9 Steps to Preventing and Stopping the Meltdowns and Tantrums

When people meet my son, they are often taken aback to learn he has a special need.  We are often complimented on how well behaved he is and how polite.  But, life was not always that way.

When our son was younger, could not speak at age five, and could not communicate to us anything without grunts, hitting, and kicking, we often felt like Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller. 

Helen Keller’s first experience with Anne Sullivan (an ABA therapist if ever I saw one)

One Christmas, when he was younger, I remember walking into a store and my son pulling the most epic of tantrums because he could not get the toy he wanted.  This was literally five minutes into walking into the store.

He threw himself on the floor, kicking, thrashing about, and screaming like a banshee.  Words did not help. 

The stares started.  The condescending looks.  My husband and I were faced with a choice: give in and get him what he wanted so badly or stand our ground.

I am stubborn…we stood our ground.

My son did not expect what I did next.  My husband continued with the shopping trip while I hauled our son (kicking and screaming) back to the car. I then put him in his seat, shut the door, and stood outside in the safety and relative peace and quiet.

My son spent the next 15 minutes kicking, screaming, and hitting everything he could reach, in the safety of the car and seat.  I was there ready to open the door at any moment should he become unsafe, or once he calmed down.  The windows were rolled down a bit (all safety precautions were met).

Once he calmed down (and stopped seeing red), my husband and I were able to talk to him about his behavior and how that was unacceptable.

This was our turning point. This was when I began to dig into every parenting book for strong-willed children I could get my hands on, every podcast, Ted Talk, everything I could find out about our son’s needs, how his brain worked, and how we could help him overcome the challenges he was born with.

Here are the top 9 things we learned about how to prevent and stop meltdowns, tantrums, and mayhem.

1.       Start Small: If your child is anything like mine, then you probably want to tackle everything at once.  Potty training.  Tantrums. Cleaning. Manners.  Unfortunately, we do not learn that way. Pick one to three things you want to focus on.  We chose behavior in a store and classroom and transitions from preferred to non-preferred activities.  

2.       Prep: So often I hear of parents who cave in the market check out line when their child starts a tantrum.  Or parents tell me of how exhausted they are from calls from the school and parent-teacher conferences.  I get it.  We could time the first call from the school to the exact day in the school year (Monday week three).  We once had three parent-teacher conferences in the first week and a half of school.  What we learned, prep.  Prep the child with what is expected of them and what they will earn if they accomplish it. Prep the teachers what is expected of both child and teacher.  Teachers have to be on board.  We had a system where I texted the teacher daily what our son was earning and the expectations.  This was helpful for consistency throughout the day.

3.       Be Consistent: I am a big proponent of this and will say it again.  Consistency is key.  If your child thinks he plays a parent against the other, if she thinks she can get away with something at school and not at home, if a child sees a weakness in defenses anywhere – they will exploit it! Be consistent and work as a team.

4.       Incentivize: I get the most push-back on this.  “I don’t want to bribe my child.”  “I don’t want my child thinking they get a treat just for making choices expected of them.”  “I don’t want to bribe my child.” I get that.  First, an incentive is not a bribe.  A bribe is reactionary – an in the moment choice: “If you stop throwing a fit, then I will get you the candy you are hollering about.”  This teaches the child that enough public humiliation for you as the parent gets them what they want.  An incentive is a contract.  A contract between parent and child of what is expected on both sides.  If you keep your hands in your pocket in the store/if you use please and thank you/if you finish your homework without asking, then you get a balloon/piece of candy/star on your chart.  This is actually a great way to start teaching finances and economy as this is a practice we adults use daily.  Work an hour and I will pay you $10.00, don’t complete the work well, and you are fired. Instead of hourly work, they are doing task work – like an independent contractor.

5.       Diet: Food affects behavior.  Food was not something we originally tracked. I am so glad we did.  By tracking his food, in combination with behavior, we learned that within 24 hours (to the minute) of having dairy, our son would have very negative behavior.  We learned that when he ate a lot of processed food, high sugar foods, his focus decreased and his attitude was negative. We later learned this was because he was having stomach issues (he couldn’t tell us his stomach hurt).  A great cookbook that helped us get started on a healthier diet for him is The Brain Food Cook Book, written by a mom of a special need’s kiddo.  I have to say, some of our favorite recipes are in this book, and the tips on how to do this without breaking the bank and how the brain works is incredible.  Our son’s neurologist concurred and said it was because of his diet and his oxidated stress regime, our son did not need medication for his migraines and other neurological issues.

6.       Medication: If you can avoid it, I personally recommend avoiding medication.  In our experience, when Kennedy Krieger doctors told us they don’t know enough about the need and effect of medication long-term on children, we were very hesitant.  However, the school system we were in at the time, told us without medication they would not teach our child.  The daycare echoed this.  (NOTE: This is not legal, and we should have fought it, but didn’t know at the time we could).  The medication prescribed was only approved in adults with heart conditions.  The bi-product was helping with behavior in children, but no long-term studies had been done.  We later learned (three years on the mediation), that there were studies showing his medication could lead to cancer long term.  They did help.  If that is what you think is best for your child, do what is best for your child. 

7.       Oxidated Stress: This an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage.  This occurs naturally.  There are some peer-reviewed studies showing this affects everything from thyroids (almost 5,000), cancers (nearly 90,000), ADHD (nearly 2,000), and Autism (nearly 3,000). How do you combat this naturally occurring process? Fruits and vegetables are a start.  We also switched to “clean” cleaning products (chemical free), decreased screen time, and increased time outside. We incorporated Protandim into our life.  After a month on this vitamin, our son’s monthly to quarterly ER visits for stomach migraines decreased to none in the past three years, our son’s focus and attention increased (he is 11 reading at a ninth-grade level and taking a college music course), and he has been completely off medication for three years (taken off under the care of his physician).  We get ours from Life Vantage (patented formula).

8.       Track: It is important to only start one behavioral change at a time.  Introducing too many variables at once will not let you know which ones do anything.  We started with diet, then added medication, then dealt with oxidated stress – which eventually got him completely off medication.  Track measurable things – how often the school calls, grades, attention while reading, how long it takes to complete a task. Below are some great resources we used, and use, to help us. I recommend making them editable and laminating them. This reduces waste and allows you modify based on age and behavior. Dry erase markers work great on these.

9.       Celebrate and Recycle: Celebrate the win! Talk with your child about how proud you are of their progress. Celebrate the hard work it took them to accomplish that goal. Then, start the process over on a new behavior or more advanced behavior.  Humans should never stop learning and growing.  This is especially important for children.  When one thing is mastered, move on to the next level or new behavior. 

For more ideas on how to help avoid meltdowns and mayhem, take a look at my Facebook page.

14 Steps to Thriving at an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Meeting

It is October.  That time of year where days get shorter, nights get longer, and we are all a bit more aware of what goes bump in the night.

October was also the time of year my family would go through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process.  It was always a stressful, and sometimes scary part of our month.  As we focus on things that are scary this month in the lives of of our kiddos, we are going to tackle how to be successful at this.

IEPs can either be a Godsend or the worse hour(s) of your life that year.   We have been through both.  High Roads School in Maryland is excellent!  California and Florida, we had some significant struggles.  We have had successes and failures. 

Background: IEP’s are designed to make the learning experience beneficial to all students.  After all, we are different children with different needs.  A team of administrators, teachers, specialists, and parents work collaboratively to help the child succeed academically. When it works, it is a phenomenal process.

Problem:  IEP meetings seldom work collaboratively and, for a parent unaware of the bureaucracy of the district can be very overwhelming and frustrating.

How do we survive these necessary yearly meetings, while ensuring our children thrive? Here is what I have learned having done IEPs in three different states across America.

Track Progress in all aspects of life

1.       Track Progress:  If you have been following me, you know I believe in data collection and how it can be beneficial to us in all areas of our lives.  In regards to behavior, this has been essential to us understanding our son’s behavior and what effects it.  We track his progress socially, behaviorally, and academically.  Journaling, goal setting, progress reports, report cards, all help a parent understand the multiple levels of a child a better.  This is essential to know how to help your child in the school system.

2.       Review progress reports:  It is really easy to lose track of progress reports in the chaos of what comes home (or emailed from school).  But progress reports are a great way to see what your child likes, doesn’t like, struggles with, or excels at.  We need to know where we have been to know where we are going. This is a vital tool for preparing for you IEP. This is also a great way to stay in touch with teachers throughout the year.

3.       Research IEP Goals: Typically, a month to three weeks prior to a scheduled IEP, I research IEP goals.  This is easily done using a Google search of “sample IEP reading goals” or “sample IEP math goals.”  Do this for each subject.  I cut/paste the ones I think my kid will enjoy and have success with.

4.        Be realistic: Select realistic goals.  You cannot set realistic goals without the above steps completed.  More importantly, you need to choose goals that can be accomplished in the timeframe provided, while leaving room to grow.  Have faith in the child to meet expectations and goals.  Children are resilient and can do way more than we think they are capable of.

5.       Prep teachers/communicate early: Teachers are a strong voice in the meeting because they spend a lot of time with the child.  Don’t wait for an IEP to communicate your concerns, joys, and goals.  They will be more likely to advocate for the child if they believe the parents are working on the same team and not against them.  The education team will likely meet a week or two prior to your scheduled meeting.  Give the teacher your views and goals.  This will help incorporate your ideas prior to the meeting scheduled (and save you time in the long run).  I usually explain this in person and then do a follow-up email to the teacher.

6.       Include social goals: This is really easy to forget when you are surrounded by teachers and administrators who want to focus on academics only.  But school is more than just academics.  Social goals are essential to classroom management, lunch, recess, PE, games, turn-taking, and so much more. Include social goals in the IEP and see how much your child grows both academically and as an individual.

7.       Get rough draft: Most districts will send a rough draft of their meeting home in order to streamline the meeting with the parents.  Go through this with a fine-tooth comb.  I used a highlighter system to show what I agreed with and what I did not.  I also tabbed the pages I wanted a further discussion on.  Most IEPs are lengthy, so this made it quick to refer to things for discussion and help ensure the meeting focused on the more important issues.  I also make changes.

8.       Return revised draft with your changes/edits: Return the changes you made in writing to both the teacher and school prior to the scheduled meeting.  This will ensure the school has time to make the needed changes, or prepare for why they disagree.   

9.       Bring any medical information that supports your views: If you have a doctor’s evaluation, therapy notes, and recommendations, etc. bring them with you.  Make sure those evaluations address academic recommendations.  Some districts do not look at medical information when determining goals because they are not academic.  However, almost all those specialists, are qualified to address academic goals and likely know how to help your child the most.

10.   Bring and be an advocate: You know your child the best.  You are their best advocate.  Don’t be afraid to be their advocate.  The school is not always right.  Just because they are professionals, does not make them a professional regarding your child. If you disagree with a plan or part of the plan, you have the legal right as the parent to address that.  If the school does not agree with your plan (which happens a lot), it is ok to take it up to the district level.  If you do not feel you can be an advocate, invite an advocate with you who is willing to step out and address your concerns.  

11.   Take notes: During the meeting, it is essential to take your own notes.  Multiple times things discussed to be included in the IEP were conveniently left out and official meeting minutes did not reflect the discussion.  Keep your own written record of minutes.  This will be essential as the school year goes on.  

12.   Know your rights: Contrary to what most parents think, the school is not the final authority on an IEP.  Parents have significant rights. You can request a meeting whenever you wish.  You can join a meeting via phone/zoom.  You can invite anyone you wish to the meeting.  You have the right to agree or decline the school evaluating your child for services. In some areas, you have the right to a private education paid for by the district. You have the right to request an evaluation for services (due this prior to requesting the service and save yourself a headache). You have the right to ensure the goals and assessments are measurable. You have these rights and more.  Know them and be empowered.

13.   Do everything in writing: All requests for IEP’s and evaluations need to be done in writing.  Any time you have questions, do it in writing.  Any time you disagree with how things are being done, do so in writing.  Email is excellent for date and time stamps.  We also time-stamped and date all mailed and a student brought home correspondence.  This has saved us in multiple instances.   Legally and inter-personally this will help in preventing issues, miscommunication, and problems as the school year continue.

14.   Keep copies of everything: This is essential.  We once had a school who was supposed to do speech therapy with our son pull the page out of his folder in order to state they did not have to provide services.  We luckily had a copy of the signed IEP on hand and were able to inform them of both their breach in contract and the following needed changes in order to avoid further issues.  Every email and mail correspondence needs to be maintained. 

IEP’s do not have to be scary.  They do take time, but ultimately, they can lead to some amazing growth in your child and in your community.

For more ideas on how to help with IEPs, take a look at my Facebook page.

6 Simple Steps to Partnership Parenting

September is a magical time in our house.  The leaves are changing.  The temperatures are cooling.  The sweaters and warm blankets come out.  Apple, cinnamon, and pumpkin scents are everywhere you go.

September is also a magical month because it is my wedding anniversary. 

As I ponder our marriage this month, I am so grateful for my husband.  The partnership we have grown together.  The father and mentor my husband is to our son.  The way he knows how and when to be our family rock and jester.  We are truly blessed by him.

In this spirit, I thought I would address some of the many times I have been told parenting is a one-person job.  The numerous times I have been told, “My significant other doesn’t help with the kids,” or “it is just easier for me to do it all then get my spouse involved.”

I understand this mentality.  It is really easy for one parent to take on all the responsibility of school, playdates, doctor appointments, therapies, homework, extracurriculars, etc.  This is especially easy if one is working and the other stays at home or both are working, but one has more work flexibility.

I remember one of our son’s medical team once sat us down (one or two years into our marriage), and said, “You know, people with special needs children divorce at 80% more than parents without.”  That was a scary number!  So, we became even more intentional with our marriage and parenting to avoid this.

I appreciate the difficulties of raising a child, especially one with special needs, I find this mentality of a single parent responsible for children’s development to be limiting, exhausting, and disrespectful.

You chose your partner, yes partner, because of the many good (and sometimes bad) qualities they have.  When you said, “I do” it was not just for a day, a week, or a year.  You chose to take that person in sickness, health, richer, poorer, good, bad, and (honestly) sometimes ugly. 

Marriage is a life partnership.  It is a daily choice to walk through life as a team.  And, trite as it might be, there is no “I” in “team.”

There is a reason two parents are ideal for raising children.  Both have different roles to play.  For example, I am not going to have “The Talk” with my son if my husband can do it.  My hubby isn’t going to take his little girl bra shopping – that is on me.  However, although we have different roles, those roles work in tandem with each other not against.

So, how do you make raising these awesome kiddos a team sport?  How do help your significant other become a player and not a spectator? Here are six rules we live by in my house.

1)      Be on the same page: If you are trying to implement a new routine, discipline, or change in the home, it means nothing if the parents in the home are not consistent with each other.  Dad cannot say no to something only to have Mom say yes two seconds later.  If a parent implements discipline, both parents have to support it.

Don’t argue discipline in front of kids. We disagree on how to discipline like any couple.  Whichever parent implemented the discipline is supported by the other.  Take the discussion behind closed doors.  After discussing, sometimes nothing changes. Sometimes the discipline is modified.  Regardless, discipline happens and a clear discussion of why there was a change (if any) is presented.  We discuss it as a unified front and implement the consequence as a team.

2)      Divide and conquer: A family is multiple people with different personalities, needs, likes, and routines all operating under the same roof.  The household is a mini economy and city (things break and need fixing, services need to be rendered, and relationships built). In a home with special needs, in addition to the traditional routines of school, playdates, sports, and extracurriculars, there are doctors, specialists, therapies all need to be addressed.  It can be overwhelming.

Both parents need to know these routines, doctors, therapists, teachers, and be able to jump in and do it at the drop of a hat.  Divide responsibility.  I have a more flexible schedule working from home, so I do school, therapies, and playdates.  My husband takes care of meals, all outside yard work, fixing EVERYTHING that breaks (cars, garbage disposal, washing machine, etc.).  My son takes care of dishes, his room, bathroom, and feeding the animals.  We all fill in the gaps. We work as a team.  No one person on the team is more important than the other.

3)      Fill the Void: We are a military family and my work occasionally requires me to travel.  Sometimes one of our team is MIA due to work obligations for days, weeks, months at a time.  When this happens, it is important to know how to fill that void.  When I leave, my husband has a schedule for our son, where to go, doctor’s names, etc.  When he leaves, I know he has taught me to fix somethings and where I should go if I cannot.  He also has ensured I have the tools I need for all the tasks he does in tip-top form and ready for use (he made sure I know how to use them too!)  While he is home, he will often take me aside to teach me something – like how to change my oil in the car. We are all responsible for filling the void when there is one.

4)      Invest in the fun: My husband is great at having fun, acting like a goof, and making everyone smile and feel comfortable.  I am more serious by nature.  For the first few years of our marriage, it seemed like one of us had to be the serious one and the other the fun one. But that is not so. In fact, it was detrimental to our kiddo. He learned I was the one to go to for school, clothes, and chores, while he went to Dad for anything else.  It caused a divide in the relationship with our son that took time to mend.  Having fun is SO important.  Find something fun to do with your child (even on hard days).  We do LEGO, art, science kits, dance parties, karaoke, you name it.  If your child finds it fun (even if you don’t), join in, plan some time for this, and enjoy it.  This will be the foundation for a healthy relationship in those teen years and beyond.

5)      Argue: This sounds counterintuitive, but it is so important.  Remember two become one.  That means two completely separate people with their own likes, dislikes, thoughts, and opinions come together to become one unit.  Simply because you said, “I do,” does not mean you magically agree on everything and life is perfect, happily ever after.  No.  To become is a process – a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.  Arguing is part of the process. It is ok to argue in front of your children.  I think this is particularly important for those kids who have a hard time processing social cues.  

Arguing is life.  You argue with your spouse, siblings, classmates, friends….pretty much everyone at some point.  Knowing how to argue in a constructive way is essential to social success.  To not show your child you disagree with each other does them a disservice both socially and, eventually, as they view marriage (more to come on arguing this month).

6)      Date each other: This is a particularly hard one for any marriage with children.  It is particularly difficult for marriages with special needs.  Babysitters are hard to come by.  It may feel like there is never going to be a date in your marriage again.  I tell you from experience, that just isn’t so.  If possible, find someone who will watch you kid while they sleep.  Or get creative with date nights at home (movies by a fire, game night, wine or beer tastings, craft projects).  If you can and qualify, look into your local Respite Care providers.  Respite care is short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center. 

Marriage is not easy.  But partnering in it should be.  Let me know what steps you use to keep your marriage fresh, healthy, and growing daily.

Sensory Survival to Independence Day

Fireworks.  Cotton candy.  Music to pull on the heartstrings.  Smiles. Parades. 

This is the time of year, in America, we celebrate #freedom, #independence, and #liberty. For most, this is a time of celebration and joy. Independence Day is the very core of what it means to be American.  It means freedom.  It means prevailing over adversity.  It’s a celebration of the rights we have today because men and women decided the prevailing government systems of the world were incomplete and inadequate.  We celebrate the recognition of human rights for the first time in history.  We celebrate a government by the people, for the people. 

On the other hand…

Crowds. Loud noises.  Booms so big you feel them rattle your bones.  This holiday is full of intense sensory overload children (and some adults) have a tough time navigating around.

It is hard to enjoy a celebration that is designed with everything that makes one feel out of place. 

We want to ensure our family experiences all the same things as any other child.  But we want it to be enjoyable – for everyone.  My family believes the world will not bend to the needs of our family, so we must find a way to adapt.

So how do we get through this wonderful holiday in one piece? 

I asked my son this very question and here are his tips and tricks to succeed.

1.       Bring Headphones: One of the most valuable tools in our toolbox for this holiday is headphones.  We keep extra earplugs in our cars for those who need them and forget about them.  Headphones help dampen the noise-making this more enjoyable for our son.  We bring these with us to theme parks, movie theatres, parades and the like.  There are tons to choose from.  We have found, that as our son grows, his preference and needs change.  So here is a list of the 10 top headphones for travel that I think you will find useful.

2.       Snacks:  But sensory is often processed through taste.  Snacks are essential to enjoying any celebration.  Food brings people together and encourages fellowship.  It often allows for the processing of sensory throughout the body.  We like mints throughout regular days.  But, for events like this, snacks with a crunch are great.  We usually bring some form of water (we like to flavor it with either lemon or Axio – which helps with focus), some vegetable chips or caramel-covered apples, and maybe a nice fruit dessert to cool down during the hot humid night.

Enjoying the show from afar

3.       Watch in your car: We have celebrated Independence Day in large and small cities across the country.  We have usually found a great way to limit crowds and sensory overload is watching the show in your car.  We have a hatchback that allows us to lift up the back and watch in the comfort of our trunk.  This keeps the loud noises, massive booms, and crowds at a minimum.  We enjoy the show and have the ability to leave before the masses exit (I hate traffic) and avoid the crowds.  With an increase in #COVID-19 cases across the south, this little tip is one of my favorites for health and wellness.

4.       Blankets and masks: If you cannot watch the show from the safety of your car, bring a large blanket for the picnic and remember your mask.  The blanket will act as a natural barrier from other groups.  The masks will be added needed protection against the virus.  Of course, you can always stay home and enjoy the show from your home (if you are close enough) or watch a broadcast of the show on television. 

5.       Stay with your group: This is smart advice regardless of the event or the current pandemic. Watch your young children who might wander off.  Events of this proportion are notorious for nefarious characters.  This is a great opportunity to talk to your children about “stranger danger” and work on social interactions with community workers like police and firefighters. We like to have a 2:1 ratio of adults to young children. When this cannot be done, you can always go old school with hug-and-tugs or backpacks with wrist connections.  This will give deep pressure (when full of snacks) and help keep kids near. 

With a nation in unrest due to the current pandemic and questions of how to process rights or man and rule of law, this holiday is even more important than ever. 

I hope this Independence Day is safe and fun for everyone – no matter how you celebrate it.  I would love to hear how you help your little ones get through events like this.  Send in your tips.   And let this be a year we truly appreciate the long history of freedom, liberty, and bravery Independence Day honors.  Thank you to all the servicemen and women who make it possible for us to have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the numerous other freedoms our country allows for all its citizens.

The Power of Words: Or How to Create a More Positive and Productive Environment

“My kid has too much autonomy. I just had to calm her down from a screaming fit,” my manager told me as we have a one on one monthly meeting via Skype for Business.  “I am so tired.  A day feels like a month and a month feels like a day.  I can’t even keep track anymore.”

“I can’t wait to get back to normal when my kid can get out of my hair for once,” a friend expresses over a virtual cup of coffee.

“Can you believe the curriculum they are teaching?  Who comes up with these questions?” A post repeated on social media.

“I can’t wait for my spouse to go back to work so I can get back to routine with my child.  My spouse just gives in to any whim.  I am going backward,” said spouses across the world who are not used to 24 hours 7 days a week contact.

 Sound familiar?  Maybe you have said one of these? Thought one of these?  Posted one of these? 

If you have, you are not alone.  What do all these things have in common?  They are all complaints

MRI scans of the brain and complaining
Images of the Brain Complaining
CREDIT: How Complaining Rewires Your Brain

What Complaining Does to the Brain

According to Travis Bradberry, Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President at TalentSmart,  a typical person complains once per minute in a typical conversation!  This is very unhealthy because our brains are creatures of lazy habits.  When we repeat our pattern, our brain takes less work to repeat than learn. 

Think of teaching your kid to tie a shoe.  When we first begin the process there is push back, frustration, a lot of concentration.  But once it is learned, and repeated (usually multiple times a day), it becomes second nature, and the child no longer thinks about the process. 

The same is true with our words.

Images of D. Emoto's research on the power of words on water crystals.
The pictures show the observations of Dr. Emoto. The nice words of affirmation create beautiful geometric shapes while the negative words create damaging shapes.

Words Have Power

On Solomon Island giant beautiful trees sometimes need to be cut.  When this is a particularly challenging task, the locals perform a special curse. They join together and yell insults and other derogatory words at the tree, and according to local legend, the negative energy transfers to the tree which then falls within a couple days.

In his book, The Hidden Messages of Water, Dr. Masuro Emoto, reports on his studies on the effects of words on water crystals through high-speed photography and found water crystals formed beautiful geometric shapes when words of love and gratitude were spoken near the water, but destructive shapes when evil words were spoken.

If this is what happens to plants and crystals, how much more does words affect the human mind and health?

According to Stephen Parton, complaining actually KILLS YOU.

Try the Complaint Zapper

How to Move from Complaining to a Gratitude Attitude

Solomon, credited as the wisest man ever to live, said “the soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit,” (Proverbs 15:4) and “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit,” (Proverbs 18:21).  Did you know there are over 126 passages in the Bible discussing the tongue? 

It appears, in this matter, faith and science agree.  Stop complaining!

But how do we do this?

There is a lot of research on behavior showing numerous ways to modify behavior from eating too much to not sitting down while doing school work. The same theories and practices apply to our minds. Here are three simple ideas on how to move from complaining to a gratitude attitude.

From the mouths of babes: How to use positive words

1.      Replace your focus: How many times have you watched a movie or show and fixated on the message, the scenes, the story long after it ended?  Read a book you just couldn’t put down?  Where you focus is where your brain will go.

When I was learning to drive, my mother told me, “Where your eyes look is where the car will go.”  I have learned this principle applies to my mind as well. 

If I focus on negative, my tongue is negative.  If I focus on what is wrong with the world, my tongue reflects that. But, when I focus on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– anything excellent or praiseworthy—my entire world changes from all things against me to peaceful, strong and enduring.

2.      Replace your behavior: It is easy to say think about good things and entirely different to actually do it. One way I have replaced my tendency to complain is (as trite as it sounds) is to count my blessings. 

In our family discussions of the day, for every bad thing we say, we must say three positive things for the day.  If I had a bad day at work, I am now forced to think of blessings (that car that let me in before the light changed, my son getting his school work done early, lunch at the table with my hubby).  Suddenly, what seemed like the worst day has transformed into a really good day.   

3.      Practice. A great way to do this is by keeping a journal.  There are a lot of calendars and planners that actually have recording your blessings as part of planning for the day; our favorite one this daily planner.

I enjoy doing this as part of my daily meditation when I work out.  Using that last little bit at the end of a work out (when endorphins are naturally high) to focus on good, re-sets my brain. 

4.      Accountability:  We are only as strong as the team we have around us.  The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.

Share your desire to change focus with your spouse, friends, and family.  Then ask them to hold you accountable to this. 

May family around the Liberty Bell in Disney World.
What I am most grateful for: my family who can spending time together.

It is easy, especially in quarantine, to focus on the negative.  It is easy to want to vent this to your spouse, friends, the world.  But, I caution too much of this will physically and emotionally destroy. 

I encourage you to make shifting your focus from negative to positive a priority. Ask for an accountability partner in this.  And remember, this is a daily discipline.  This will not become second nature until you make it a discipline.  Like all disciplines, it grows with you and molds to where you are and what you do.

Let me know how this works for you.  What is working for you?  What strategies have you used?  What did not work?  I love hearing from you. 

Silent Butler

Frustrated parent at work, home, teleworking, homeschooling at the same time.  Arms on head looking frustrated.
Frustrated parent at work – teleworker -home

Most of the world has been operating within the realm of the same four walls for the majority of the year.  Those in America have been at this at least a month, some longer. 

Day after day I hear the same exhausted frustrations of parents: “My kids are driving me crazy!  I keep repeating myself.  I feel like all I do is nag!”

Well, you are not alone.  We all get there (even in the best of circumstances).  The question is do we stay there or do we something to fix it?

For my family, we do something to fix it. 

Let me introduce you to one of our best friends and colleagues – Silent Butler.

Male servant preparing a bath at luxury hotel
Butler preparing a bath

Before you freak on the price tag, this friend has given his services for FREE.  This is so simple it will shock you.

How many of you have asked your kid to clean their room, only to find it hasn’t been completed or everything has been shoved under the bed/in the closet/crammed into drawers?

Out of exasperation, you now beginning the powerplay of taking things away, the battle of either teaching to clean (or, be honest) doing it yourself. By the end of the day, everyone is tired, you don’t want to be around each other and you just feel defeated?

Enter Silent Butler.

Man sneaking a peak behind white shutters
Man sneaking a peak behind white shutters

Instead of going through that battle, hold your child accountable.  An easy way to do that is a large plastic laundry basket (we use this one).

When your child says the room is clean.  OK.  Great.  Go play.

Then take the basket, and fill it with all things left on the floor, under the bed, in the closet, out away incorrectly.  (NOTE: You must have taught the proper way to clean a room and what Silent Butler prior is to implementing Silent Butler).

All those toys, books, TABLETS, video games, etc., that they claim to love so much, but do not treat as though they do, are now in the possession of Silent Butler.

But don’t worry, this is not forever!

When your child does something good, unexpected, helpful, you just ring the bell for Silent Butler.  Things like helping a sibling with homework without being asked, picking up the dog poo or doing the dishes, (for those on the spectrum) having a good playdate or losing a game without a single reminder of good sportsmanship all can trigger Silent Butler. 

The important thing is that it matches where your child is (age, mental ability) and it cannot be a chore already assigned as part of their daily routine.

When you ring that bell, Silent Butler rolls out once again.  Only this time, instead of taking, our Butler is giving.  The child can take one toy out of the basket. They have earned it back.

TWIST * TWIST * TWIST

Girls at desk looking at notebook helping with homework
Girls help each other with homework

For those with siblings, this becomes particularly effective.  There are no rules on whose toys are picked when Silent Butler rewards.

This means if Suzy left her tablet on the floor in her room when she was told to put it away, and Johnny earned a Silent Butler reward, Johnny can pick Suzy’s tablet. 

What does this teach?

I know you are wondering why use this method?  It seems sneaky and rude.  Well, that is true.  But so is the world. 

As parents, we are tasked with raising children into quality adults who contribute to society in positive ways and are aware that the world is not rainbows and butterflies.

This teaches so much:

1.       Responsibility: Whose tablet?  Whose responsibility?  Whose homework?  Whose responsibility?  When you shirk your responsibilities, someone else will swoop in and fix it AND get the credit. Silent Butler begins as Positive Punishment/Negative Reinforcer.

2.       Teamwork/Family building: Working in a family is the first practice of teamwork.  We are teaching children what it means to be on the team by showing them responsibility falls on everyone.  When we reward good extra behavior, it acts as a positive reinforcer that modifies the negative behavior.  Silent Butler is now a Negative Punishment/Positive Reinforcer.

3.       Integrity: What is done when no one is watching will be seen.  What is done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops.  All secrets come out.  That is why integrity is so important.  It is who you are when no one is watching (or you think no one is watching) that ultimately defines your character. 

4.       Accountability: Teaching accountability starts with parents.  I have said this before practice what you preach. You must hold yourself accountable to follow through, kind words, and tones, working as a team.  Once this is done, Silent Butler teaches that all kids are held accountable for their actions all the time.  Silent Butler is ALWAYS in play.  Both the good and the bad.

Before and after: messy room to clean room and ready to play
Before and after Silent Butler – now it only takes 20 minutes to clean a room not a day.

This is a simple idea that when put into practice can help SAVE MONEY on those reinforcers, help create a POSITIVE and HARMONIOUS environ for everyone in the house, and ultimately, help create HONEST, RESPONSIBLE adults to help create positive change in the world.

I encourage you test this out in your own homes.  Give it a couple weeks.  Track your progress and setbacks (there will be setbacks as with all changes).  And let me know how this works for you.  Don’t be afraid to share this blog with others you think might benefit from the simple induction of my friend Silent Butler. 

You have this. You are good parent.  You are a good teacher.  You are a good coach.  You are good leader. 

***Disclaimer: I did not come up with this idea AT ALL.  I was raised with this. The credit all goes to my parents who successfully raised 7 children and numerous “family friends” with to the sum of all six entrepreneurs, a lawyer, two opera singers, (one lawyer waiting taking his first bar), over fifteen degrees, all are fully employed, and the creation of two non-profits. 

Celebrate the Extraordinary: Moving into a New Normal

Neon Sign - Think About Things Differently
Neon Sign – Think About Things Differently

The phrase “Getting back to normal,” has been used a lot lately as we start to look forward to the end of #quaratine and #socialdistancing.  We can’t wait to sit next to that annoying coworker, drive a car, get coffee with a friend. 

As a parent in the special needs community, I hear a lot of people wishing for their child to be “normal.”  If only they could play ball with their boy or go to a dance recital with their little girl.  So many times, they start sentences with “If only…” or “I wish…”

We live in a generation where everything is instant.  We compare ourselves, our children, and our lives to the fake world broadcast on social media.  We use social media as a tool to measure “normal.” 

But we do a disservice to ourselves, our children, our communities when we use this measurement.  No one is normal.

I’ll say it again – NO ONE IS NORMAL.

Your spouse is not normal.  Your child is not normal.  You are not normal. 

Those who think you are normal – HAVE NOT MET YOU.

What #socialdistancing is teaching us is patience.  Patience with our family.  Patience with our community.  Patience with our governments.  #Socialdistancing is teaching us the value of time.  Time with family.  Time for self-growth.  Time for laughter.  Time for love.  #Socialdistancing is teaching us who we are – at our core when no one else is watching.  We are learning who we are without the world telling us who we should be.

So, instead of wishing for normal, why don’t we celebrate the EXTRAORDINARY and look forward to what can be an amazing new normal.

The four youngest in the family: May look the same, but very different personalities.

1.       Different Children with Different Needs: I have said it before, and will say it again.  Our children are different from any other child – even siblings.  What makes this world so special is the differences.  Different, by definition, means NOT normal.  Let’s celebrate these differences and not a world of cookie-cutter sameness. That world lacks depth, color, and beauty. That world will also never truly come to pass.  It is about time we realized and embraced that. 

Spencer overcomes his fear of heights!

2.       Overcoming challenges: We all have challenges in life. Every one of us has overcome something – sickness, depression, addiction, self-esteem.  That is a HUGE accomplishment.  We should celebrate that not dwell on the past of “normal” where we lived in those things.  Every kid has challenges – whether they are on the spectrum, have a special need, or are labeled “normal” or “neuro-typical” by the world.  Every kid is beautiful.   We should celebrate the bravery of facing those challenges.  Celebrate the hard work that goes into overcoming challenges.  Celebrate the stronger, more compassionate, more confident individual who comes out on the other side of those challenges.

Daddy son time - investing in the future. The men walk on a pathway through the woods in Gettysburg, PA.
Daddy son time – investing in the future. The men walk on a pathway through the woods in Gettysburg, PA.

3.       Craft a new normal: As the discussion of how to “return to normal” after #socialdistancing and #quarantine start, I encourage you to stop.  Stop thinking about returning.  Start thinking about the future.  Why would we want to return to world measured in likes, memes, and insincerity?  We have been offered an amazing opportunity to do radical change in our personal lives, our community, and the world.  Let us craft a new normal.  A normal of Love.  A normal of Compassion.  A normal of Encouragement.  Let us stop measuring normal and start celebrating the uniqueness, bravery and beautiful creature that is the individual in the mirror, sitting next to us, across from us, or passing by.

I know it is easy to crave “normal.”  We want to have a routine, to have a semblance of balance, to want what we know.  But humans have NEVER been called to accept the status quo.  We have never been called to be complacent.  We are mechanisms of change. 

Family of four walk the street
Family of four walk the street

We have been offered an unprecedented opportunity to cultivate incredible change for good. It is our responsibility to let go of the “old normal” and embrace the “new normal.”  Let us re-prioritize our life to honor this opportunity.  Celebrate the gift that has been so lavishly poured out upon us – time with family, getting back to basics, being real with each other and ourselves.  As we move forward to “new normal,”” I pray we keep this in mind and look forward to the incredible change for good in how we treat each other and ourselves.

Re-set During #Socialdistancing

Man laying down on steps of building during daylight hours
Man laying down on steps of building

Before #socialdistancing exercise, eating right, and balance seemed much easier.  Motivation was easy – people see you.  Who wants to look like a louse in public? 

But as #socialdistancing extends, the leggings, carbs and time in front of the TV are preferable to almost anything else.  No one wants to look at the scale.

For kids with sensory needs, this is even more important as the sensory input of a workout resets the chemistry in the brain.  This helps with focus, self-control, and skill development.

Countless studies show exercise is critical to health.  But there is a developing field of study in how exercise actually helps impact the neuron pathways in the brain.  ABA, Occupational Therapists, even parents, can attest to the importance of a regular sensory workout program (SWP) in helping children with special needs, indeed all children, with coping, focus, and development.

How does one do this in the home?  When we can’t leave?

Here are some things that work for us.

Hanging out in the sensory room playing on the ropes, rock wall and rings.
Hanging out in the sensory room

Sensory Room

A sensory room is designed to help someone regulate their brain using external sensory input.  That is technical speak for “help re-center yourself.”  Sensory rooms have been shown to have calming effects, help improve focus, increase socialization, and help with all sorts of development (both neurological and physical.

We discovered this importance when our son was about five.  He needed a place to get all his wiggles out, calm down, and enjoy himself. 

Our room is the garage.  In this room, we have an art table, a basketball hoop, rock wall, ropes, and a punching bag. 

This room is a place where we presently do out occupational therapy, but when it is not used for therapy, it is also a “fort” (which every kid needs).  A sensory room grows with the child.  This room is the “hang out” place for playdates, it is the escape from parents when angry place, and a place for a great work out for parents place as well.

Ideas on how to create a sensory workout program
Ideas on how to create a sensory workout program

Sensory Workout

No one likes working out.  Even those who say they do – don’t.  They like the after-effects. 

That is true for our kiddos too.  Working out is hard.  But a necessity of life.

A sensory work out is not that different than a regular work out. I do recommend getting with your occupational therapist before starting one, as each work out is different depending on the person.

Usually, a workout will consist of some combination of proprioceptive (deep pressure to joints and calming/organizing), vestibular (excites, usually circulatory and rhythmic), touch, smell, breathing, and auditory input.  It does not usually go longer than 30 minutes and can be done easily at home or at school.

We have been known to do wall push-ups and squats in grocery stores, joint pressure at restaurants and them parks, and always have some sort of audio and smell for calming wherever we go.  We like citrus oils for focus before school ad lavender oils for calming after.

Sensory Tent
Sensory Tent

Sensory rest

Just as every fitness instructor will say a warm-up and cool down are important for every workout, sensory rest is just as essential for every person.

A 2018 study showed an average adult (18+ years old) spends over 11 hours a day looking at a screen.  That is 45.83% of the 24-hour day.  If you a lot for 8 hours of sleep (which we don’t usually get), that is 68.75% of our day in front of a screen!   Is it any wonder we need a reset?

In our house, we each have space and activity that works for us.

My husband goes on long runs and he and I will do a kickboxing or boxing workout on the punching bag at least once a week (sometimes more).

My son and I like to do yoga together.  The meditation and combination of proprioceptive and vestibular input are super calming.  I prefer something like YogaShred where he prefers the stories of Cosmic Kids Yoga.

We also both love heavy blankets! 

My son also has a tent in his room he often withdraws to where he reads, draws, plays with Lego. 

Workout gear

I know it is hard to feel settled during #socialdistancing.  It is hard during regularly scheduled programming as well.  Try and find some ways this week to help re-set.  Re-center. Refresh.  Let me know what  works for you and your kiddos or if you want some more ideas on how to use what you already have in your home to make a sensory diet.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Friendship is forever.  Child with stuffed Teddy on a wooden bridge.
Friendship is forever. Child with stuffed Teddy on a wooden bridge.

Hello from the inside – of the house.  It seems to be the same mantra every day these days.  Don’t leave the house.  Don’t visit friends.  Don’t be routine. 

It is easy to fall into the habit of leggings and bonbons if you are not careful. But this would be devastating to both health and wellness. 

So how do we have a community when we cannot leave the house?

As a parent in the special needs community, I know firsthand how essential it is to have a community – and how hard it is to find.  People hear the word special needs, autism, ADHD, blindness, deafness, cancer (take your pick) and give that sappy smile and gracefully bow out of every invitation.

Now we cannot leave the house and we are still supposed to have community? This seems like an impossible task.

But there is hope!

Some simple steps to a strengthened sense of community that will lighten the atmosphere at your home and remind you that your community, neighborhood and good friends are still there…on the other side of the glass.

Zoom call with most the family - spanning three states across the country and 6 cities
Zoom call with most the family – spanning three states across the country and 6 cities

ZOOM Dates – the New Play Date

Over Easter, we usually have a lot of people over for a feast and egg hunt.  My son will create some form of costume for everyone.  This year he made jackrabbit hare ears for the older kids and snowshoe hare ears for the younger.  We had prepped and told him this year there would be no guests at our Easter table – but he did it anyway. 

When the time came for feasting, he said, “We can’t.  My friends are not sick.  They are coming.”  To which we had to explain again, thank you #COVID-19, that this year was a celebration with just the family.

But this was eye-opening. 

Our normally social only in scheduled events kid was really asking for a play date. So we did what any parent would – Zoom play date with his best friends.

This is an easy way to see faces, hear voices, and laugh with friends. Near and far. It can last as long or as little as you wish.

Battle black blur board game of chess
Battle black blur board game of chess

Make It A Game

During any phone call, it is easy to not want to chat after a few minutes.  It is important to make the play date just as fun as you would if it were in your own home.

Play some games. We used dry erase boards and played Pictionary. Some other great games would be Hedbandz, Speak Out, Bingo and good old fashioned Hangman.

Some other great apps are HouseParty and FacebookKidzMessanger.  The nice thing about FacebookKidzMessanger is the a parent is in control the whole time, and the kids can text between calls.

Spencer writes letters
Spencer write letters

Old Fashioned Letters

It is so nice to be able to see people’s faces and hear their voices with technology like Zoom, Google Video, and Facebook. 

But there is something to be said about getting a letter or card in the mail. 

You know when you get mail (that is not a bill or junk mail), your heart skips a beat and you think to yourself, “Someone thought of me! How nice.” 

Kids get that feeling times 100!  My son sees a piece of junk mail advertising a car and immediately states in excitement, “Guess what!? We are getting a car?!”  (Yes, he missed the fine print). But the excitement is real!

Our son writes to those in the hospital, in nursing homes, his aunts, old teachers and pen-pals. 

There is nothing like seeing him open his mail and immediately want to write back. 

So take a minuet and remember the thrill.  And encourage letter writing all around.

Brothers play with dog in the sunlight
Brothers play with dog in the sunlight

I know it seems like a neighbor and community are things of the past right now.  I know it feels like you are alone in a new world of parenting never seen before.  I know you feel lost, anxious and confused.  We all do.  But these little changes can really impact your health and wellness.  These changes will remind your child (and yourself) you are not alone.  You are never alone. 

Take a minute this week and try one of these things.  See how it changes your perspective.  Then let me know how it worked out for you.  I would love to hear your stories. 

TGIF FUN Friday and How It Changed Our Homeschool World

girl-playing-with-bubbles
girl-playing-with-bubbles

For those new to homeschooling, it can be very intimidating.  Do we know enough?  Can we have the patience?  How do I balance everything?

You have come to the right place.

The last elementary school our son went to in Maryland implemented a FUN Friday routine.  (Thank you, Tara, for all you do!) 

When we decided to home school and work from home, we chose to implement this same thing. Using this incentive routine has been so beneficial in helping our son take responsibility for his own learning – and chores – throughout the week.  For more on how to use incentives, check out this blog Let’s Make a Deal). Here is how it works:

happy-coffee
happy-coffee

1)      Monday Start: On Monday have a checklist created of the school tasks assigned for the week.  If you missed how to do this, check out last week’s blog Finding Balance: Telework and Homeschooling. Upfront, the student knows what is expected.  This helps them plan their own week (a key executive function).  It also reminds them their education is their own.  You cannot be there all the time.

2)      Four Day Week:  No one wants to work more than they need.  We spend two to three hours a day at school.  With great focus, this is all we need for the entire week.  The most we have ever needed was to spend four hours in one day. Whatever is not completed Thursday will roll over to Friday.

3)      On Friday:  Just because it is Friday does not mean our responsibilities cease.  In the “real world,” we would still have family obligations (sometimes work depending on the schedule), and regular household tasks.  The same is true for our son.  The following must be completed PRIOR to FUN Friday commencing:

a.       Chores complete: Who wants to play in a messy house?  No one.  All chores must be completed.

b.       Thirty minutes outside:  Sun is essential for healthy bodies.  Imaginative play is essential for healthy minds.  Time playing outside is a requirement.  Thirty minutes is our minimum.

c.       Read a book:  If you have younger kids, a single kid’s book is fine.  If you have older kids, depending on the book, at least one (sometimes two) chapters must be read. 

d.       Be Creative: Imaginative is play is important to development.  Art and play are vital to many engineering skills, communication skills, and sometimes give insight into emotional health for a parent. Our son must be creative.  Sometimes that is writing a comic book, building Lego, painting, or playing in clay. The options are limitless!

4k-wallpaper-adorable-blur-boy
4k-wallpaper-adorable-blur-boy

4)      FUN Friday is here: This part of the day consists of whatever the child wants (within reason).  Our son does not get a lot of screen time (see how we use it in this blog Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy).  He usually asks for a movie.  But sometimes, we use this time to go to a zoo, the aquarium, or another outing.  During #socialdistancing, we do games, movies with popcorn, build forts, and so much more.  The day is limited only by imagination. 

We discovered this small change to education, has increased focus during school, allowed us to start teaching a new language, build on social skills, and increased our family connection in a positive way. 

Now that homeschool is becoming a norm, I encourage you to try FUN Friday in your home.  See how it goes for a while.  Remember, you earn income, paid vacations, flex work hours for your hard work and focus at work.  Let’s extend that to our children who need incentives just as much.