Tag Archives: Successfully Parenting a Special Needs Child

How to Avoid Un-Teachable Moments


Un-teachable Moments: those times when you wish your kid didn’t just see or hear that? Ever happen to you? 

How to Protect Kids from the Bad News: 

There is so much disaster, confusion and tragedy in the world right now. 

Exposure to a constant barrage of information about disasters and unstable political leaders flowing into our homes creates unintended consequences in terms of creating anxiety, uncertainty and stress. 

It’s all happening now, in real time, on our phones, on Alexa, in our cars – virtually anywhere. And it can be frightening for small children. 

Brain imprinting on developing brains:

What kind of imprint does all of this leave on children? 

All young children need to feel safe and secure, in order to grow their sense of well-being and their ability to courageously navigate their world. They do not yet have sufficient defenses to protect their innocent brains and imagination against a barrage of images and events. These horrific images create a primary imprint that becomes a future frame of reference for a young child. 

“I saw it and now I can’t un-see it,”

said a girl about a video she had inadvertently seen where somebody was shot and killed. 

Rresearch shows that chronic stress and fear is associated with significant brain changes, and possibly shows that toxic experiences actually re-form the architecture of developing brains. 
How do we protect the kids? It’s no longer 1960 when grown ups waited  until the kids are asleep for the grown ups to “catch up” on the news. 

It’s all around us. 

How to Protect and Convey Information to Young Kids: 

1. First, you can’t “un-teach” horrific images. Images become embedded in the young mind, with few defenses to protect it. Protect children from images that they aren’t equipped to handle. 

2. Limit discussing current events until YOU are emotionally regulated enough to share the information with your child at their level. 

Use my “SALT” method: 

S: SENSITIVE: be sensitive to the environment you want to create around your child. 

A: ATTUNED: become attuned to your child’s emotional state and your own emotional state when talking about issues

L: LOOK AND LISTEN: look at your child’s face carefully for reactions that they may not be able to express. Listen to their questions and reactions – answer their questions at their level. 

T:TRANSLATE: translate what you want to share in bite-size, kid-appropriate sound bites. News can be gruesome and scary.  They don’t need to know everything! 

Also: 

REASSURE: reassure your child that they are safe and you will always take care of them. 

PROTECT: above all, Protect your child from images that they shouldn’t be seeing. Save your frustration and rants over with your friends instead of using your kid as an inadvertent sounding board. 

Hopefully, with added vigilance, there will be less moments that you wish you could “unteach” – 

With wishes for a calmer world in this new year! 

 

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The Best Gift of All

Courtesy of Ikar, Los Angeles
Courtesy of Ikar, Los Angeles

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

www.Spiritualityforkids.com

http://www.livescience.com/3198-spirituality-religion-kids-happy.html

http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Life-Children-Robert-Coles/dp/0395599237

Umbrella Parents, Part 2: How Much Is Too Much?

Sometimes you have to retract the umbrella to find out what your kids are capable of.
Sometimes you have to retract the umbrella to find out what your kids are capable of.

Last post, I defined “umbrella parents” as parents who have to do what it takes to get their child’s needs served, even if it means looking like a ‘smother mother’ to other parents. I have always advocated parents being fully in the ring with their kids—and urge them to do whatever it takes to get their child’s needs met at school, camp, sports teams and elsewhere.

In that post, I also talked about executive function development and how it is often delayed in atypical children. This makes it essential for good parents to pave the way for their kids. Teachers, coaches, counselors and well-meaning parents of other children can be unintentionally cruel unless they are instructed otherwise. Your child clearly needs strong parental support as he or she is growing up.

But when does protecting your child become a habit rather than a necessity?

Or, as the exhausted mother of a teen put it, “Just exactly until when do we have to keep doing all of this?”

What Are Habituated Parents?

Umbrella parenting takes a lot of energy, planning and anticipating daily twists and turns of life. But eventually, it’s time to let go…. slowly. Sometimes this doesn’t happen fully until young adulthood, but it’s never too early to try to release the reins and see what happens, if only for a moment. Otherwise, parents risk becoming habituated to their children’s dependency and forget that the goal of umbrella parenting is to ultimately let go.

Here is an example of what I mean by a habituated parent:

Herbert is 11 years old. He’s so anxious about coming to me for testing that he is lying on the floor of the waiting room at his mother’s feet. She apologizes for him but does not make him sit up. He is, you see, anxious.

Herbert sullenly shuffles into my office and slumps into the chair. Mom checks that he has his backpack and enough snacks, and then tells him she loves him twice before leaving.

Who is the anxious one here?

Herbert slumps passively through his days while Mom takes care of all his needs. He is not developing the skills he needs to navigate the world independently or advocate for himself. Mom is too afraid for him to teach him what he needs to know. She has forgotten to retract the umbrella once in a while to help him learn to fend for himself.

Retracting the Umbrella

Instead of worrying yourself ragged like Herbert’s mom, try stepping back now and then, just a little.

You may start to notice that your child is capable of much more than you thought he could do. This change may come in stages, or progress at a more rapid pace. Take your cue from how things go in school. I find that many parents have no idea how independent or resourceful their child can be at school (or how polite and interactive), because he regresses as soon as he gets home.

Your child may be aware that she has a problem but is unable to act on the coping strategies she is learning right away. Once she matures that extra little bit, things suddenly click.

You may be surprised at how much your child can manage on his own, when you start to retract that umbrella bit by bit.  If you have been a vigilant umbrella parent for a while and are wondering if it’s time to step back,  take that baby step to see how it goes. Remember: even a small step can be a major accomplishment for your child. Give it a try and  be sure to share with us and with  other “positively atypical” parents and friends about your experience.

Next Post: Key teachable moments for every child.

When Is “Too Much” Just Enough?

Umbrella Parents
Umbrella parents always know when the rain is coming, and are ready with a metaphorical umbrella.

You know the ones.  The moms or dads with chronically worried faces, who pre-empt every group parent meeting to talk about their child’s special needs, and seem oblivious to the eye-rolling of parents around them.  The ones who wait outside the classroom at the end of each day to make sure their child is bringing home the right books. The parents who take the longest in the parent-teacher conferences.  “Helicopter parents.”   “Smother mothers.”

You know them because they are us and they are you. Parents of atypical kids do stand out from the rest; they take care of their children in ways that other moms and dads don’t have to, risking criticism from other parents and weary sighs from teachers.  They look like they are helicopter parents, but here is the truth that only you know:

They are doing what it takes to get their kid through the day.  Sometimes “too much” is just enough.

Hello, Umbrella Parents!

Instead of helicopter parents or smother mothers, I like to refer to these devoted moms and dads as umbrella parents. Good parents know what their children need, anticipate those needs, and take action. They are like weathermen who know when the rain is coming and are ready with a metaphorical umbrella.

When a child is diagnosed as atypical, I always explain to parents that they will need to be more attuned to the child’s needs than the average parent, at least for a while. Helicopter instincts are a very practical response to dealing with your special needs child.

Why? Because most atypical children experience some impairment and delay of their executive function.  Executive function is a broad term for the process that takes place in frontal lobe of the brain: the ability to anticipate, plan, problem-solve, organize, and self-monitor one’s social behaviors.  That pretty much sums up the job description of a parent, doesn’t it?

Umbrella parents don’t hesitate to protect their kids

When parents know that their children will have problems in particular areas, not only is it important to intercede, pave the way for them, and inform those adults who teach them, it is critical.  Teachers and coaches are busy running programs with lots of kids, and the problems of a single child just don’t stand out—until they do.

At that point, how the coach or teacher treats the child can lead to a series of humiliations, unfortunate discipline tactics, and subsequent self-esteem problems for the child. Coaches, counselors, and some teachers can be too aggressive in their tactics unless they are informed and instructed about better methods to deal with a child who is different.

So parents, do not hesitate to be your child’s advocate! Stand up, call it out, pay no attention to the other parents who think you are helicoptering. You are protecting your child!

The 5 W’s of  Umbrella Parenting

When your child is beginning a new class, team, or other activity, you have the chance to set the stage for a positive experience for your child and a good relationship with the teacher or coach. It is your chance to replace the “helicopter” label with “attentive and available.”  Just remember the 5 W’s:

  • Who? Who should be in the meeting? When you ask to meet with the teacher, coach or activity leader, it’s best if you bring along backup. The more people to support you, the better.  A spouse, neighbor or even your child’s therapist.  There is strength in numbers; moms rarely get heard as well as a professional who is saying the same thing.
  • What? What should the parent bring to the meeting? A note from a doctor or a one page recommendation list could help the process.  For example, a note could say: “Andy suffers from an auditory processing disorder. This means that he may not hear your instructions the first time. Please do not yell at him for this, but do repeat it a few times if he seems confused.  You could also meet with him before the game to see if he has any questions.”You could also attach a brief printout about the disorder for him to read. Note that what the doctor is saying is exactly what you will say, but somehow the doctor or therapist note provides more weight to your requests.
  • When? When should the meeting take place? The earlier the better. I often advise parents to meet with teachers a few days before school starts to debrief them on your child’s needs.  Depending on how many adjustments your child needs, you may want 15 minutes up to a half hour.Ask the teacher for “15 minutes of your time” just to briefly explain the situation and why you, the parent, will be hovering a bit throughout the year.
  • Where? Location matters. You will want privacy, away from other parents.  You also may not want to involve your child if he or she is not ready to talk about his issues (stay tuned for a future blog post on this)
  • Why? The point of this first little meeting is to set the stage with the teacher, explain what the situation is, and communicate that you are a calm, attentive parent and want to help the teacher so that your child is not disruptive and also is getting what he or she needs.

Stay tuned for my next post, when I will talk about the flip side of umbrella parenting: over-indulging your kid, soothing your own nerves instead of his, and when and how to let go.

Special Needs Kids: Seven Attitude Adjustments Smart Parents Can Make

Parents of children with learning differences know that their kids need an adult champion—someone to support them when they are discouraged, research the best teaching methods for their learning style, and help them navigate the school system.

It is estimated that there are approximately between 10-20% of students with learning differences, either a learning disorder, attention disorder, autism spectrum or a mood disorder. Standing behind each of these students is a loving and concerned parent who is trying hard to make the right choices. Right?

Nurtured kids become successful adults

Children with learning differences can and do grow up to become successful, productive adults. The primary challenge for parents is to keep their child’s self esteem strong while maintaining a realistic assessment of his or her strengths and struggles.

A child with dyslexia may have difficulty reading but may be unusually creative—she may be a dancer, an artist, a filmmaker, or a storyteller. A boy with ADHD may be hyperactive and impatient with classroom rules, but he could grow up to be highly successful on his own terms, like so many well-known innovators, celebrities, and athletes.

The potential is there—how do parents foster it during the school years?

After working with atypical children and their parents for more than two decades, I have seen that the parent’s attitude has a tremendous impact on how their child experiences school.

Six parental attitude adjustments that can make all the difference in your child’s life

1. Be aware of your own emotional process.

Parents of special needs kids have legitimate emotional struggles. If you are going to be an effective advocate for your child, you must understand your own emotional journey through feelings such as denial, anger, depression, and isolation, until you reach optimism, positive nurturing, and acceptance of your son or daughter.

A therapist who specializes in parents of atypical children or a support group that focuses on the needs of such parents (as opposed to focusing on the kids) may help you adjust to the inevitable ups, downs, and frustrations that come with your role. It’s normal to feel these emotions—you just need to be aware of them so that they don’t control you.

2. Remember to cheer!

Maintain a positive attitude toward your child, realizing that success is measured in small steps. Be on the lookout for little triumphs that may seem modest to you but are a big event to your child.

3. Deal with your disappointments on your own time.

Your child needs a positive, encouraging guide through childhood and the teenage years. If you are feeling disappointed, embarrassed, or frustrated, try not to display these emotions to your child or become angry at him.

Parents need support from a group, an individual therapist, or just a close friend with whom they can openly vent. I also strongly urge my clients to develop self-care routines. These could involve yoga, exercise or dance classes, or meditation such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Don’t isolate yourself. You are not alone! At the very least, join a support group. You may be surprised at how much it helps.

4. Be there.

What your child needs most is your presence, so try to give her quality time every day. Children with learning disabilities particularly need support in the hour or so after school and during homework.

It’s best if all of the homework duty does not fall on one person, so try setting up a schedule with your partner. An older sibling or another relative might be able to step in one day a week.

Apart from homework time, you can boost your child’s mood and self-confidence by devoting a few minutes each day exclusively to chatting, laughing, and listening to her take on the world.

5. It’s not fair to compare.

Never compare your child to another child. It isn’t fair or motivating, it is painful and disheartening. We all have differences. Embrace your unique child and nurture his talents! Most of all, enjoy him for who he is.

6. Trust your instincts.

Parents have a sixth sense about their children, and you should honor yours. When parents confess a worry to a pediatrician or a teacher, the common response is, “Give your child more time.”

Regardless of what they say, if you feel that something is amiss, get your child evaluated. Early assessment and intervention can be critical factors in helping special needs children.

7. Do your homework.

In addition to fine-tuning your own emotional report card, you will need to maintain and update your child’s paperwork: make sure your child’s IEP is up to date, find out if his or her needs are being adequately met by your school’s interventions, schedule parent-teacher meetings when you sense there is cause.

The summer is time to get some remediation boot-camp in weaker areas of need.

Together, you and your child can be a unified force for success in school and beyond.

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