Tagged parenting

Coming to Terms with ADHD

Coming to Terms with ADHD

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Okay. I’ll admit it. Prior to having children, I didn’t really believe in ADHD.

Coming to Terms with ADHD

I thought that ADHD was either grossly over-diagnosed or that it was simply children’s reactions to being placed in unnatural environments with unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate expectations. After all, many schools limit recess time to 20 minutes a day. Under the pressure of testing, public schools have largely pushed academic learning and a more sedentary lifestyle on children at younger and younger ages. At home, children spend less time playing outside and more time indoors watching television or playing video games. In my naïve view, children, deprived of an outlet for their energy, would naturally act out.

The news media often corroborates this notion that ADHD is either a product of our current society or a syndrome invented by the pharmaceutical industry rather than a true neurological difference. In a 2014 Guardian article, Dr. Bruce Perry claimed that ADHD was not a real disease. “Part of what happens,” he A mom who confronted her ADHD skepticism.stated, “is if you have an anxious, overwhelmed parent, that is contagious. When a child is struggling, the adults around them are easily disregulated too. This negative feedback process between the frustrated teacher or parent and disregulated child can escalate out of control.” In the Psychological Today article, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD,” Marilyn Wedge discusses how French psychiatrists, unlike their colleagues in the U.S., view ADHD as having social/emotional causes rather than neuro-biological ones. As a result, the French treat ADHD through psychotherapy rather than medicine. Other articles point to diet as a cause for hyperactive behavior. Many commenters on blogs or editorials view ADHD as the product of an undisciplined generation of children. They claim that if parents simply disciplined their children more or spanked them, then those children wouldn’t act so out of control. Finally, even psychologists, who believe in ADHD, question the dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with the syndrome after pharmaceutical companies began heavily advertising ADHD medications on television, radio or in magazines.

Thus, I too questioned the prevalence of ADHD. I viewed the syndrome as more of a behavioral problem than something stemming from neuro-biological differences. Then, I had my son, Sam. He was a happy, fat, wonderful baby (of course, all babies are wonderful). I breastfed him until he was over a year old. When he started eating solids, we limited sugar and fed him primarily whole foods. Except for plane or car trips, we didn’t allow him to watch television or play video games. Because we live in a moderate climate, he played outside almost every day. Yet, at 22 months, my son, like most toddlers, started having behavioral difficulties. Unlike most toddlers, my son didn’t grow out of many of the challenging behaviors, and those challenging behaviors seemed more extreme than those in other children. I attributed his behavior to the terrible twos and threes. Because I also blamed myself for Sam’s behavior, I read almost any kind of parenting book available about strong-willed and spirited children. However, none of the advice I read in therapists’ books really worked with my son. When Sam was four years old, I had an easier time parenting him, but he was still more challenging to raise than my younger son. Most people described him as having a lot of energy.

A mom facing her ADHD skepticism.After a tumultuous first semester in a traditional kindergarten, which I documented in my first blog post, I decided to take Sam to a specialist. After two days of extensive testing, including brain scans, the neuropsychologist diagnosed Sam with ADHD. In our follow-up appointment, the neuropsychologist spent over an hour describing how ADHD affects a child’s executive functions and how the frontal lobe develops differently in children with ADHD. My husband, who also attended the meeting, said that the neuropsychologist could have been describing him as a child. However, because psychologists did not diagnose children as having ADHD at the time, my husband was simply called “stupid”, “bad”, or “un-teachable.” My husband, who completed a master’s degree in his second language, obviously does not have any cognitive deficits. However, he does have problems with following directions, planning activities, listening, sitting still and solving problems. He has many strengths, but he also probably has undiagnosed ADHD. In some instances, ADHD helps him to hyper-focus on things he likes to do, but it also hinders his abilities in other areas.

Listening to the neuropsychologist, I also began to think about my mother’s first cousin, who was always described as a “wild child.” I only knew him as an adult, but he had boundless energy, couldn’t sit still, talked very loudly and with a lot of profanity, and slept very little. He was also a very intelligent, sweet and caring man, who became a wonderful father, husband, entrepreneur, and outdoorsman. His path to adulthood was not easy, and he had a very strained relationship with his parents throughout his adolescence and early adulthood. I started thinking about all the children, who were deemed troublemakers as young children, and the effect that those labels had on them. Even though people sometimes claim ADHD didn’t exist when they were children, kids with ADHD-like behaviors and neurological differences have always existed. Parents and teachers just didn’t have the tools to deal with the behaviors. I don’t think any child wins when that child has been pigeon-holed as a bad child at an early age. That kind of labeling only exacerbates situations rather than ameliorates them.

Finally, ADHD affects so much more than a child’s ability to sit still in class. My own son, when interested in a topic, can sit still for hours or hyper-focus (also a symptom of his ADHD). He can listen to audio-books for hours, build elaborate lego creations, and draw. However, during hyper-focus, he cannot pay attention to anything else but the task at hand. Unless you touch him on the shoulder and look him in the eye, he won’t hear his name being called. He also won’t stop what he is doing to go to the bathroom. At school, he has difficulty sitting criss-cross applesauce in a group, walking silently in a line, concentrating in a normal-sized classroom of 22 children, and following multi-step instructions. His ADHD affects his visual tracking and focus. His optometrist told me that whereas only 5% of the population has problems with visual tracking and acuity, 80% of her patients with visual tracking problems also have ADHD. Other studies show that children with ADHD concentrate better when they move, as opposed to neuro-typical children who become distracted by movement. In short, children with ADHD are simply wired differently.

If you've ever doubted an ADHD diagnosis, read this.

In many ways, I am grateful for the ADHD diagnosis, because there are a lot of research-based methods proven to help children with ADHD. I also realize how mistaken I was. All of the things that I thought might cause ADHD (schools with limited recess and emphasizing rote learning, poor diet, excessive screen time, lack of outdoor time, etc.) were not present in my son’s life. Yet, my son still had ADHD. When we moved my son to a wonderful school with an hour and a half recess, project-based education, small student-teacher ratios, and tactile learning, my son’s ADHD didn’t disappear.  He still struggled. However, the teachers at this school were willing to implement accommodations to help him succeed.

As far as parenting, my husband and I have attended lectures and therapy sessions to learn how to parent our son better. Because psychologists have been studying ADHD for over 50 years, we have benefited from their research and findings. My son is a creative, sweet, thoughtful, passionate, energetic and smart little boy. Like my husband, ADHD both helps him in some areas and hinders his abilities in others. I would much rather live in a society that gave these kids the tools to succeed than a society that penalized these children for being different. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that scientists blamed autism on the autistic child’s “frigid” mother. As for the claim that French children don’t get ADHD, research reveals that approximately 3 to 5% of French children have ADHD just like the rest of the world. ADHD may still be over-diagnosed in the United States, but I think the next generation would benefit much more from a society that helps kids with learning differences succeed. No one wins in a society that refuses to accept the fact that some kids are wired differently and may need different tools and accommodations at home and in the classroom.

Helpful Links

ADHD Resources from the CDC

ADHD Myths

ADHD Blogs

Collaborative and Proactive Discipline

 

 

7 Tips to Help You Help Your Kids Build Healthy Friendships

7 Tips to Help Your Kids Build Healthy Friendships

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I consider myself very lucky. I had two best friends growing up, both of whom are still in my life. I no longer live in the town where I grew up, which seems to be more the norm these days than in the past. Neither of these friends live in our hometown either – we all scattered for college, got married and are now raising kids and pursuing our careers. I’m grateful that technology has allowed me to maintain connections with both of these bright, thoughtful, supportive women.

7 Tips to Help You Help Your Kids Build Healthy Friendships

As a parent, I want to help my kids build these kind of healthy friendships. Despite what my husband says, building healthy friendships doesn’t always come naturally to everyone.

Our kids sometimes need support and coaching, because let’s face it – friendships can be hard. You are opening yourself up to someone else, becoming vulnerable in a way you haven’t with anyone other than family before and it is quite likely that your best friends will hurt your feelings sometimes. Managing through the ups and downs of early friendships sets the stage for building healthy friendships throughout your child’s life.

All kids are different and need their own guidance and support – especially kids who are outliers due to various asynchronicities, cognitive ability or emotional regulation. As parents there are some specific skills we can encourage as our kids journey into healthy, life-long friendships.

Build Negotiation Skills

At the heart of all healthy friendships is the give-and-take that is rooted in a deep and genuine concern for the other person. That give-and-take rarely comes naturally to kids (at least it hasn’t to my kids).  As adults we have likely learned complex negotiation strategies – either through formal education and training or just through years of experience. Breaking those strategies down for kids can be daunting, so I suggest starting with the idea of teaching our kids to focus on a shared interest or outcome.

I’m going to pick on my own kids for a moment. They both really enjoying playing together – they like spending time together – but they don’t share a ton of common interests. Given their druthers, Davis would play basketball and Patrick would play Minecraft. This used to result in lots of fights and hurt feelings. We have worked hard to teach them to focus on a mutual goal – spending time together. When that is the goal, then they can both step back a bit and make a compromise – maybe it is a game of Around the World first and then a cool down with a collaborative session of Minecraft or a competitive game of Plants v Zombies. Whatever the plan, when the focus is on the goal of spending time together (and not what they are doing), the squabbles abate and they enjoy themselves immeasurably more.

Foster Empathy

Healthy friendships require that both friends are able to put their own emotions aside and respond appropriately to the other person’s emotional needs; healthy friendships require both people to practice empathy.

Empathy isn’t simple. In fact, it requires some fairly sophisticated skills like distinguishing your feelings from someone else’s, understanding another person’s perspective and regulating your own emotional response. Some kids are naturally better at these skills and other kids need lots of practice.

In our house, we focus on:

  • Naming our own feelings
  • Identifying other people’s feelings
  • Role-playing facial cues and body language that frequently accompanies specific feelings
  • Exploring how people can have different perspectives
  • Developing an internal moral compass

Teach How to Say, “I’m Sorry” (and Mean It!)

Learning how to apologize is really an art form. Many parents want to rush the process by insisting that their kids say, “I’m sorry” for transgressions. However, if your kids aren’t cognitively and emotionally ready to apologize, then the obligatory apology doesn’t do any good. It becomes a hollow way to brush past hurt feelings. The simple recitation of, “I’m sorry” doesn’t teach our kids what an apology means.

True apologies require that our kids have 1) the cognitive ability to understand that they did something wrong, 2) the emotional skills to empathize with another person, and 3) the moral compass to want to make things better. This isn’t the apology of a toddler – it is the sophisticated and meaningful apology of someone capable of and interested in developing healthy friendships.

So next time your kid makes a misstep and really should apologize to someone, stop focusing on the outcome (the apology) and focus on the process.

Role Play Through Tricky Situations

Almost all friendships hit a rocky patch every now and then. What defines healthy friendships is the ability to manage through the hurt feelings and get back on track. This takes negotiation skills, empathy, and the ability to say, “I’m sorry.” Even with all these skills, sometimes it helps to practice in a non-threatening environment – that’s where role-playing comes in handy.

When your kids hit a rough patch with their friends, there will be hurt feelings on both sides. Helping your child break-down what has happened, how (s)he is feeling and how to make amends will make the actual friendship mending process go much more smoothly.

Our kids don’t always have the right words or the emotional regulation to do this naturally, so let them practice with you. Be the coach. Provide encouragement, a safe place to process, help deciphering the situation and gentle guidance.

Encourage Hobbies (Find a Tribe)

Making friends comes naturally to some kids, but not all kids. Kids who are outliers for whatever reason (IQ, the alphabet soup of diagnoses, innate nerdiness, etc…), sometimes struggle to find their tribe. The best way to find a friend is to do things that interest you and do it with other people!

Take inventory of your kid’s favorite activities and then seek out groups who enjoy those things. Martial arts, sports teams, chess clubs, naturalist groups, church groups, etc…It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it is important to your child.

When you find these groups, help your child understand that the friends may not share ALL the same interests as them and help him/her focus on their commonalities. It is unlikely that any one friend will meet all of your kid’s needs – encourage your child to appreciate the difference between friends and how they complement each other.

Make Your Home Welcoming

Yes. You want your house to be the “It House” – the house where all the kids come, where they feel welcomed and know they will have fun and be safe. It may be an inconvenience at times. It may go against your introverted nature. It may be noisy and raucous at times. You still want to do it.

When your kids friends come to your house, they will have lots of fun, but they will also have squabbles. If they are at your house, you can help model the steps of maintaining healthy friendships. You can teach kids to negotiate, model empathy and make amends.

This is hard work and takes a BIG commitment from you (and your spouse), but teaching your kids these skills is worth more than any formal education they will ever get. A PhD in microbiology won’t get you very far if you don’t know how to get along with other people.

Model Healthy Friendships

More than anything else you can do, you can model healthy friendships. Show your kids what it means to have a best friend – how you support each other and have fun together, how you work through disagreements, what it means to make room for another person in your life.

We travel with our best friends frequently (like 3 or 4 times a year). These are family affairs – two couples, each with two kids. The kids are also best friends, which makes it great for everyone. Part of why we can travel together is that we know each other so well and make allowances for each other’s quirks and needs – we accommodate each other.

I guarantee that if we are together for more than 3 days, the kids will hurt each other’s feelings. Every time it happens, we huddle with our own kids and help them process and then teach them how to make it better. It’s a hands on learning process in a very safe environment. I couldn’t ask for more.


Resources:

Can Children Learn to Negotiate?

Teaching Empathy: Evidence Based Tips for Fostering Empathy in Children

Coaching Children in Handling Everyday Conflict

How to Help Kids Make Friends: 10 Evidence Based Tips


Hoagies Blog Hop - Gifted RelationshipsThis post was written as part of a blog hop hosted by Hoagies Gifted Education Page.

Check out other people’s thoughts on Gifted Relationships.

Great tips to get your kids hooked on good music!

A Parent’s Guide To The Ultimate Playlist

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Great tips to get your kids hooked on good music!I think in all journals and blogs, themes begin to emerge.

A theme that you may see reoccur in my writing (even though this is a parenting blog) is the impact of late 80s, early 90s John Cusack movies.
You see, if you were raised in the Sony Walkman generation, then you know all about the connection between music and life – and the power of music. One of those moments came when John Cusack played his boombox for the girl he loved, stretching his arms in the air, so the music could be the heard at the utmost level.
I made similar moves in my courtship of my wife, I know, not very original, but I found it to be highly successful. And though those years are over, (minus the daily car serenade). I am still connecting music to life and constantly making the ultimate playlist for my family.

THE MAKING OF AN ULTIMATE PLAYLIST:

CAUTION: If making a playlist consists of finding your favorite genre of music on Spotify, and clicking shuffle all, read no further. This is NOT for you!

Make no mistake, the makings of a great playlist is an art form, and rules definitely apply. In the words of John Cusack in High Fidelity: “You’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel.” My top five rules for making a playlist for your own family are as follows:

Parenting guide to a mixtape

RULE 1: INTRODUCE YOUR KIDS TO A VAST AMOUNT OF MUSIC

There have been hits and misses when introducing music to my kids. For about 2 years, Adelaide was obsessed with The Beatles. She learned even the obscure songs, like “You Know My Name, Look Up The Number.” She loved when all the teenagers screamed at Beatles concerts, and even picked up a favorite Beatle: Paul. We watched the movies, and liked all of them, except Help.

But as successful as The Beatles introduction was, countless others were met with: “Turn that down!” And “Why do they sound like that?” And even “This song is for people who don’t like music!”
Some things will stick, and others won’t, that’s just how it goes.

RULE 2: DISCUSS THE MEANINGS OF SONGS

How many times have the kids corrected my lyrics? Countless. The key is to know the meanings of songs, and have discussions about what they mean. This will help someday, when you finally introduce them to the poetry of Bob Dylan, or the enigma of Milli Vanilli.

RULE 3: ORDER IS IMPORTANT

Consider that ‘shuffle’ is your true enemy. It’s like shuffling the events of your day, in random order. Let’s see, I wake up, do the dishes, cook dinner, get dressed… come on. There’s order to things – and it matters. Start with some energy. It’s a hook, then, more energy – but don’t blow the roof off, pace it out after that. Save the slower, longer songs for the end.

RULE 4: BE TRUE TO YOURSELF

Don’t allow your family playlist to include music that raises your blood pressure and sets your teeth on edge. So what if your kids love “Let it Go”. When you have tuned it out after the 4,386th listen it no longer has a place on your playlist. You are part of your family too and your opinions and taste matter most. And also, you set the tone. Allow your (obviously superior) tastes to gently guide the still impressionable and therefore malleable tastes of the younger, more inexperienced members of your household.

RULE 5: SHARE YOUR MUSIC

Compilations are meant to share- and sharing a playlist was never this easy. When I was a kid- you’d have to go to great lengths to make the same mix tape for multiple people. Now, it’s a link. Take advantage of this, and share your playlist in the comments section.

Here is my playlist with some detail, but the importance of a playlist is to share it.

  1. All Is Love – Karen O & The Kids

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ND8RfApgGIA

Karen O + kids music = plain awesome. She made the soundtrack for Where The Wild Things Are, and it’s a masterpiece with just the right amount of rebelliousness, mixed with sweetness, and innocence, yet full of heart that is always longing, and searching for more.

  1. Raindrops on the Kitchen Floor – Mason Jennings

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2s3Ek38DN4

If I could only choose from the catalog of one artist to create our family’s playlist, Mason Jennings would be that guy.  He captures beautiful moments and incredible feelings in his songs – yet has a way to make them a part of everyday life.

  1. Don’t Slow Down- Matt and Kim:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_xr_oio_0I

When this song comes on in our car, look out because the kids are using whatever they can reach for drums, and singing along is not optional. Matt and Kim are THE FAVORITE in our cars.

  1. Dance, Dance, Dance – Lykke Li

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQEJ5BhxTxc

Sweet, loving, soft, and the best message ever, about being shy, but still having this overwhelming desire to dance.

  1. Body Movin’ – The Beastie Boys

Dance party song, gets all the energy out!

  1. Butterfly Nets – Bishop Allen – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jcp3nPN74cM

Time to come back down with something softer. The singer’s voice is so sweet, so sincere, and again, it goes back to the innocence of youth.

  1. Young Lion – Vampire Weekend

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=og77RKz1_ec

Vampire Weekend has so many amazing songs, but this one is special for our little guy, and his learning, whether it be to walk or to jump. It all takes time, and it’s hard to wait, especially when you have an older sister.

  1. I Feel It All – Feist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_v1DGyKCbc

Love this song – and emotions are a big thing in our house – all emotions are allowed and we truly do feel it all.

  1. Violet – Thao & The Get Down, Stay Down

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MvQ1pZqaqU

This was quite possibly the first song Adelaide learned enough lyrics of to be able to sing along.  That’s some kind of milestone, and besides that, Thao is simply The Shizzle.

  1. We Can’t Be Beat – The Walkmen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9r2DHgfa1Y

Dad rock at its best.  Sometimes, your life evolves seemingly in sync alongside a favorite artist.  It’s nice to grow older together.

  1. Just Try – Mason Jennings

The perfect end. Sunshine in life. Just try and say that this happens everyday – just try-and see- if that flies.

How about yours?

 

 

 

Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution: How I Stopped Worrying And Embraced The Fight

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Conflict ResolutionBeing a parent is not easy on a normal day. But then, there are those ‘other days.’

If you have not had a day where you wanted to take an ice pick to the ol’ retina, then my friend, you have not been tested like I have as a parent.

And, trust me, I am a proponent of parenting. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Sure it’s also the most challenging thing. But, nothing is quite as good without the challenge, or at least, that’s what the inspirational memes say on Google, the ones I seek out at 11:30 at night to reassure myself.

If you have multiple kids, then you know all about conflict. There are conflicts, many conflicts within a day.

Conflicts can eat you alive if you don’t have a plan. I can’t tell you what is best for you, but I do have a plan, and these next words may seem crazy, but stay with me:

EMBRACE THE CONFLICT

It is going to happen, as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, as sure as we need nutrients to live (unless you’re a 5-year-old that can live off a strict diet of graham crackers and peanut butter), it is known that my son will snatch my daughter’s favorite possession right from her hands (which then becomes the only toy in the house and the last toy ever made) and run. I know my daughter will chase after him, yelling and screaming. It will happen.

What to do? Take it all in. This is really what having a sibling is after all, and the kids relish it, so why shouldn’t I?

APPROACH CALMLY

After I hear a conflict, I first check to see who’s going to be the adult to mediate, if I hear the wife’s footsteps, then I back out like a dump truck on a crowded street. (beep, beep beep).

But, if it’s me, I approach willingly. Take a deep breath, hold it in, and gently breath out. If I do that before I get involved, two things will happen:

  1. I will not burst out laughing at the (occasional) absurdity of the situation.
  2. I will keep my own emotions in check – allowing their emotions to be at the forefront, and leaving my own frustration back on the couch where I belong.

ACKNOWLEDGE AND VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS

As easy as it would be to set up a judicial system, with myself as the supreme overlord, it would not help my children understand why they’re fighting, and it teaches them nothing about how to handle an argument down the road, when they are adults.

Most importantly, I want my kids to know that their feelings matter. I want them to learn empathy, so model it I must. Therefore, at this point, the only questions is “You look really upset, what happened?” I really try to feel the feelings of my child. This shows them that they are entitled to whatever emotion they are having. Young children don’t always recognize their especially powerful emotions, so once we can suss out the emotions being felt, I try to label those feelings for future reference.

Many of these feelings, I, as an adult, don’t have much anymore. Try and imagine the last time you actually cried because someone at work had something for lunch that you wanted and you will see what I mean. It’s important to try and be in touch with these feelings, for their sake.

GATHER MORE INFORMATION

Once the emotions have been appropriately labeled and validated, the children are more likely to be forthcoming with further information. So I listen closely, then restate what I hear “So, your brother put your cereal bowl on his head and wore it like a hat, is that what made you upset?” This is called Sportscasting and a quick Google will give you further examples. I try to be as impartial as I can be. I don’t want to take sides, or lay blame. I try to direct all the dialogue to the other child, “tell your brother, not me.”

HELP THEM FIND A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM

When I was a child, the solutions to conflicts with my brother were easy. There were only two possible solutions:

  1. Run for my life and find my parents
  2. Run for my life and not find parents (be pounded by big brother)

As a parent, I want better (and more) solutions for my own kids, and I want my kids to learn to be the ones to find these solutions.

This requires the largest commitment in this process: Patience. You may feel the urge to quickly drop down some solutions so you can move on. Fight this feeling – remember – you’ve embraced the conflict and here is your reward: you get to hear your kids come up with some ways to fix it – and here’s the beauty – It doesn’t even have to be fair. Nope, you don’t have to look out for the underdog. If they both agree to it- then you’re golden!

Finding a solution may take time in the beginning, depending on the severity of stubbornness of your child (My son is at a nuclear level) and that’s OK. You can suggest ideas after they’ve had time to come up with your own. But eventually, it will be fast: “Take turns.” “Set a timer!” – to referee the length of said turns – and oh the glory of it!

BE PREPARED TO BE A LIFELINE LATER

When are you most likely to get a speeding ticket? 3 blocks from your home. What is the hardest part of your Everest adventure? The way down.

When is it most likely to have a reoccurrence of a conflict? Within 1 minute of solving the problem. So, don’t go screaming “home free” yet. Stay around for a minute –or-2, and consider yourself a resource in this time. This is such an important time, where the solution goes into practice. Try to regale in this victory, and congratulate your kids on their victory in problem solving. Live in the moment, because guess what? The conflict will return. Only in time, you’ll love it (see step 1) and your children will be a bit more prepared for it each and every time.

{The teaching application of conflict resolution via HighScope can be further researched in the book: You Can’t Come To My Birthday Party!I think this is also a great resource for parents.}
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