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.

5 Easy Steps to Socializing Your Home School Kid

Photo by Dazzle Jam on Pexels.com

“I am worried about sending my kids back, but I concerned about socialization if I homeschool.”

“I loved the flexibility of homeschooling this last semester, but I am concerned about socializing.”

“I really want to homeschool, but I am concerned about socializing.”

Sound familiar? 

This is actually the number one “concern” I hear when people learn we homeschool.  It honestly makes me laugh – more so now that I know the changes districts across America are making.

When we chose to pull our kid from public school (for so many reasons), we were “concerned” about socializing as well.  This was particularly concerning for a parent of special needs children who need the stream-lined socialization for more than just play.

The fears of the “weird home school kid” label and, worst, it becoming true, were a serious battle for my family.  I did what any data-loving person would do – I calculated all the time he spent “socializing” at traditional public schools.  There is no talking in class (unless a team activity, which was once a week at best). There is no talking in the hallways (too and from PE, lunch, and recess or assemblies).  There was no talking on the bus to and from school.  So, I was left with the 20-minute lunch, 15-minute recess, and 20-minute PE class on average most days.  I added in another 20 minutes of “team activities” for grace.  All in all, my son was “socializing” 90 minutes a day – at best.

From what teachers are telling me, with new COVID-19 measures, children will not be allowed to socialize with those outside their class, dividers will be put up between students at their desks, team projects are out the window, and oh, PE, recess, and lunch will likely be in the same room with the same kids they are not allowed to go within 6-feet of.

Then I considered WHO he was socializing with.  Daily we were informed of bullying (my son was actually bullied by students, teachers, and aides).  Daily he would come home with stories that would break your heart. 

The kids he could hang out with without being bullied, well, their morals were questionable at best.  Parents allowing elementary kids to watch movies like Saw and other horror movies, or who believed kids should not be held accountable for behavior because they are “kids and need to figure things out on their own.”  The lessons he was learning from his peers were not love, kindness, and mercy, but hate, selfishness, and worry.

Weighing the pros and cons, we obviously decided to pull our son.

So, how do we get that 90-minute social activity?  How could we as parents fill the role the state has been doing so mediocrely? Could we do it better? The answer was a resounding YES.

Our son winning the Gold at Florida State Championship

1.       Team Sports: Many parents say they are exhausted between school and the numerous activities they do after soon.  Homeschool actually offered less time “in the books” and more time to have fun.  Our son joined a community team – first flag football and then track and field.  He is held accountable, taught self-discipline, and has so much fun!  He has been a state champion in flag football and in track and field three years running. I addition to some great local teams, check out Special Olympics – for streamlined and special needs kiddos. 

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

2.       Play-dates: I don’t know about you, but I love play-dates (even as an adult).  The beauty of homeschool is I get to pick who my child spends his time with.  Gone are the days were every kid in a 30-student classroom has to be invited to every party and play-date.  Now, we got to know who he was spending time with, the values those kids were pouring into each other, and not have to do the obligatory invitations to kids we knew our son did not want to hang out with. Don’t rule out co-ops, small groups, youth groups, and Sunday School.

Community Serve Day making cards for senior citizens

3.       Volunteering: There is so much emphasis in high school to do community service.  A lot of schools now require this to graduate.  But, why do we wait so long to instill that into our children?  Volunteering is so important to the community and developing young hearts into compassionate passionate adults.  Some great places to get involved are your local church, food closets, and community centers.  We love working with senior citizens, writing cards, calling, video chatting!  Our son has now started helping lead the young children at our church in Sunday School activities.  I love it when my son gets to help out our local Rotary club serving meals, helping in supply drives, and more or helping Habitat For Humanity.  See what your community offers, I bet it is more than you think.

Exploring the Florida Cavarns

4.       Field Trips: Our son was lucky enough to go on one to two field trips a year.  Field trips are so important for hands-on learning and socializing.  People are more themselves when not in a traditional classroom.  Since we pulled for home school, my son goes on at least once a month (COVID-19 aside).  There are so many places to go for free and a lot of places have openings for homeschool groups.  For biology and ecology, we took a trip to the Florida Caverns, for history we went to a live re-enactment of the Spanish colonies in Florida.  There are so many possibilities!  Even before homeschool, we would travel somewhere at least once a month just to see the world and new cultures.  These are perfect outings for playdates, other homeschool families to join in on, or just fun for the whole family.

Photo by Rodolfo Quiru00f3s on Pexels.com

5.    Extra-curriculars: Just like any kid, homeschool kids need extracurriculars.  Our son has enjoyed learning dance and guitar.  These are great ways to introduce other teachers while also helping encourage friendships to grow in unlikely places.  Many community centers offer these classes for free or cheap. Don’t rule out acting, dance, art. Scouts are a great way to teach volunteerism and socializing.

It is easy to be concerned with socializing your child.  I think we should be concerned about what that looks like regardless of where they go to school.  As the old adage says, bad company corrupts good character.  Homeschool offers an ability to know what is happening in your child’s life, offers more opportunity to grow and learn in a social environment, and allows you the opportunity to invest in the lives of those who hang around your child.  

Whether you homeschool or not, I hope you consider these tips and how they can help your family grow together in love, laughter, and learning.

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. 

Key to Unlocking the Mystery

Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.

Jim Rohn

When people learn that, especially those with special needs children, I am immediately asked what we did to help him? Was it the medication? Was it diet? Was it therapy?  The answer is teamwork.

It is a process, like all parenting.  No one expects their five-year-old to do laundry.  No one expects their sixteen-year-old to sign a loan.  It is a process of teaching and learning on both sides of the parenting aisle. 

Track Changes

It is really easy to share about the rough days in the lives of special needs.  But all that does is focus on the negative and does not act toward a solution.  Maybe it is the researcher in me, or maybe it is my determination to understand the why, or maybe it is my sheer stubbornness, but I was determined to not let my child use his diagnosis as a crutch.  And I was not going to let the world do that either.

But, when your kid cannot talk at age five, you might think this is not possible.  I am can confidently say it does not have to be.

The first thing I am always told is that is way too much work. And if you approach it like that, you may find it is. But I did not. In total, once I had a system, it took about 15 minutes a day…and the data was AMAZING!

Here is how it was done and some lessons we learned:

STEP ONE: Get Everyone on Board

This is probably the hardest step.  When you think about it, you leave your kids in the hands of others sometimes up to 40 hours a week.  This could be a teacher, an aide, a therapist, a Sunday School teacher, or a babysitter.  Everyone is different and so what is considered bad behavior for one may be tolerable or expected behavior to another. It is essential to get everyone on the same page.

We developed an easy light system, much like a street light, that could be used in all locations.  Because it could be used in all locations, our son knew what was expected from him at all times.

The Color System

There are four colors and the frequency of use changes with age and need.  When we started at age five, our son had the opportunity to earn 15 blues a day.  We believe in grace – no one has a perfect day every day.  To that end, we always allow a place for imperfection.  When he was younger, our son could earn 10 blues and greens and still earn whatever incentive he was working for. Now, there are certain actions that automatically mean he loses his incentive but he also has fewer chances to earn things. We break the day up by activity now not by the hour.

Before we get too far, let me explain what an incentive is and is not. 

An incentive is NOT a bribe.  A bribe is a reward given in extreme frustration to a child misbehaving.  An incentive is a reward given in a contract.  I will do an entire blog on this next, but for now, this should get you where you need to go.

Breaking up the day by activity and time helps understand what topics and times of day may need more or less attention

Here are the colors:

Blue: This is beyond what you would expect from a child – excellent behaviors, no reminders, best kid you ever met. This would be an A+ student.

Green: Exactly what you would expect from a child.  Nothing too bad and nothing too good. This would be a B/A student.

Yellow: Walking a dangerous path.  Perhaps you need to give some warnings.  Perhaps there is an attitude creeping into the child’s tone.  This is your warning.  This would be C student.

Red: Game over! This behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.  This is an F student.

The color system is easy to explain to other adults and is easy to teach to your child.  

Seeing at glance improvement over time helps bring scope and value to the progress made

How do you keep track during those times you are not with your kids?

We used a grid system of school subject, time of day and days of the week.  We found this was easy for the provider or teacher to be able to communicate to us how the day went without having to write a book.

On the back of our weekly grid was any comments the aide, teacher, or babysitter wanted to provide with why they chose that color or any specific good or bad behavior of which we needed to be aware.

I then kept all of these in a three-ring binder divided by school year.  Once a month I would count up the blues, greens, yellows, and reds and have a clear indication of which direction my child was going.  This also helped when speaking with occupational, speech and ABA therapists to help see what times of days and what subject’s in school were more problem areas and where we could spend less time and focus.

STEP TWO: Track A-B-C Behavior

A-B-C behavior is your lifesaver! This data tells you so much about your child from what they like or dislike to how they may be physically feeling to how smart they are.

What is it?  Antecedent, behavior, consequence.  I will spend more time on this is a future blog on ABA therapy, but here is what you need to know to get started. 

I used a chart of date and time with A-B-C.

This helped me track where trouble times of the day may be (like right before bed or end of the week due to exhaustion) or certain activities which may be frustrating to my kiddo (like math and homework at the end of the day). 

What are some antecedents?  Transitions, change in routine, a difficult task (anything from buttoning clothes to multiplying fractions – wherever your kid is) can all be antecedents.  This is what occurs prior to the behavior you are seeing.  This is super helpful when communicating with other adults, especially babysitters, so they can know how better to help your kiddo,

Behavior is simply that – what behavior did your child exhibit?  Was he eloping? Was he hurting himself or others?  Was he not doing work (avoiding what was requested of him)?  What action took place?

Consequence is essential.  This goes hand in hand with incentives.  The key to a good consequence is that it is known in advance and is followed through on consistently.  CONSISTENTLY.  If this is not consistent, everything is lost!

For adults, we know if we steal, we go to jail. This is a law.  This is not just a law on books, it is common law – do not steal or you go to jail.  You know the consequence in advance.  If you steal one time, you go to jail (when the system works correctly).  When you steal again, you go to jail.  The rules do not change and the consequences do not change.  We, as humans, respond best to consistency.  It is essential the consequences are communicated to the child, the caregiver, and your partner and you are on the same page.  If your kid can get away with task avoidance with Dad and not Mom, this will not work. 

Tracking this information is essential to not only understand your child and what makes them tick but helps you as a parent teach self-control, responsibility, and rule of law (which every society everywhere has some form).  This also, over time, makes your life parenting much easier.  No more repeating yourself.  No more fighting with your kiddo.  This allows them to start feeling independent.

Grid of time and date, next colum initials of who saw behavior, Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence are the next three columns
Seeing what is the antecedent helps to discover how to help solve problems we cannot see.

STEP THREE: Track What You Eat

This may sound a bit absurd, but believe me, it is more helpful than a pedestrian visit.  When we started tracking what our kiddo ate, we could see and anticipate behavior.

My mom used to make the most incredible cakes for our birthdays…all our eight birthdays a year.  And every time one of us kid had a birthday, my mom would get sick.  It took forever for the doctors to figure out what was happening until they tracked the ingredients she used in the frosting of the cake.  She was allergic, but did not know it.  Tracking the daily helped the doctors (and my mom) to figure out the problem.

We decided to not wait for a doctor to tell us to do this.  We just started to do it.  What we discovered changed our lives.

When our son eats dairy, any dairy, within 24 hours to the minute, he is having behavior problems.  This was essential information when he could not speak.  But it also helps us now that he can.  Our son is not allergic to dairy, but he cannot physically process it.  This leads to stomach aches and headaches which leads to less focus, patience, and acceptance in situations that may otherwise be easy to handle for him. 

How did we discover this?  We tracked his meals.  Every day for two years.  We saw the trend at six months, but did a full two-year study for certainty.  And because data is indispensable.  This essential data has come in handy when talking to his therapists, pediatrician, allergist, and teachers.  It has also helped create a much more calm home environment. 

This is super easy now with apps for food tracking (just google a play store app for a diet and millions pop up). 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

STEP FOUR: Pray

Many of you know I am Christian.  I think God played (and continues to play) a large role in the success of my family.  From the day my son came into my life, I have prayed for him.  I have prayed for healing.  I have prayed he has control over his emotions.  I have prayed he has a heart for obedience and compassion for others. 

Most of these things a child on the spectrum, especially those that cannot express themselves, have trouble with.  There were days our son would hit, kick, scream and bite because he could not tell us his stomach hurt or that he did not like the texture of a food.  Simple things to those with the gift of language. 

It can be, often is, and has been over-whelming. 

But I have learned specific prayers get specific answers.  Within a year of praying my son could speak in complete sentences.  Though we still have spitting and kicking outbursts, the frequency of these has decreased dramatically – from constant throughout the day to maybe once to twice a month in four years.

Though I know not all follow my God, I highly recommend prayer or mediation of some kind.  I have found it to not only calm me but has allowed me to approach problems from outside of them not stuck in the middle of them.

                What we Have Learned

Data is key to understanding your child, especially if they are non-verbal.  It can be easier than you think with grids and check-boxes.  It takes less time than you think with apps and only 10 to 15 minutes a day.  It brings more peace, calm, and happiness to your child because you understand them more, but also to your home.

Do not feel over-whelmed.  Do what you can do and let the rest fall by the way-side.  Not every kid is the same and not every kid will respond the same way.  I do highly recommend, above all else, consistency in your home with both praise and consequences. 

Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.Jim Rohn

When people learn that, especially those with special needs children, I am immediately asked what we did to help him? Was it the medication? Was it diet? Was it therapy?  The answer is teamwork.

It is a process, like all parenting.  No one expects their five-year-old to do laundry.  No one expects their sixteen-year-old to sign a loan.  It is a process of teaching and learning on both sides of the parenting aisle.