This weekend was my annual Spa Weekend away with a close friend. I have been making this trip for the past four years in order to recharge my Mom batteries, which are always pretty burnt by the time of year. This particular year with Michael’s challenges it was even more welcome, though I saw it was only the beginning of what I needed to do to get myself back into shape mentally, physically and spiritually. I am seeing how all the things I tell Michael he needs to do to stay calm, balanced and able to handle what life throws his way, is also important for me as his Mom to practice. I have been sadly neglecting this area for myself because, well, life happens. And when it happens what do women and specifically Moms do? We prioritize everyone but ourselves and our needs. This eventually leads to exhaustion, frustration and burnout.
The good news is that as a seasoned Exceptional Mom, I am beginning to understand when I have overdone it and have not taken care of me. I have hit that point. And yes, the house is looking better. I am doing well at my job and prioritizing my family. But where do I fit in? Last week when I just needed to crash from all the drama that has been unfolding in our family, it was my reminder that I needed to give myself permission way before my annual girls spa trip to retreat from my family, from responsibility for a few hours each week to take time to just be. Meditation and yoga have taught me to slow down in my mind and in my actual life, but practicing this art is obviously harder than saying it. So what I am reminding myself to do is be honest with myself. Over the weekend, Michael and I had some talks about self-care, about using strategies to both stay calm and remain calm, and how if anyone feels themselves falling off track, what options do they have? Michael seemed to think he was weak if he needed strategies or lists to keep organized. I don’t know where he got that from. I spoke to him about how important lists and strategies are for everyone, adults and children alike. I showed him how I organize myself. It was a good reminder about how important balance is for all of us. Parents need to remember to practice what they preach to their kids.
Exceptional Parents, how do you recharge your batteries and keep on track with your life schedule? How do you know you’ve fallen off track? Remember, tomorrow is always a chance to get it right. Show your child there is no shame in learning from your mistakes, starting over and getting stronger in the process. Until next time.
I finally let out a very deep breath a few days ago. It started with heaving sobs and crying. Then all the anger, all the grief , and all the stress of Michael’s escalating aggression in the last six months hit me full force. Yes, it’s been building. Yes, it’s been rough. Yes, I needed to let all that out. I felt lighter, calmer, more sure of myself as his parent, and able to start changing our home strategies to give Michael more of the calm, consistent environment he was not getting for whatever reason. Maybe Dad and I were too busy to see it. Then a beautiful thing happened. After a particularly hard end to our week on Friday, this weekend was wonderful. Michael seemed to be starting to connect the dots of what the new team is telling us to do, and we had our first good weekend in a LONG TIME. Michael earned some chore money helping do housework, yard work with me, and helped me clean my car yesterday. Michael also had great bonding time with me and his Dad at parks and at home.
He was loving, calm, and when he tested we reminded him of the tools he had at his disposal: his calm corner to regulate, his anger box to write out his feelings and talk to us when calmer and a transition place where he can stop himself before his anger escalates. All these great tools are no help when his anger would go from 0 to 100 in second,s and we were all left in tatters after. A great parent coach we consulted (yes, I know the irony of this), suggested something to get Michael to stop and think before he let his anger take control. She suggested counting backwards which he didn’t like. I agreed that he needed this transition time though, so using her great idea I suggested a one to three word mantra which he would come up with to help him. The point is I was talking too much and the more we simplify, the easier it will be for Michael to understand what is expected of him. His mantra is his favorite shopping center. Not a shock for anyone who knows Michael! Now he uses that to calm down before getting upset, and it is working so far, fingers crossed. What this is showing me too, is how important it is to be open to new trying new things with our Exceptional kids when they are struggling and we are struggling. It has been humbling for me to seek help too. I always know what to say to heal others, but in my own family, it has its limits. I can see the wheels in motion and am happy that the people we are adding to team Michael are helping us as others have before to open up to new ways of thinking, growing, and being as individuals, as parents and as child in Michael’s case.
Exceptional Parents, when were you last stuck with your Exceptional kids in a pattern of challenging behaviors or other circumstances? Did you remember to think outside the box? Don’t be afraid to rebuild the team you have for your child if what you are doing is not working, as well as try new things as a family. You are not a failure as a parent, and never say that about yourself. You are growing and learning and that is OK. But the most important thing to do is remind your child that they are loved for who they are, and remember to love yourself too. Take time to be alone, to spend with family and friends and regroup. Harness your energy for the parenting journey ahead. Your body and mind will be ready for the next challenge as an Exceptional Parent. Until next time.
The last two days have been like Heaven. Michael was at his grandparents’ house all day on Monday while I worked (he had a PED DAY) and he came back positive and cooperative. He listened well to me and did great with his Dad at bedtime while I had a night out doing one of my favorite things, nursing a cup of coffee in a favorite bookstore and FINALLY spending a long ago given gift card from the holidays. What a wonderful change from the last month of hardship for all of us! And now we are on the brink of something else new. Tomorrow more people will be added to “Team Michael” as we officially embark on the next leg of helping Michael learn to control his anxiety and get to the root of what else could be giving him challenges. We are starting an official assessment looking at Michael’s anxiety to see whether this is in part, some of the other reasons for many of Michael’s challenges. It will not be easy on Michael or us, b but thankfully he is excited to navigate to the building and is happy that we are looking into ways to help him learn to listen better and figure out how best to help him. As he is social, I know he will do well talking with new people and with Dad and I there he will know he is not alone. I am proud of him and of us, for finally, after much worrying and agonizing, having the courage to take this step. We could learn any number of things over the next little while, but I for one am tired of living life afraid of what else is going on in Michael’s brain that we can’t help him with. What other things are we maybe not getting in our own frustration that could unlock the key of how best to help him be at his best all the time with us and everyone else?
You see, Michael has been as frustrated with us as we have been with him. It must be hard for him having parents who may not get him all the time. I have seen sometimes too late, how I overreacted or underreacted to what he did or said. I am learning. I was also recently reminded gently by another professional in relation to Michael to state things simply, and quite frankly, not talk too much. I had to laugh. That is so much like me. I talk A LOT. I talk way too much at my kid sometimes. The funny thing is, when I am working with children and other adults I have learned the art of not saying much and just being with the children and adults. I have learned to let them speak, feel, be. That is why I have had no issues with bonds and frustrations there. But alas, like most parents, I will sometimes forget with my own child to do the same thing. It was a great reminder. It was also great to get a parenting break last night. Browsing for 2 hours in a bookstore and then enjoying a cup of coffee was like a mini vacation for me. I remembered how down time, personal time is so important for the parent to keep their equilibrium, their memory of who and what they are and were before kids, and in some ways, who they are now.
Exceptional Parents, what are your challenges now with your Exceptional Children? What are you not seeing due to fear of being right or wrong about further diagnoses or not? It’s time to face that fear slowly but surely. Be strong by taking care of you, and then take the next step of being strong for your child. They need you to believe and love them no matter what they do, with boundaries, rules, and consistency. Your child wants to know what to expect and you need to show them that there are consequences for actions, but that love, respect and patience go a long way. Until next time.
I have been having a hard time as a parent lately struggling with balancing Michael’s ever increasing challenges and regular child neediness with my own personal challenges of stress, exhaustion and frustration. May has traditionally always been a difficult month for me and Michael. It is jam packed full of activities and both our stress levels go up. June is even crazier with the ending of the school year and summer, with all its promises and uncertainties lingering. Michael is getting better at handling what he can, but the trouble for him is controlling his anger and stress when we say things he does not like. Self-regulating is difficult. Mix that in with puberty and you’ve got quite the formula. But now that we are getting back on an even keel, what I am noticing is how once again Michael is helping me to see what I need to do better to be the best Mom and person I can be. I need to model patience, regulate myself better which means taking care of my inner and outer health better too, and of course, knowing when to say I need a break. This means some days asking someone else to babysit or stay with Michael so I can take a walk, go out for a coffee or a drive.
I have not been enjoying him so much lately because I’ve been so tired of walking on the landmines of when his neck blow up would occur. What would trigger it this time? Then I got to a point where I was also most inviting it by getting confrontational too. Tiredness and stress will do that, even to a loving parent. I started realizing that I was not taking the advice I give others on how to handle challenges with their kids. I was doing and saying everything to make it worse for me and him, and sometimes when it wasn’t even anything I said, well, I was not even trying to put out the fire. That was when I saw that this latest upheaval is meant to teach Michael and I about self-regulation, control, patience and above all, not being afraid to push for new answers when the old ones aren’t working. I am also learning about not giving up on your child or yourself. Times will be tough. You will be challenged and so will they, but it is important not to lose yourself in their problems or lose who your child is. Despite my best efforts not to, I was beginning to lose my child in behavior charts, tokens, and all kinds of new things we are implementing. Yesterday I reminded myself he is boy, a human being who is struggling, who loves us and himself, and who does not want to choose the bad course of action. He needs help, support and understanding, including when he is out of control. I need to take care of me more so that I don’t forget that. I love him always, even when I don’t like the behavior. That is what I need to remember.
Exceptional Parents, how often do you blur the lines between your child’s behavior and your child? How often do you think you resent them due to the behavior? This is normal. You are human. You need to learn to separate the behavior from the child and know that when you are triggered, that is the Universe telling you that you need to do some healing in that area. It’s ok. Heal. Ask for help. Seek support from family, friends and professionals. You are not a bad parent. You and your child are doing the best that you both can. Know that bad times will make you both stronger, and that new positive things will surely be on the horizon. Until next time.
So it’s time for another Mother’s Day weekend. I am both excited and nervous about it. We have been having challenging times with Michael so I worry about putting too much stress on a day many consider super commercial. Still, I see the positives. Michael’s beautiful artwork is one my early Mother’s Day gifts. Another gift is the maturity I am seeing Michael showcase in initiating play dates, trying to play with friends, and play new kinds of games that they like, and just in general, the way he asks questions and learns about the world we live in through his incredible eye for observation. I am truly awed and amazed by a child who will ask such deep questions about life, death, and everything in between, and then fight with me over having or no having cookies. C’est la vie with children.
I think back to that first Mother’s Day ten years ago, when I was just so happy to be part of this group, the group of Mothers. Back then it was sleepless nights, endless diapers and a very active baby. Fast forward to now and things have certainly changed, but not my love for Michael. Yes, motherhood is exhausting, stressful, beautiful, scary, awesome all in one. I would not have it any other way and could not imagine life without Michael, and without mothering in it. I think of all the milestones that are all the more incredible when he reaches them, when any exceptional child does. You see how smart and capable all children are.
Exceptional Moms, what are some of your highlights with your Exceptional Children? When have they made you most proud? I’d love to hear them! For now, I want to wish each and every one of you out there, Happy Mother’s Day! You are awesome and the job you do daily is incredible. Until next time.
It is rare I don’t post a blog daily. Very rare. But this has been an unusually stressful week. Michael’s aggressive behavior has steadily been going up over the course of the last six months, and this week things have come to a head on the new behavior plan. The thing is, it is more than any of us expected. It has been hard. Extremely hard on all of us. There has been screaming, tears, and aggression. I have questioned myself as has Dad, where are we going wrong as parents? What needs are not being met? Why is Michael going up against his better interest and not using the tools he has been given, and helped create with his school psychologist? Kids with autism are complex. There is so much going on. I still have to remind myself sometimes that though he is so smart and articulate, there is much he does not understand. There is much he does intentionally to hurt us when he is in pain, but there is much he does not get, even after multiple explanations. Dad and I know this, but it does not make it easy when your child insults and hits you. I have hurled insults back in weak moments. I am not proud of myself. I have always apologized and told him I wasn’t using my strategies to calm down when I said them. He has reminded me he is strong and that I am strong and that we will get stronger together.
I have tried to reinforce he is good, but sometimes makes bad choices. He simply does not know how to use the tools at his disposal. He said to me the other day, “Do it for me. You need to do the calming strategies and I will follow what you are doing Mommy.” I keep telling him no. I can remind him what and where they are. I can show him how to start. But he needs to continue and finish. He is trying to have me enable him. I think it has been fear of growing up as much as the behavior is partly due to puberty. A lot of our fights have centered around him still being a baby and not needing to listen and follow instructions. We have calmly tried to redirect him. Ah, the joys of parenting, and particularly exceptional parenting. Your child exposes you, good or bad, for what you are and helps you become a better version of you if you let them.
More people are being added to “Team Michael”. More to come on it next week. He needs it. We need it. I have reached out to friends, family. Dad and I need to go out more at night and recharge our batteries. I am soon going away on my yearly spa trek with a dear friend. Parents are not perfect and that is ok. I wanted to share this post especially for other exceptional parents out there who are scared of their child’s aggression and don’t know where to turn. Call up your local hospital or health care center. Tell family and friends. Seek support. Your child is calling out for help. They do not want to live life aggressively anymore than you do. You are their advocate, but first start by being your own. Get support for you. Get sleep. Take a break from your child. Reach out. Help is there. Don’t be ashamed. Your child will only grow stronger from your strength.
Exceptional Parents, how many of you have had some dark nights of the soul with your child? Remember, behavior is a way for your child to communicate. It’s their way of expressing fear, anger, and resentment gone out of control. Once you are able to read the hidden message, they will once again see you as their ally as you always were. Until then, breathe, sleep and be good to yourself. You are doing the best you can, and things will get better. Until next time.
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This past weekend was one of our hardest weekends yet, and I truly finished it last night with a feeling of mental exhaustion. We have put a new behavior plan in place to help with Michael’s escalating challenging behaviors at home and it has been hard on all of us. I also didn’t sleep much. What I did to do when things are rough during the day is stay up late at night to give myself some pampering. Not a bad thing to pamper myself reading a fiction book or taking a nice long bath, but then when the next day starts early my energy reserves are physically lower as I am tired. What I found particularly hard to navigate was the constant push pull of Michael wanting to be near me and his Dad, mixed in with defiance. We are sticking to our guns with the consequences in the behavior plan, and I know it gets worse before it gets better, but I have been also trying to find the good times in the day when Michael is listening and cooperating.
A few months ago he was announcing he could not wait to leave us and refusing to tell me about his day. Now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. “Mommy, I want to tell you about my day.” “I don’t want to ever leave you. I love you.” His biggest moment of sadness was this morning when he lost all his daytime tokens and I told him, “now the next thing to go is time spent with me after school. I will not spend time with you when you hit, imitate, and try and break my things.” He also has been ignoring us when we asked him to put something down, put something away etc. It is emotionally and physically trying. All parents of exceptional kids go through these times. We are also coming to realize Michael’s other challenges, specifically Anxiety and possibly ADHD.
So all off this got me thinking on how I could find the positive in a weekend like this? There was positive. Saturday morning Michael quietly watched a movie with his Dad, and after a very difficult and challenging Sunday morning where I refused to go out anywhere with him until he used his strategies, he turned things around on Sunday afternoon. He began listening, being cooperative. I told him he was doing great and offered the park. We were not originally going. He was ecstatic that I gave him a chance. We had fun. We laughed. This morning after a very rough morning, I have vowed to try and find good things when he comes home from school today and from here on in. Behavior programs are great, but need to be balanced with praising positive behavior too. We have a positive behavior program in place for bedtime, but it is not working yet. I may have to add a little more love in the day.
Exceptional Parents, how do you balance the negative and the positive in your child? How do forgive them and yourself and then move on? It’s ok to have a good cry, let the anger and pain out. Then it’s time to move on, see what didn’t work, and try something new. Remember, it’s hard work for you parenting an exceptional child, but it’s also hard work for them too in the world. They are confused by so many thing and self-regulation is a huge thing to master. Start to show them you are on the same team and are there to help. And don’t be afraid to open new doors to help your child and yourself. Until next time.
So last night was another challenging night where seemingly every little thing I said was misconstrued. I also had to keep it together from letting what Michael said bother me. He will say insensitive things and then pause to see what I will do. With a new behavior system in place, this is normal. He is testing like crazy. Then, he will turn around genuinely sorry for his actions and beg my forgiveness. He will say “can I live with you and Daddy one day when I am grown?” It is this push and pull that can drive a parent crazy. All children display it I know, but with children who have challenges it is more exaggerated. What I have learned to do now is look at what else is going on to make him act in a more challenging way? Is he scared about something? Is he worried? Is he over tired? Then I have to be careful I am not mirroring my own emotions. He’ll read me like a book. If I am tense, it seems to send waves out in the air that he picks up on. Then we’re both dealing with the aftereffect.
Interestingly lately though, Michael has commented how calm I am and that I don’t yell much anymore. I’m glad he is noticing my effort in trying to balance structure and positive discipline with showing compassion for his struggles. At the end of the day no matter what he says or does, I know he is acting out due to fear, confusion and frustration. As he learns to manage all of these with the tools he has made (strategy cards, calm corner and anger box), it will become second nature. As the school psychologist has reminded me, he will need prompting to use these tools for awhile before they become second nature. Not easy for me to remember when I am feeling upset and frustrated, but I try and remember.
Parenting a child with challenges then means walking that tightrope of balance. One wrong step, and you’re dealing with a tantrum/meltdown, but one right step and you’ve made progress in helping your child learn to self-regulate. Also, I suspect Michael is walking that same tightrope of balance with me having me understand his moods and how he ticks. After all, I understand him better than anybody, but I will never understand him as well as someone who has autism will. I read and try and learn every day how to better understand how his mind works to help him move forward.
Exceptional Parents, how do you manage to stay on your own tightropes in parenting? It’s not easy. There are days that go well. Others not so much. Never be afraid to stop learning how to read your child. Read, talk to other parents, attend seminars. If you work with your child and meet halfway, you will both be safe and not fall down. And even if you do, you’ll both know there is a net to catch you. Until next time.
Anxiety is something we all experience. Exceptional children and their families know all too well what it is like to live with anxiety day in, day out. I don’t pretend to know what it must be like for Michael to have such high anxiety. I get a little bit of what he must be feeling, being anxious myself and recognizing my own triggers, environmental and internal. Still, it is hard to sometimes figure out, why did he blow up over that? Why is he hitting or breaking things? Of course, I get that he is angry, scared, anxious. But what caused it? Lately as per his school psychologist, I am filling out ABC charts. These are usually used by behavior technicians and ABA therapists to determine what is potentially setting the child off and contributing to their behavior. A stands for Antecedent, what happened before behavior, B stands for behavior itself an C is the consequence of the behavior. I have learned a lot from filling these charts out and know so much more than when I started. For instance, I have learned when Michael’s behaviors are stemming from anxiety and when they are starting directly from anger. I can spot signs when he is building up and sometimes can intervene and show him how to “turn it around,”. I have learned new things about my own behavior and how to turn my own behavior around too.
So, what are ways to recognize anger and anxiety cues in your child? Here are 5 ways I have found:
- Is child suddenly full of energy? Now this could be excitement, but most of the time when Michael gets up bustling with energy there is stress lurking underneath and it will eventually come out in crying, stalling or anger if he has to transition to the next thing. My solution? Stay calm. Give 2 simple choices and wait. The hardest part.
- Is my child not listening deliberately? This is also anxiety in a passive aggressive way. Kids will do this when they are no sure how to handle fears and uncertainties or if they don’t like something. For example when Michael has a subject he does not like at school, he will misbehave in the morning. This morning behaviors were coming out as he was nervous about his math class and stuff that is harder for him to do. We talked about him asking for help and not worrying.
- Is my child angry to begin with in the morning? There is a reason. What is happening that day? Is something new on the agenda? Are they feeling well? Have they gone to the bathroom? All of these things play a role and as a parent we need to be a good detective and try and figure it out.
- Is my child imitating, hitting me or friends or trying to knock things over? Our first reaction as parents is to get angry ourselves. It is SO hard not to. If you do, forgive yourself. You’re human. But try and remain calm. What they need most is calm energy and firmness to help them calm down and begin to talk about the problem. Only when they are calm do. Until then, stay nearby so they cannot do harm, but let them get out frustration.
- Is my child crying or having a mood change? Watch carefully with this one. This is a sign that they are feeling scared. If a child is scared or upset and has no strategies or ways to calm down in place, behaviors will come out. It’s up to the parents and adults around them to help them find ways to calm down and fix it themselves. We cannot do it for them.
Exceptional Parents, how have you recognized your child’s triggers? Remember, to give yourself a break if you miss some of the signs. I still do, and I know my son quite well. It is also harder in children who are less verbal or nonverbal to find the triggers, but when you start paying attention they are there. Keep a notebook where you write down any changes in behavior and see what results. Also, remember to take care of yourself. Your child will need you to be a calm and strong presence for them as they learn to manage their anxiety and anger. Until next time.
So we are coming full circle with Michael’s behaviors. I am noticing the cycle of ignoring me, to acting out with me, to wanting me all to himself and chatting up a storm all day. All are related to anxiety and also to Michael figuring out his way in the social world and how he fits in with all of it.. I am happy to see he is moving away from extreme aggression and even though there were some outbursts, verbal and physical, he immediately went to his “anger box” and started writing down how he was feeling. He even knew he was supposed to use the anger box before the outburst, and reminded himself he would do it next time. I am also doing my best to remind him to use his “strategy cards” that he made with the psychologist and to try and recognize when he feels scared or nervous inside. It’s not the time to act out, but turn inwards and find ways to calmly handle it before lashing out.
I love how he is using talking to try and figure things out. We talked about a family event happening in the future and different ways he will be using to deal with his fears about it. We talked about him being away from me and his fears about that. We talked a lot and though it was little exhausting for me, I could see how he needed it. I was a chatty kid who reasoned through much of my stresses by talking them through with my mother and later friends. It helped me tremendously. Eventually though, I also had to find ways to cope with anxiety and stress through other physical forms though. Meditation saved me and helped me learn balance. Now I know my formula for balance out and do my best to meet that need. I am hoping with time Michael will find his best way to meet his need.
Exceptional Parents, how do you and your child handle anxiety? Do you or they talk up a storm or are there other ways they handle it? As long as you both come full circle in the techniques you use, all will go well. Until next time.