Month: June 2017

Fun Summer Family Activities To Get Your Exceptional Child Out and About

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So our first week of summer vacation has passed, and I have to say, it has been overall a good one. The main reason was due to planning it out in advance and having lots of indoor and outdoor activities that Michael and I enjoyed to choose from. Not every Exceptional Child (or any child) loves to do all the same things. However,  by having a few ideas that are simple and cost effective you can have lots of fun with your child and build in social, fine and gross motor skills at the same time. Some of the things Michael and I did this week included bike riding, long walks, yard work, swimming, and trips to stores to run errands and the library.

Now, not every child can do these activities easily, but there are great ways to adapt these activities. For children who tire easily, shorter walks in the woods or around your neighborhood can do the trick. For children who have more stamina, longer walks are possible. Some Exceptional Kids are great on a bike while others struggle with balance. In that case, it is best to start kids with tricycles or big wheels if they are small enough. If not, a scooter can be a good alternative to start to teach them about balance. There is also sometimes the possibility of renting adapted wheels to put on a bigger bike though this can be very expensive. Then there is swimming and yard work. Michael was active, doing relatively inexpensive things and getting fresh air all at the same time. We also did some yard work together and enjoyed going to the library to take out books and DVD’s.

The important thing for many of our kids is to keep them moving from activity to activity with a little bit of downtime in between to relax, watch tv, read and just be. Structuring with fun, local activities will usually keep anxiety down and also help them have fun and be naturally tired by the end of the day. With Canada Day around the corner, we will also be checking out local activities in parks like bouncy rides, face painting and other rides and things for a fun family afternoon on Saturday. Of course, for kids who are sensitive to noise and sights, try and go earlier in the day before there are a lot of people and longer lines for the activities. Watch your child for signs of them being tired.

Exceptional Parents, how are your child’s summer holidays going so far? How do you keep them busy while still getting things done? There are lots of different ways for families to structure days when children are not in camp or on play dates. In the end, it’s all about being organized, and going according to your child’s energy level and your own! Try different things. That’s the best way you’ll see what grabs your child’s interest. As always, they will be your guide. Until next time.

Staying Calm and Having Structure-Rebuilding The Exceptional Home Environment

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Michael teaches me something new every day. I think that is universal for all parents of all children. But there is something about our Exceptional kids. They test us as parents in so many ways. They make us question our actions, our words, our responses. And they make us aware of what we need to work on in ourselves so we can be better models of living for them. This is uniquely challenging though, as unless we as parents have the same challenges as they do, we are never truly seeing the world the exact same way. That is a whole other blog post for another day. Today I want to talk about how much I am learning to stay calm and rebuild structure is helping repair my relationship with Michael.  We’ve had a very good first week of holidays so far due to me being in touch with my inner self and how I am feeling. I am learning what triggers me, both things that I can control and that I must learn to control. I am also learning what Michael deliberately tries to trigger, because he’s a kid and that’s what they do. The result has been for me that the more clear I am about my boundaries, feelings, and expectations in a calm and relaxed way, the calmer he gets even when he is upset. He is learning to regulate too.

Most of the time we don’t realize as parents when we are escalating until it is too late. With Exceptional Kids though, it becomes mandatory to learn our cues and show them how they could handle their own. Self-care is not just relaxing when we can. It becomes about learning our limits as parents. It is about becoming better at acknowledging our shortcomings to ourselves, and working on changing them so that our kids have a united front with both parents. I’ve said this before to other parents, but never really saw what I was doing. In not wanting to structure things too much and make Michael even more rigid in his way of thinking, I somehow went in the other direction in parenting. I stopped structuring and taking control as did Dad. The result was Michael took control and was in charge running the household. Not a good thing. We are all slowly recovering from that, and strangely though Michael will still try the “I’m in charge card,” and “I’m going to not listen till I’m 21,” etc., I have never seen him as close to me, and as calm as I have in the last two weeks. That’s not to say we have not had moments when he has tested physically and mentally, but they are becoming fewer and far between. He is realizing with Mom and Dad in charge with clear, calm rules and structure. He is seeing that there are rules he has to follow just as Dad and I have rules we follow in the world. He is learning how to handle disappointments, struggles and anger. We remind him of his tools so he sees he has options and choices, where he can decide how things play out for him. It’s been really empowering for Michael, Dad and I. What a change from even a month ago! And it is affecting how I will help support other parents in the future when they ask for advice or just to talk.

Exceptional Parents, are you going through a challenging time with your Exceptional Child now? Are you wondering where to start in regaining your parenting foothold? It’s one of the easiest and hardest things to do at the same time. The easy part is structuring basic things like a routine for your child, as well as how you want your child to treat you and you them (and no exceptions). The hard part is putting  this into practice. A good family psychologist, educator or coach can do wonders to keep you on track as a family by checking in with you. We are all embarrassed to admit we are stuck or failing as parents. Don’t be. Trust your gut in finding your support team. And remember, it’s a long road ahead to rebuild authority in your home. Take it one day at a time. Celebrate the little victories you and your child will have. And remember, it will get better. Until next time.

 

I am a writer and parent coach whose passion it is to help other Exceptional Parents find joy, peace and love in parenting their exceptional children through the various challenges they face. I believe that a happy child can only develop if their parents are living their lives happy, whole and in balance. For more information on my coaching programs, please see my website: http://www.creatingexceptionalparenting.com. To book a free 30 minute exploration/consultation Skype session with me, please contact me by email at joanne@creatingexceptionalparenting.com.

It’s Summer But School Is Around the Corner-Guest Post on Estimation Breakfast For All Exceptional Kids

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Today I am breaking from my usual kind of post, and sharing with all of you a guest post. It is about a cool activity and site I came across that I think can help Exceptional Parents and their Exceptional Children stay busy and have fun learning over the long summer months. Kids are officially on summer vacation and teachers are not far behind, but it’s never a bad idea to continue finding ways to work in learning during the summer holidays with your exceptional child! Many of our kids love to learn things like reading and math, and like activities that help them “think outside the box,” so to speak. These kinds of activities also may help curb some of the regression we tend to see with our kids over the summer month. On that note,  I am happy to share the following guest post today.
Activity: 

Estimation Breakfast

Kindergarten Math Activities: Estimation Breakfast

What You Need:

  • Box of cereal with just one general shape and size (ex. Cheerios or Chex)
  • Bowl
  • Spoon
  • Baggie

What You Do:

  1. The word estimation sounds a bit intimidating. Start by explaining to your child that when we estimate, we’re just making a good guess about how many of something we see.
  2. Ask your child to scoop out a spoonful of cereal using the spoon. Then ask her to estimate how many pieces are on the spoon, without counting them.
  3. Once she’s made her guess, count the cereal pieces together. Ask your child, “Was your estimate close?” and “Were there more or less pieces on the spoon than you thought?”
  4. Dump the spoonful of cereal into the plastic baggie. Then scoop a few more spoonfuls into the bag (four is plenty) and ask your child to estimate the total. Once she’s guessed, count the cereal pieces in the baggie and ask the same two questions, “Was your estimate close?” and “Were there more or less pieces than you thought?”
  5. Dump the contents of the baggie into a bowl and add some more cereal to it. Ask your child to estimate how many pieces are in the bowl. Now pour in some milk, and have her count as she eats them up to see how close she got!

 

Exceptional Parents, are you looking for more activities like these to keep your Exceptional Children busy during the summer months? Here is where you can find more activities just like the one above:  www.education.com/resources/math/ . I’ll be checking out to see if I can work some of these activities in this summer as well.  Happy summer learning! Until next time.

 

Disclosure: Just a short note to let my readers know that I was not compensated in any way, shape, or form by the company in the link above. Occasionally, I like to share information on products that I personally find interesting, and that I think can help parents help their children to the best of their ability. Thank you.

 

Structured And Unstructured Time During Summer Vacation-How To Strike The Balance

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It’s official. Summer vacation is here and we are in the process of all adjusting to the changes this brings. I am home from one of my jobs or the rest of the summer and available to work around Michael’s schedule more. Michael does not have to be up super early to leave the house with Dad to go to school, and Dad has his personal space more in the am as he can now leave for work alone again. Coming off our first summer long weekend, we also all adjusted to being home four days together and kept busy with family events, local outdoor kids’ festivities, and structuring our home environment so Michael had an idea of what would be happening. This worked well for the most part, though there were some ups and downs which is to be expected when any change happens. Still, our challenge as Michael is growing older, is to make sure we structure what we can, and also allow for some unstructured times. This is good as it will help Michael to learn to be less rigid in his way of thinking. We had great scheduling for him as a baby and younger child, but it only helped solidify his rigidity on routine.

Then we tried in the last three years to move away from so much structure and being overly optimistic at Michael’s ability to communicate and understand, mistakenly tried to under structure his day and tell him he either had to go with whatever we decided on the fly, or we gave him more control than we meant to by giving him too many choices. Sigh. The road to hell…. as the saying goes. So now, we are backtracking a bit on our more laissez-faire attitude and bringing back super structure, but with a difference this time. We are throwing in some which we are letting Michael structure and when there are things out of his and our control, we are working with him on becoming less rigid and stressed. We are showing him by modeling it ourselves that sometimes when there are changes in plans (it rains on a day you wanted to go swimming or a friend gets sick and a play date is canceled) it is ok. We all can learn to roll with the punches and make alternate plans.

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So how can a parent of an exceptional child with autism strike the balance between structure and unstructure during the summer holidays? Here are some things that are working for our family:

  1. Have a visual schedule with the structured plans written down: It’s important to write or draw the events of the day and week down on paper to cover the stuctured part and so your child’s anxiety does not continue to grow.
  2. Talk with child about unpredictability and how they could manage it: This is important as it teaches your child how to handle life’s unexpected curve balls which all children, with and without autism, have to learn to handle. For younger children or if your child is not as comfortable with words or language, drawing simple scenarios can really help too.
  3. Give them some say and decision in what is happening: Don’t give them all the power. For final decision and household activities, remember you the parents are in charge. However, this doesn’t mean that your child cannot have some say in what activities they would like to do or where and who they would like to see. It’s important to give them some choice and control, but it is measured and controlled by the parents.
  4. Take care of yourselves with down time and couple and friend  time: Exceptional parents go above and beyond for their children and this can wear them out physically and psychologically so that they are no good for anyone. Remember to recharge your batteries by relaxing alone and with family and friends. This will help make your summer more pleasant with your child too.
  5. Don’t be afraid to change it up if it’s not working: Finally, if your child is more stressed than happy as you are, it may be time to change your system. This is when seeking outside help is so important. It’s hard to admit as parents when we are struggling with our kids, but  we are human beings after all who make mistakes. We can learn from them as can our kids. Seek therapy for yourself, you partner and your child if you need it.

Exceptional Parents, what is your ideal set up for the summer for your exceptional child and family? What works for all of you? If you are struggling at this time of year, know you are not alone. Many families have gone through and are going through what you are right now. Don’t be afraid to make the changes you need to make so that your child and the rest of your family can become happier and healthier over the summer vacation period. And last but not least, remember to start each day over fresh and laugh together as a family. That will help tremendously in the long run. Until next time.

 

Exceptional Social Milestones Among Exceptional Blows Ups-How To Look For The Positive Moments

My little boy is needing me less these days and I couldn’t be happier. What, you may say? Happy? Aren’t most parents sad when their little ones are growing up? It means time is going faster than they want it to. Yet for parents with  Exceptional Kids are so happy when they see their little ones spreading their wings and becoming more independent. It is particularly awesome when they are also struggling with other issues with their child and they feel discouraged. That is what I witnessed with Michael over the weekend. We are having our ups and downs with him testing his limits with us verbally and boundary wise. His aggressive outbursts are getting shorter and fewer, but are still there and are draining for all of us.  Some days are not as good as others. Then, we have an amazing day like yesterday. Michael did great with me other than a few little issues on a long family walk in the am, followed by a great swim lesson with a new instructor and then an afternoon where he surprised his father and I with his blossoming social skills when calling up one of his best friends on the telephone. He had a very age appropriate conversation with his friend, and the laughter was so like ten year old boys. It brought tears of happiness to my eyes, especially given the behavior struggles we are having with him. Here he is improving and growing up in leaps and bounds. It was wonderful to see.

I am learning again to see the roses among the thorns. Michael, like all children, is blossoming and growing up. And interestingly, even with a bad aggressive episode later in the day, I still came out with a feeling that today overall was a good day. Michael has his moments when he not only connects the dots, but aces the test. It’s at those moments that I know he will eventually connect the behavior dots too and learn that just because he does not like what is being said, he still has to listen and follow rules. It is the way of the world for all of us, after all. I also am learning how I can see the roses in my day, and how and what I need to do to rejuvenate my batteries, stay calm and present-minded, so as to show Michael the calm in the storm.

Exceptional Parents, do you see the bright spots and achievements of your Exceptional Children among their challenges? Are you stuck on what is going wrong most of the time? It’s a normal reaction, and remember, unless you are strong and feeling centered yourself, it’s hard to think and be positive. There is always something positive to look at and for. Hold on to that and see your child’s progress in the areas they are progressing in. The rest will come eventually. Until next time.

Last Day Of School-How Exceptional Parents And Their Kids Can Stay Sane

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So today is the last day of school for Michael and it was a challenging send off. When he was younger it was the sadness of it being the last day he would be seeing his friends. Now, he is sad that he has to go in and not start summer vacation early even though it starts the next day and continues for 8 weeks. Sigh. You can’t win with kids sometimes. After much directing, fanfare and standoffs occurred, Michael finally left for school. It is hard for exceptional kids when something old is finishing and something new is beginning. Dad also made the mistake of discussing something that would be happening tomorrow and that caused anxiety. I gently reminded him that with Michael it has to be one things at a time on his schedule so he knows what to expect. I will fine tune tomorrow in a schedule for Michael and Dad as I will be at work, and this way they both know what will be happening. Things usually go well, but the first few days of summer vacation are tricky until we have the summer schedule down pat.

Over the years, we have tried various things to help ease Michael from one change to another. Dry erase boards, calendars, schedules of all types. I will be using them this year too, fine tuned with some new tools. As I’ve mentioned before, Dad and I, (particularly me) are learning to talk less and speak very clearly. This has made a difference in not escalating Michael’s anxiety and sometimes even nipping it in the bud. When I see I am about to lose my patience, I will step away and let Dad take over. Dad will do the same. It is hard not to lose your temper when your child is deliberately pushing your buttons. Yet, I see why. He is testing his limits with us, and trying to get control in a situation he feels very little control in, for example going to school when he would rather stay home, leaving behind a toy he is not allowed to take. He is also seeing if Dad and I will stay consistent with the rules we have put into place. Many of them he does not like as he did not have a say in them, but at the same time, I can see he is craving the structure and the facts we have very specific limits placed on behaving in a certain way and getting a certain result. We have given him choices and options for a long time. It worked for many years, giving him choice. Now, in the last year it just ended up causing more complications and anxiety. Michael is beginning to see that he experiences less anxiety when he knows what the outcome of a given action will be. So do we as his parents.

Exceptional Parents, what are your sanity saving busters for coping with that last day of school with your Exceptional Child? How do you and they structure the first few days of summer vacation? Remember, as long as you do what works to decrease yours and your child’s anxiety levels, you are on the right track. Most of our kids LOVE structure so make sure to put as much in as you can. If you have a child that craves less of it, make sure to still have ideas of activities that will appeal to your kids. You will get through calmly to the other side, I promise. 🙂 Until next time.

Control Versus Independence- How To Tell The Difference With Your Exceptional Child

In looking at Michael’s behavior lately, I am slowly starting to learn what are control battles, and what are battles for independence. Sometimes both even intersect for a little bit, as Michael is trying to find himself and establish his identity while seeing where he still needs help and learning how to ask me or Dad for it. I, for my part, and in the process of learning the same thing. What are the little battles I don’t have to turn into battles and can be talked about, and what are the things that, like it or not, Michael has to let me or Dad direct and lead the way with. Every parent has to navigate this on a daily basis, but with exceptional kids, they are pretty much at different developmental age levels all day. They are catching up to milestones, and so sometimes are doing things they didn’t do as a baby, other times as a preschooler, and finally other times closer to their own age, which in Michael’s case is ten years old chronologically.

This is what makes it harder for the parent, but like all children kids with special needs test the limits, even more so sometimes. In Michael’s case his anxiety is so high, that he needs boundaries that are quite fixed and intense. We have been looser with boundaries over the past two years, as we thought it would help to give him some control and lessen the anxiety. Instead, what I have been learning is that here loosening the boundaries caused him more anxiety, hence more behaviors and more control issues. It’s not to say that when he is striving for independence we do not challenge him. On the contrary, Michael now does chores, gets paid for the chores,  and is in charge of how he chooses to spend the money he has. He also has helped out with cooking and keeping his room clean. He is seeing that older kids need to be responsible about their things and we never forget to praise him when he is being responsible.

We are learning to strike that balance in helping support Michael is using his strategies to calm down before his anger takes over, and giving him some more choice and independence in areas where he can have control. It has been humbling for me to seek help on this latest part of our journey in teaching Michael to manage his anger and challenges. I have had to forgive myself for mistakes I have made, things I have said and done which can’t go undone, and remember that deep down inside, no matter what, I love my child and will do anything for him. As I’ve said before, I am learning as he is learning how to be a better version of myself, a stronger version of myself, and in the process, teaching Michael how to be the best version of himself that he can be.

Exceptional Parents, have you forgiven yourselves for the mistakes you have made with your child and started celebrating the victories too? Have you realized that no matter what, you are the only one who will always be the number one advocate and individual fighting for your child and teaching them how to fight for themselves? It is essential that you remember your power as the exceptional parent so you can teach your child about their own power in learning when to listen and when to let go. Trust in the people around you an the tools you have at your disposal to guide you in your parenting journey. Until next time.

5 Ways Exceptional Parents Can Stay in Control During Their Child’s Meltdown

 

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and by all counts it was a MUCH better day than my Mother’s Day was. We had a beautiful morning with a breakfast out at a favorite restaurant and fun in the park. As Michael himself promised, “I will make it a good day Mommy and Daddy. I have better anger strategies now.” He did. We only had to cancel one activity in the afternoon due to Michael not listening and getting aggressive. We did the whole cool room for me to pull himself together. It did not go well at first, though at least he went willingly. That was a first. It’s draining for him and us to listen to him screaming in there, cursing, yelling and not using it to actually calm down until much much later. But the lesson will get learned we are sure. What is also hard, is for Dad and I to keep our cool while he is raging, banging and breaking things. That is something though that is key to his eventual calming down- us staying calm, or as calm as we can inside and out. This is not easy. We are learning together and supporting each other while we do it. After all, Michael is in his cool down or calm down room because he was aggressive so we want to model us being calm, gentle and loving yet firm so he learns he can be angry, but proceed calmly to handle his emotions. Here are 5 things we have learned to do to start modeling that for Michael:

  1. Speak Less and Quietly: This is hard, but I have been shown how to talk less and point. This shows Michael we mean business and saves energy for riding out the literal storm.
  2. Take Several Deep Breaths and Count: This helps me or Dad when we are monitoring that he stays in his room and have the timer on. He gets the timer ONLY if he does not choose to go on his own to calm down after an episode.
  3. Remember It Will Not Last Forever: It is hard when a parent finds themselves in the middle of YET another meltdown. It is scary too to hear your child losing control. It will not last forever though. Some will be longer than others. They will learn eventually what they need to do. Hang in there.
  4. Don’t Blame  Yourself: If only I had done this. I am guilty of blaming myself in the past for ALL Michael’s problems. Yes, parents sometimes miss cues, but your child’s actions and choices are their own as are yours. Give them the responsibility for their actions and forgive  yourself. You are doing your best.
  5. Remember Their Developmental Age  VS Chronological Age: Michael is 10 years old, but developmentally MUCH younger in many ways. This is hard for me and Dad to say, even now. Hearing professionals say he is cognitively impaired breaks my heart. However, it is imperative I remind myself of this, so when he melts down I see it as a developmental stage he didn’t go through as a baby. It is healthy he is doing it now and catching up. We need to remember as parents they are just children and treat them as such.

Exceptional Parents, what tools do you use to keep yourself together when your child is falling apart? Remember, they will appreciate how your calm helped them regain theirs. They will see how you are using strategies to stay in control, and with time and practice, learn to do that themselves. Be patient. Be consistent. And after they are happy and have apologized, really give them a chance to start over with you. Everyone deserves a fresh start to learn and move forward to better times, you and your child. Until next time.

Needing To Be Heard- How Exceptional Parents And Kids Try and Balance This

Portrait of Smiling Boy With Arms Outstretched

The last two days have been about Michael yelling that I do not hear him and answer him. This is sometimes true. As parents, we sometimes don’t hear everything our kids are telling us. We are busy working, cleaning, or just plain distracted. With a child who has lots of anxiety however, this can be really taken to heart. Last night at bedtime Michael had a blowout. He was talking to me from his room while I was on the couch (we have a bungalow so everything is on the main floor). I heard snippets of how he was not tired and would probably fall asleep at eleven o’clock (I knew not as he had been yawning like crazy during his bedtime routine), but I had not heard the other things he was saying. I was finishing up a writing job and the dishwasher was making a lot of noise. I told Michael to come out to the living room and calmly tell me what was wrong, but he still became frustrated yelling why did I have to work, he did not like it, he did not like me etc. Suffice it to say, when he did fall asleep about fifteen minutes later after Dad went into his room and told him to calm down, it was quite a relief for all of us.

It got me thinking about a lot of fights we have been having lately. Michael’s perception is similar to ours. Dad and I too feel that we are not being heard by Michael. Sometimes it is true. He is refusing to listen. Other times, it is our misunderstanding. What makes it extra hard is that exceptional kids’ anxiety is higher than your average child’s. It makes their life more difficult and their parents. It means all parties have to check their temper at the door, have strategies to handle anger, and really work at seeing the other person’s perspective. Michael is getting  better at doing this with us as we are with him. It is not always easy though, and there are times I wish I had done better. Still, Michael’s echo that “you are always working,” “put your phone away,” “listen to me Mommy.” There are some grains of truth in it. Sometimes he is the one interrupting me and not respecting my work space and boundaries. Other times, I am realizing I need to be a lot more clear about when I will give him quality time, and when he is on his own. We are using schedules again and this is helping tremendously. Still, as a parent it is important to remember to really listen to our kids and model how we do that to people we love as we expect from them.

Exceptional Parents, how do your Exceptional Children act when you do not listen to them? How do you feel when they are not listening to you? It’s important to really learn to be patient with our kids and then we can teach them to be patient with us. As long as we are all learning to respect when the other one is talking and what they are saying, we will gradually develop a better way to truly be heard with our children. Until next time.

Chores, Control, and Teaching Your Child Their Value

 

 

Michael is learning about how he can earn chore money and buy himself things. He feels so good that he has this power and some control over a life he sometimes feels so little control over. Like a lot of children, neuro typical or not, he does not like following rules that others make sometimes. He is learning though, that it is necessary for all people, children and adults, to follow rules. Without them, things would fall apart. Another good thing I think that Michael doing chores is teaching him, is that he can make a contribution to the world and contribute value. It’s not that just being him is not valuable. Of course it is. We all have value as human being regardless of what money we make or not. However, doing chores is also helping out his parents and that makes us feel good, him feel good, and helps our family run smoothly. Of course for him it is still about the money gets me this toy, but in time we hope that message will sink in too. Helping others helps us too. We give and we get back thank you’s, appreciation and help things move forward in a positive way.

Explaining the worth of chores as well and what translates into a small chore versus a bigger one has also been an interesting experience for me to explain to him. I have written out the value of each chore he is capable of helping with and shown him how many he would have to do to earn a $10.00 toy for example. He has understand the message very clearly, as of course he has seen it on paper. There were some days he asked if he could skip his chores. We told him that then we would have less time to do family things as Daddy and I would be finishing up the chores alone and he would not have money should he see a toy he liked. He is learning the give/take of this exchange and I think it is helping him understand a little more of how the world works.

Exceptional Parents, do you have your child helping with chores for money or as part of their family responsibility? If they are able to understand the basic concept of chores, it is a great idea to teach responsibility and to show them they have some control over helping and over purchasing things they like and want. It also shows them they are a part of the bigger whole of the family and the world. These are all important lessons to take with them in life. Until next time.