’ll find your child laughing at how silly you are and correcting you as to where the pants actually go.

MEALTIMES:
Mealtimes can become quite a battleground with children not wanting to eat what’s on their plates.
Make dinnertime about conversation not about the food. Sit down and talk about the best/worst/silliest/funniest part of the day. Once children are talking they will forget what’s on their plate. You could also use something like the “Ungame” for conversation starters.

If the dinner table has become a real battleground, shake it up a bit. Take a blanket, spread it UNDER the table and eat there. The children will be so excited about this that they will forget about what is on their plate.

WHINING:
“Please use words that I can understand.” can be frustrating to continually say as well as hear.
So instead say, “Can you please change the channel? This seems to be the whining channel.” Then go up and push the child’s nose as if you were changing the channel on the TV.

SIBLING RIVALRY:
Children will fight and it is healthy for them to fight and to be able to work their battles on their own once they have been taught how problem solving skills, but once in a while this is fun too when you see two children fighting over a toy.
Grab the toy they are fighting over turn it over in your hands while saying, “No wonder you guys are fighting over this toy! This is so cool. I want to play with it!” then run away with the toy. The children will end up chasing you for the toy, working together to get the toy back from you. Once they have gotten the toy back you can tell them what a good job they did at working together to get the toy back from you.

TOY CLEANUP:
Once the clean up song stops working it’s time to switch things up a bit.
Have the children pretend that they are vacuum cleaners or magnets.
Do something similar to musical chair and play music while the toys are being picked up and whoever has a toy in their hand when the music goes off needs to pick up two toys.
Play cumulative clean up. Have each child pick up one toy and put it away, then two at a time, then three at a time, etc. Once it gets to be too large of a number, then decrease the number of toys they need to pick up at a time.

BEDTIME PROCRASTINATION:
Here‘s a nice way to deal with the procrastinating child.
After the story, drink, toilet, tuck your child into bed. Have you child come up with a happy thought or a happy place. Have him talk about this place or thought. Then slowly count from 5 and “Poof!” the spell has been cast. Clap your hands, pretend to crack an egg and then run your hands down your child’s body to spread the yolk all the way down to his toes. Now your child has been covered with a love yolk. This is a nice way to get them relaxed and settled in for the night.

Flying With Kids

As spring break approaches, some of you probably have made plans to take a family holiday. The destination has been picked, airline tickets purchased and accommodations booked. As the departure date approaches, you begin to wonder how you will survive the flight with your 3 children. You and your partner know that travel interrupts kids’ routines: eating, playing and sleeping. This makes them prone to melt downs and acting up. …And as if this wasn’t enough, the flight leaves at 7am meaning that you have to get up at some ridiculous hour to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before the flight! What were you thinking?!?

Here are a few tips to remember as you prepare for the trip.

  1. Pack lots of snacks, both healthy and unhealthy, that your kids love. Remember to pack some gum for take off and landing.
  2. Bring some fun activities for the plane. Sticker books and colouring books are a good choice. Travel games are good too. For an added bonus, bring activities that the kids have never seen before. The newness of activities will earn you a few extra minutes of calm.
  3. Download age appropriate games and apps on iPads and iPhones. You can also download your child’s favourite movie or TV show.
  4. If you are taking an early morning flight, have your kids sleep in their clothes the night before. This allows your kids to sleep as long as possible before having to get up plus they think that it is such a novelty that they get to sleep in their clothes. It’s also on less thing that you have to worry about in the morning.
  5. Remember to relax. It’s hard to travel with children and you will not be alone. There will other parents on the flight so you can be support to each other.
  6. If you are travelling with teens or pre-teens, ask them if they would like to sit on their own rather than sit with you. They will appreciate the independence.

Parenting Adopted Children: Why it is so Difficult!

I came across this article written on a blog site called Emerging Mama. The writer, Monica, does a great job of explaining why this is so. Read the article below and if you would like the link to the original post click here.

4 REASONS PARENTING TRAUMA IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT

We were well into the third year of our family’s new normal, before I had come to the realization that things really were different for us. That no, all kids really don’t do this-whatever “this” may mean at the moment-and that we were not imagining the stress. We were not imagining the frustration. It took nearly four years to accept that the challenges we were facing couldn’t simply be dealt with by working harder or doing more. It took nearly four years to come to terms with the fact that living in a family with children who have experienced early childhood trauma(s) can be an isolating, lonely, and oddly enough traumatizing endeavor, with very unique and difficult challenges. So few on the outside can understand what it’s like to live inside our walls. That is not to suggest whatever is inside our neighbor’s walls is more or less difficult, just different perhaps. Below is my imperfect attempt to give words to some of our family’s daily struggles.

  1. Invisible Disability. Children who have experienced in utero and/or childhood trauma have disabilities that may not be visible to the untrained eye. Our children can look physically healthy and happy, and yet their physiology has been altered by one or more traumatizing events in their lives. Their biology is different. Their brains are physically different. Because 80% of brain cells grow in the first two years of life, the damage experienced during those first years can and does manifest over the course of one’s lifetime. How our children respond to day-to-day stressors is often outside the norm. Our children can and do achieve in school and in other environments. Yet, sometimes they cannot. They can be behaving in socially acceptable ways one moment, and becomedysregulated the next. Disability is defined as “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” When children who have experienced past trauma are “triggered,” their disability shows its face. And yet, while focusing on the behavior or the child, the disability itself, the underlying causes, often remains invisible to eyes who have been taught that disability needs to look, act or talk in a certain way.
    Just because the disability may not be familiar to you, that does not mean it doesn’t exist.

     

  2. There is SO Little Understanding. While I cannot speak from their perspective, I often wonder if trauma parents today may feel in any way similarly to the way parents of children on the autism spectrum felt a decade or so ago. Living with a general diagnosis that doesn’t quite hit the mark? Confused about how to advise teachers, coaches and other caregivers? Parental instinct and daily realities constantly tell us something is not quite right, but so few resources are able to help us correctly identify what is going on AND what to do about it. Trauma mamas and papas often find support, comfort and professional resources in private online groups or through private conversations with others living this reality. One of the most frustrating parts from my perspective is that not one of our countless home-study visits or adoption agency meetings leading up to our adoption(s) consisted of someone telling us, “This will be the hardest thing you have ever done. Line up the therapists and begin counseling immediately. For your kids, for your family, for your marriage.” Other than a brief online training about RAD, or reactive attachment disorder, which was presented as an extreme and unlikely reality, trauma and it’s likely realities, as they would present in our home, wasn’t even broached.Perhaps that is because the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) is not even sure how to classify trauma and attachment disorders? There is progress being made, however, and there seems to be chatter about reclassifying PTSD as “a spectrum disorder.” This gives me hope, as so many of our children are definitely on trauma and attachment spectrums. Yet, due to lack of understanding in society, or worse, judgement, we often retreat to our safe places and speak nothing of this. We are simply too tired, to be quite honest, to do more than what is essential each day and yet we desperately need more professionals who understand trauma to be vocal advocates for trauma informed awareness and education. We need those who know and understand to help move society from a place of so little understanding to a place that provides knowledge and resources for parents, teachers and caregivers.
  3. Few Integrated Solutions. Because traditional parenting methods do not work on children who have experienced trauma, because consequences have no lasting impact, because reward and punishments systems do not encourage positive behavior, because our kids often lack cause and effect thinking in the moment and because there is so little understanding in society as a whole about how trauma operates, if often feels like our family is David facing Goliath, with the whole world stacked against future healing and wholeness, through no fault of our child. Yet, there are approaches and systems, or more accurately lifestyle modifications, that do show promise for bringing healing to children who have endured trauma. Trust Based Relational Intervention,  Connected Parenting and Therapeutic Parenting are amazing approaches that truly understand how trauma has impacted our children, why our kids behave they way(s) that they do, and how we should parent our kids to foster healing. These techniques require consistent effort and focus, and are contrary to way most of today’s adults were raised. They are HARD. Personally, I get it wrong more than I get it right. Yet, when I understand that my child is always operating out of fear of the worst case scenario happening again, I can better understand and better respond. Unfortunately, because schools and the greater systems of society do not often operate under these “connected” principles, parents are again alone, either shielding our kids from systems that don’t understand or trying to piecemeal a plan together that is not a win-win, but is also not a lose-lose. Again, we need advocates! We need the training and education to leave academia and enter our educational systems, pediatric offices and our parenting models. 
  4. Secondary Trauma. Maybe you, like I, have learned this the hard way? Maybe you, like I, lived in denial for a long time? Maybe you thought you could solider through or shake it off? Maybe you tried to convince yourself your were imagining things? The truth is, however, I have come to learn the hard way that being the parent and primary caregiver to a traumatized individual or individuals, and constantly being exposed to their trauma, means that there is a high likelihood that I am living with secondary trauma. According toAmy Sugeno, a LCSW and trauma therapist, “Many parents describe feeling burned out, chronically overwhelmed, or fatigued. It can become increasingly difficult to maintain compassion and the desire to nurture, while simultaneously feeling guilty about this. We may shut down and withdraw or be on edge a lot of the time. There can be hopelessness, anxiety, and seemingly unending frustration. Other issues may be more specific to the experiences parents went through during the adoption journey or to the experiences of their adopted children.” In short, many adoptive parents are living with secondary trauma. So busy caring for the needs of those around them, that we forgot to remember we need to be cared for too.

If you can relate to anything written above, you are certainly not alone. The pain is real. The struggle is real. The trauma is real. The isolation is real. More so, the hope is real and the healing can be real too. For our children and for us. While it may seem like no one understands and it is true that few actually do, there are professionals who can relate. There are communities of parents you can join who will support and encourage you. There areapproaches to loving and raising our kids that show promise.

And while we, as parents, certainly need professionals to advocate for our children and families, to educate the educators, and to help us heal, the truth is that YOU will likely become your child’s biggest advocate. I want my child to succeed in school, socially, and in life. Therefore, my choice is to either continue to view myself as minuscule and paralyzed David who is facing a monstrous Goliath, or remember that when David was armed with wisdom and knowledge of a greater plan, he was able to not only face the giant in front of him, but begin to dismantle it. And as daunting as that may seem, perhaps that is exactly where you and I need to begin? By sharing the realities of trauma and the education we have received with everyone who influences and interacts with our children, we can help to begin to move in a new and healing direction.

What has been the biggest challenge of parenting trauma in your life? Where have you seen the most hope and healing? What words of wisdom can you share with others along this path? 

When Feelings Get Too Big

The body and the brain are so interconnected. When children or adults get overwhelmed by feelings, be it anxiety, fear, frustration, anger etc. this is registered not only in the brain but also in the body. Their heart rate will increase, their hands may get sweaty, their fists or jaws may clench and their breathing will become shallow. They can use the body to calm the brain, self-regulation can be achieved and they can feel a sense of control once again. Here are strategies for achieving this.

The 4 B’s

  1. Put the Brakes On: It is important to learn ways to put the brakes on to stop these feelings from getting bigger. Putting the brakes on helps release muscle tension and decreases the excess energy produced by the feelings. Here’s how to put the brakes on. Have your child sit and press the palms of his/her hands together for 5-10 seconds. This should be repeated several times. What it does is engage the muscles of the outer arms and the shoulders which are muscles involved in containment.
  2. Breathing: Breathing helps regain a sense of body awareness and helps restore a sense of calm. It also helps to ground the body. Teach you child to breathe into the belly/abdomen. Have your child put one hand on his/her abdomen and one hand on his/her chest. Instruct your child that s/he will want to feel the belly rise and not the chest. Have your child imagine that there is a balloon in his/her belly and that with each inhale, the balloon fills and the abdomen expands. Then exhale through the mouth as if s/he was blowing into a straw. Once your child has learned abdominal breathing, have him/her calm down with “Take 5 Breathing”.                                                                            1. Have your child stretch out his/her hand like a star. 2. Child uses his/her pointer finger to trace up and down around the fingers. 3.The pointer finger slides up each finger slowly and down the other side.  4. The child breathes in through the nose and out through the mouth. 5. Put it all together – breath in sliding up and breathing out sliding down. Keep going until your child has finished tracing his/her hand. (See image here.)
  3. Activate the Brain: Have you child place his/her hands on the top of his/her hands and apply a light pressure. This calms the body and activates the brain.
  4. Use the Body: Have your child cross his/her arms in front of his/her body and apply pressure as if to hug him/herself. This increases body awareness and sense of security, calm and focus. You can include a soft toy for the hug.

Once your child has learned these activities, s/he can use them anytime s/he needs to feel calm.

IMG_1552

Calm…

Kids and Screen Time

I just read an interesting article written by Jordan Shapiro, PhD in Depth Psychology. The article was about how the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have just changed their guidelines on screen time. They used to recommend that children under the age of 2 have no screen time and that screen time for older children be limited to just 2 hours a day. Now the guidelines that they are suggesting are much less rigid.

The AAP suggests that we not think of it as “screen time” anymore but rather as “time”. Screens are everywhere and are a reality of the times in which we live. We have to look at how we integrate these screen into our lives and the lives of our families and children.

Shapiro quotes from the book Speed Limits: Where Time Went And Why We Have So Little Left, written by Mark C. Taylor, “Like today’s parents concerned about the psychological and physical effects of their kids playing video games, nineteenth-century physicians worried about the effect of people sitting in railway cars for hours watching the world rush by in a stream of images that seemed to be detached from real people and actual things.” He further quotes Taylor with regards to people’s  initial responses to the steam-engine: “some physicians went so far as to maintain that the experience of speed caused ‘neurasthenia, neuralgia, nervous dyspepsia, early tooth decay, and even premature baldness.’”

What I take from these quotes is that change, newness, in this case the rapidly changing technology, is scary. It’s scary because we don’t know what the future holds in relation to these changes. While we can’t predict the outcome of the effect of technology on the lives of our children, no more that they could predict the effect of riding on a fast train, years ago. Therefore, the AAP suggests the following guidelines for integrating technology in a healthy way:

  1. Think of media as just another environment. Some environments are real and some are virtual and some environments have positive effects and others don’t.
  2. Parenting has not changed. The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.
  3. Be a role model. Limit your use of media and show them what is appropriate to do and share online. Parenting does require time away from screens.
  4. We learn from each other. Neuroscience research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. “Talk time” between caregiver and child remains critical for language development. Passive video programs do not lead to language learning in infants and young toddlers. The more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g., a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling). Optimal educational media opportunities begin after age 2, when media may play a role in bridging the learning achievement gap.
  5. Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.
  6. Be an informed consumer. Many apps are labeled as educational but an interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) that review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.
  7. Engage with your child. Play a video game with your child. Give your child your perspective on the game of media that is being used so that they can learn to be discriminating. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.
  8. Playtime is important. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity and is a MUST. Prioritize daily unplugged playtime.
  9. Set limits. Technology use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Look at whether your child’s technology use helps or hinders participation in other activities?
  10. It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are integral to adolescent development. Social media can support identity formation. Teach your teen appropriate behaviors that apply in both the real and online worlds. Ask teens to demonstrate what they are doing online to help you understand both content and context. In other words, stay connected and involved.
  11. Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtime. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and healthier sleep.
  12. Children will make mistakes.  These can be teachable moments if handled with empathy. Certain behaviours, however, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, signal a need to assess youths for other risk-taking behaviours.

Making connections

                             Disconnecting to connect.