A Fresh Start

Happy New Year! 

Maybe it’s just me but I always feel a burst of optimism at the start of a new year. It’s a time to create the possibility of change, a rebirth of expectations for yourself and hope to change some of our less desirable habits. 

For parents, it’s an opportunity to explore just how much they are willing to improve. It’s tricky to set a realistic goal without trying to go overboard. In setting a goal, it’s important to take that goal seriously enough but not to not set the bar so high that you set yourself up for disappointment and feel less effective as a parent. 

Here are some “sure to fail” goals and how to re-adjust them into winning possibilities: 

1. “Lose weight”: of all the New Years resolutions, this one is the most popular. 

Instead of setting yourself up for too much pressure on yourself (after all, if you’re reading this as a parent of an Atypical child, you’ve already got your hands full)! How about:

“Plan healthy menus for the entire family. ” 

Now that’s a goal that is a win-win. Healthy food= good habits for you and for the kids! 

2. “Stop yelling”: here’s another “sure to fail” goal. Sure, no one wants to be a “yeller” but is it impossible to say “stop yelling” and have it work? Not likely. 

How about this: I will give myself permission to be upset but remember to stop, breath, reframe what I was about to say or do into a more communicative conversation.  I like the STOP method:

Stop

Take a breath

Observe what is going on

Proceed mindfully 

3. “Be More Organized”: another sure to fail goal if it isn’t properly structured. Let’s try this: let each family member choose one area of organization responsibility so it’s not just on you. For kids:  Put backpacks by the front door the night before and for parents: make those lunches the night before. 

4.  And here is the goal I wish every parent would work on: self compassion. 

Parents of Atypical kids struggle with an already overloaded burden. Acknowledging that struggle and giving yourself a hug often (that massage can help too!) will go a long way to make you a better parent! 

Here’s to a great 2017! 

The Best Gift of All 

A reprint from one of my favorite holiday posts from 2013, the message is still so timely!! 
THE BEST GIFT OF ALL
Now that the gifts are unpacked and family celebrations are winding down, is it possible to include an often overlooked dimension to this winter season?
This might be the right time to introduce to your child an extra awareness of the world around us and to cultivate your own version of spirituality. 
 Recent research has found that children who are more spiritual are happier – and healthier. This doesn’t necessarily mean typical religious practices but the research included qualities such as a child’s sense of personal meaning and their sense of basic values as kindness towards others, altruism, meaningful relationships and volunteering. All of these things, the research found, were associated with a spiritual life and ‘enhanced well being.’

It is often said that children are more open to spirituality than adults who have become hurried, cynical or just too busy to consider adding a spiritual dimension to the day. But children also need to be exposed to the possibility of expanding their consciousness outward, not just downward into the face of an ipad tablet, but outward to notice the gifts of nature and the wonder of living a life that transcends the material world.

When we elevate our children’s sense of wonder, we also open the possibility of having a child who just might be more contented, less hyperactive and more open to other types of thinking that is not found automatically from living in the grind of the daily routine or found on TV.

Children who are atypical are often more vulnerable to the commercial influence of the shopping ‘gotta have it’ culture. And parents of atypical kids are more stressed, and more invested in trying to make their children happy so they also may buy into the culture of ‘more’ while forgetting that there is another side to life.

Yet, just as spirituality is good for kids, it is also good for you, the parent. Even the most secular and least religiously affiliated parent can consider the possibility of connecting children to forces outside their own sense of self. 

When we experience living as connected to the world as a whole, rather than the “me-me-me dimension” , lives become enriched. Consider, for example, how you might feel after a morning volunteering at a homeless shelter rather than another trip to the local mall?

Providing perspective on life is important, especially for atypical children who are struggling in their own way and are confronted with a great deal of inner stress. In this season of wonder and change for the new year, consider the possibility of adding an extra dimension to your life as well as that of your children.

5 tips to cultivating spirituality in yourself and in your children.

Gratitude

 give thanks before you eat, not just for the food but for everything that allowed the meal to get to the table. The farmer, the store, the truck that brought the food and the blessing of being in a country that has food in abundance. Get in the habit of pointing out your blessings, from the big things to the little things we all take for granted. Children will learn what they see, and gratitude will help a child be more sensitive and appreciative.

Practice wonder – 

a mindful contemplation. Experiment with having a moment of silence and pay attention to how you are feeling. Do this with your children. Report to each other how it felt to be silent and what you were thinking and feeling. You can do this before before bedtime, including breathing and stillness as a practice.

Helping others – 

practicing kindness and giving are experiences that children can learn to model. Volunteer as a family or just perform random acts of kindness, such as helping an older person open the door or take their groceries to the car for them. It can open conversations for children that would not occur otherwise.

Connect with nature – 

consider spending your evening with a contemplative walk outside and appreciating the stars. Experience along with your child a walk in the forest or a picnic at the beach. Take the time to look at the shore, the waves and the sky and point out details that might get overlooked. Consider the snowflakes as being unique and draw parallels to your unique child. By having these conversations, you are exercising your child’s ‘spiritual muscle’ and are building more calm and resilient children as well enriching your self.

Provide a spiritual role model

 If you don’t feel like you can be a positive spiritual role model, try to find one for your child. This will help your child connect outward and learn from others a more purposeful and positive outlook.

For more information on building spirituality in children, visit these websites:
http://www.Spiritualityforkids.com
http://www.livescience.com/3198-spirituality-religion-kids-happy.html
http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Life-Children-Robert-Coles/dp/0395599237

Do You Feel Sorry for Your Atypical Child? 


Feeling sorry for a child who struggles with a special need is a common, understandable reaction from a loving parent. But it’s not going to help your kid. Here’s how to adopt a new mindset that will.

Nine-year-old Amanda walked into my office, a worried frown on her freckled face. She heaved a heavy backpack off of her shoulders, dropping it with a thud and blurted out, “I’m exhausted!” Her mother agreed, noting, “I feel so bad for her all the time. She is under so much stress!”

As a parent, it’s hard not to feel sorry for your own child sometimes. It’s especially hard if your child has the extra burden of an atypical profile. Children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, ADHD, autism, or developmental delays are additionally weighed down by the necessities of their diagnosis, whether extra tutoring, multiple therapies, socialization groups or intensive behavior training programs.

Parents may have to let go of typical fun activities, such as sports teams or school plays, in lieu of prescriptive interventions. It’s emotionally draining both for child and parent. No one wants their child to be different, and yet differences seem to drive the weekly calendar, continually reminding everyone of the “special needs” of the child.

A major reason it is so difficult to keep a positive attitude when your child is atypical is because, like all parents, you worry. You worry that your child will be bullied, have no friends, never go to college or get married. That he’ll suffer.
But yet, because children learn by watching their parents, it is critical to adopt a cheerful attitude. The way you see your child ultimately shapes her own self perspective. On top of everything you’re challenged to do, you have to cultivate optimism, resilience and confidence in your child’s outcome. Is that hard? You bet it is. But if you keep these Dont’s and Do’s in mind, it can be easier. 
 

DON’T

Confuse feeling sorry for your child with support. 
There’s a big difference between pity and empathy. Stay positive and help your child find resources to build resilience and confidence.
Always look through the disability lens
Your kid is a whole person with different gifts and great potential. The special need aspect is just one aspect of your child’s life.


Don’t Project forward

Sometimes, parents will worry about something that might happen – but it’s stemming from their own experiences or fears. Are you worried that he won’t be popular because you weren’t popular? Take some time to find out what your child is worried about; you might be surprised to find out that he is much more at ease than you thought.

Don’t Overindulge to “compensate”
Extra video games or unlimited treats, for example, do not have anything to do with your child’s disability. Stick to “typical” rules, while allowing for occasional leniency in circumstances that really do relate to her disability.

Don’t Be too tough



Tough love doesn’t work with atypical kids. Atypical kids are more fragile. Get to know your child and work with his strengths. 

 
DO: 

Step in when necessary
Some atypical kids are prone to social isolation and depression. Teachers, even if unintentionally, can exacerbate the problem. Keep an eye on your child and have open communication so he’ll feel comfortable confiding in you.
You are your child’s advocate, and your child will need assertive intervention at times. This is not “babying” your child. It’s part of your job as a pro-active parent of an atypical child.

Do Encourage participation
Don’t limit your child’s activity options based on what you think she can’t do. If she really wants to join that club or try that sport or take those lessons, chances are there is a way to make it happen.

DO Enjoy the present
Staying in the moment and noticing your amazing child as she unfolds is an important—and joyful—exercise. Take a short break from the everyday jostle to savor small moments of just being together.

DO Express gratitude daily
Before bed, perhaps at tuck-in time, encourage your child to think about what he’s thankful for. Chime in with a few ideas yourself.

A Time to Nurture, a Time to Heal 

It’s that time of year to turn inwards briefly to take stock of how to nurture yourself after the tumultuous election season, before plowing into the busy holiday activities. 

The following is an excerpt from my book “Not What I Expected” about taking care of yourself. It’s a timely reminder to take care of yourself to be the best parent you can be. 

It’s important for parents to give some conscious thought to create and assemble a customized “self-care menu.” 

The idea is that you brainstorm activities that appeal to you and give them a try in whatever amount you like. You may choose an “appetizer” portion in case you only have fifteen minutes, a “main course” that gives you a larger dose of relief or relaxation, or a “dessert” that you use as reward for a particularly rough day. If you are a full-time working parent, this applies to you as well. In addition to wearing two hats, the home hat and the office hat, you deserve to find some space you can call your own. 

What would it look like for you?

In putting together your personal self-care menu, you will want to think about your life before you became a parent. 

What got you out of bed each morning? What was your joy, your favorite hobby, your dream activity? What nourishes your soul, even momentarily? Everyone has interests that can be powerfully healing. Look back and recall the activities that were the most fun or meaningful. Was it laughter and wine with friends? Taking your dog to obedience class? Going to concerts? Cooking a great meal? Playing softball? Repairing bicycles? Playing your guitar? Zumba class? Reading a great novel? Or just having some solitude? 

Customize the items on your self-help menu so that even reading your list will give you a little lift. Here are the categories that the parents I work with have found to be most helpful.

Connect with Nature

The Japanese have a phrase for the healing effects of nature: shrinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” Something as simple as taking a walk outside, breathing in the air, and appreciating the wind in the trees can be restorative.

Move Your Body

Look for a physical activity you really enjoy and might even come to crave – riding your bike, dancing, walking, hiking, playing volleyball, boxing. Many people find that it’s more fun if you do this activity with a friend or partner. A great many people practice yoga and there is research to support the treatment of depression with specific types of yoga, although you might find ballroom dancing to be more to your liking.

Master Just One Thing at a Time and Then Celebrate It!

If you learn to master just one thing – that has nothing to do with your child – it can restore your sense of power. It does not matter what this one thing is; it can be anything from learning to knit to running a marathon. A side benefit to mastering just one thing is that competence at one thing leads to great competence in other areas of your life. By mastering that one thing, you prove to yourself that you are still learning, growing, becoming.

Find a Special Place for Yourself Outside the Home

All parents should be able to get away from the house and the role of mom or dad, and have a place where they can feel a glimmer of their old selves. Maybe you need solitude and can locate a special meditative spot in a forest or park near your home. Maybe you enjoy your local health club, where you can work out and also connect with other people who aren’t necessarily parents. Being outside of your home at a place that is not work related, even for a short burst of time, is invigorating.

Join a Group – Support or Otherwise

Joining or forming a support group comprised of other parents of atypical kids is an excellent way to share experiences and reduce your feelings of isolation. Learning form others about what has helped them will show you that there are more paths toward hopefulness than you may have imagined. If you feel the need for a community of people who are not parents, where you can share other interests, that is every bit as legitimate as a support group.

Make Date Night a Top Priority (with Your Partner or Your Friends)

Before you became a parent, you had dates with your partner or your friends. It’s time to revive that enjoyable custom.

Help Someone Else

You might think you are burned out with helping, seeing as you are already a caretaker for your child. But I’ve found in talking to many families that the one thing they are most grateful for is the opportunity to give back. It may seem like a terrible thought to ask you to give even more than you are giving, but the funny thing is, seeing people (or animals) in terrible situations that are different from your own can trigger some positive, meaningful feelings inside of you.

AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL! 

It’s ADHD Month: How Are You Doing? 

Parents who learn their child is atypical in some way often struggle with a sense of loss and disappointment, which can also drive a wedge in the relationship with their child.

 ADHD can be a particularly frustrating condition since it appears as if your child could do it if s/he wanted to. Remind yourself that ADHD is a very real condition and work on increasing your bond with your child. 
 Here are some activities that a parent can do to help reconnect with a child struggling with ADHD: 

Parents of ADHD children can get exasperated, if not downright frustrated with their child’s behavior. Children with ADHD process information differently, so cultivating a new way to view them is important. 

Here are a few suggestions:
1. “Special time”: create daily 20 minutes of time where you are alone with your child, where he or she gets to choose the activity, or just to hang out. Bonding without external distractions will help you rediscover what a wonderful kid you have.

2. Bonding activities that include – whatever your child likes! Cooking, art, or something active like playing ball in the yard or even having your kid teach you to play their favorite video game can help you both enjoy each other.

3. Create memories: do activities that you can talk about and reminisce in the future (“remember that time when…”) / Shared memories creates long -lasting bonds.

4. And finally, remember to laugh together -a lot. Sharing joy can be an important piece of the parent-child bond.

For more info on ADHD and parenting, here’s the link to the whole article:

Ask Our Experts: How to Parent a Child Struggling with ADHD