For New Years, I’m resolving not to resolve. On Rocky Parenting:
I’m going to be writing a little this week about where we are now headed with Little K and his special needs, so I wanted to repost this for a little background on what his Apraxia is looking like after 2 years of hard work. This was originally posted on Rocky Parenting.
“Do you ever forget about K’s Apraxia, and then suddenly remember it?” I asked my husband. “All the time,” he said. We were standing in the kitchen, watching K dance around to a little ditty that was playing in his head. On the way home from the store that day, K had said something was “silly,” and I’d remembered suddenly a sign K used to have for silly when he couldn’t verbalize any words. It was an adorable approximation, and it was his favorite sign.
When K was first diagnosed with Developmental Apraxia 23 months ago, I would never have believed it would become a thing so routine that I’d actually forget he had it. At first, it was with us all the time – like a weight we’d gotten tangled in had been trailing heavily everywhere we went. Now, we’ve built speech therapy and sensory accommodations so intricately into our lives that it pervades every aspect while at the same time fading invisibly. I think that’s the wonder of special needs: they take over your life and your life absorbs them, making everyone reevaluate their plans and add some flexibility.
K continues to make unbelievable gains. The little boy whose mouth struggled to make a sound other than a scream is right now narrating an entire rescue scene with toy Transformers. The child who hid his head in my shoulder if a stranger looked at him six months ago told a receptionist last week what he ate for breakfast. He’s ditched his sign language in favor of trying every new word that comes his way, and he practices with so much patience when the words come out wrong.
His therapist equates speech development for kids with Apraxia to shoveling snow. You shovel and shovel as you practice those words, and sometimes the neuro-pathway clears up for a while, but there’s always the chance another storm will come and pile more snow on that path you worked so hard to clear. But you just keep on shoveling, and eventually the path is passable. Accommodating a developmental disorder requires the same kind of shoveling through frustrations and regressions and circumstances beyond your control. You never quite stop shoveling, but the snow gets lighter and lighter.
Now, K has such a big vocabulary that I do forget about the days I had to keep looking into the backseat of the car to see what he was saying with his hands. When I can keep facing forward and driving while he talks, it’s easy to forget how hard his little mouth works to get those sounds out. Sleepiness and stress catch him by surprise and make him stumble over word after word after word, but my brave little trooper just keeps shoveling until he’s said what he has to say. In those times we can’t deny his Apraxia, but we stop to sit quietly in the snow while he shuffles words along the path. To the people in his life who patiently take the time to hear and understand my sweet K, it’s obvious his path is headed somewhere magnificent.
At dinner last night, one of my best friends was describing the kind of small parenting nightmare we all run into roughly three hundred forty seven times per day. Her son had acted out, she’d disciplined him, and now a week later she is questioning what she did. “I put him in time out – and I just read that you’re not supposed to do ‘time outs’ anymore, so I felt really bad,” she said mid-story.
Time outs are just one of the many, many things that parents can do wrong. By using them. By not using them. By using them too frequently. By using them the wrong way. By using them too infrequently. Really, evidence shows that no matter how you are using or not using time outs, you are irreparably altering your child’s emotional development. I’m sorry to break it to you. You’re doing everything wrong.
According to Parents magazine, “Sometimes the best way to cool off a heated conversation is with a time out.”
According to an article in TIME, time outs are “hurting your child” no matter how you are using them.
One children’s hospital calls time out “a frequently used and positive intervention that can help modify children’s negative behaviors.”
Yet another therapist’s article says that time out damages a child’s “core sense of security and connection.”
What is very clear here is that nothing is. Time out, sleep training, childcare choices, discipline strategies…we can go insane reading too much information on any one parenting subject because nothing is consistent. And in reality, it depresses us and causes anxiety when we never know what is “right” for our children. We stop listening to what we know is right for our individual children in our unique settings, with the parenting tools we have at hand, and start trying to slog through the mess of information that essentially tells us we can never be good enough at raising our kids.
No one strategy can apply to every single child in every home except consistent love. I’m a fan of attachment parenting, but if that isn’t how you bond with your kids, that doesn’t mean you are less than. Just as I am no less than the parent who never uses a time out when their child is out of control and could benefit from simple removal from the situation.
But that is not the message we get online or in “expert” books, blogs, or conversations. And so we question our mothering. When we question too much about our every parenting move, we get distracted by the millions of options for parenting the right way, the millions of things that are detrimental to children in every way. We spend so much time reading about the perfect techniques for getting our children to sleep or eat or do their homework that we forget to look at our children and ask them, with our words and with our trials and errors, what will work for them. What will work for us.
Because we’re parents, and we know. When I slow down and watch my three-year-old, it is so much more clear to me what he needs. When I quit worrying how my actions – when they are loving intentions at the very core – are surely negatively affecting my sons or which expert opinion I read in the latest magazine issue that contradicts everything I know has been working, I can at least begin finding out what my little one needs. I still lay in bed at night and worry that I’ve done it wrong or that I’ve damaged my kids in some small way, but hopefully I am finding my own way.
My older son started kindergarten this year, and we were expecting him to love it once he got past initial worries. He was anxious to begin with – he was worried he wouldn’t know anyone, worried he would be late to school , worried his teacher might not be as nice as his preschool teacher had been. Once school started and he realized he did know kids in his class, that it’s ok to be late once in a while, and that his teacher is just as nice as the preschool teacher, I figured it would be smooth sailing.
As it turns out, not every child, even the well-adjusted ones, loves kindergarten. Even kids who love to learn and love the idea of school can have a setback with a change as big as starting public school. And don’t get me wrong, he likes kindergarten; it is just very, very stressful for him.
N has always had anxiety about new things, but until kindergarten started in such a difficult way for him, I didn’t realize just how much pressure he puts on himself. When he misses an instruction during a game of tag in gym class, he feels embarrassed and worried even if the gym teacher doesn’t notice. He has cried several afternoons after school because he said it’s “too much for him” to worry about doing everything perfectly during school hours.
We’ve never had a house where anyone feels outside pressure to be perfect, and I try to reward effort or kindness over perfection and being the best at things. But some children are just born anxious, and I think my N is one of them. So I started looking into things I could do to help him survive a little more easily.
Statistically, 10-20% of school-aged children experience anxiety. It is the most common mental health condition in children and adults, and luckily it is one of the easiest to deal with before it becomes debilitating. It is nice to know that my child isn’t alone, and that there is expert advice out there to help me help him.
The Child Mind Institute has some excellent suggestions for helping children deal with anxiety. Among their list of suggestions is this:
“The message you want to send is, ‘I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, and I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this’…You can’t promise a child that her fears are unrealistic—that she won’t fail a test, that she’ll have fun ice skating, or that another child won’t laugh at her during show & tell. But you can express confidence that she’s going to be okay, she will be able to manage it, and that, as she faces her fears, the anxiety level will drop over time. This gives her confidence that your expectations are realistic, and that you’re not going to ask her to do something she can’t handle.”
Giving children skills to manage their anxiety will help them be successful in life without being afraid of failing. Because they will fail, and we have to let them. But we can work with them to be okay with not being the best at everything, not being perfect, and not being afraid to be who they are. One thing I have learned while helping my son navigate the first month of kindergarten is that sometimes we don’t even know these worries are in our children. If we don’t ask or don’t pay close attention to what is going on with them, we may miss it altogether. Had my son not broken down over a Lego fight with his brother that would never have fazed him otherwise, I would not have thought to ask him what was really wrong, and I would never have known he was constantly worrying about school.
Now that the communication is open and I’m making a big effort to curb some of this anxiety, we can talk about it, run through scenarios that might come up, and then debrief after each long day at school. If my son can manage to get through some of the smaller hiccups like forgetting an instruction, he can move onto dealing with life’s bigger unknowns and hopefully learn to deal with his internal pressure in positive, productive ways.
*A version of this post first ran on Greeley Moms.
Let me just preface this by saying that we don’t spend a lot of money on clothes at our house. Most of our wardrobe is from Target, and if I bought a shirt or pants at a children’s store, you can bet it was on sale. I feel like spending anything over $20 on little kids’ clothes is like putting a $20 bill in your pocket and then throwing it away 2 weeks later when your kids have grown a shoe or pant size.
So how did I end up buying 3-yr-old K a pair of Spider Man shoes that cost $34 yesterday?… read more at Rocky Parenting
My post today for Rocky Parenting – on acceptance, bears in jail, and one-armed policemen.
They are Lego package drivers, and they live here in their house in Bench Seat Lego Village. Sometimes our Lego people have moms and dads, best friends and pets. So when Ted and Fred moved in together… read more at Rocky Parenting
Well the elf has arrived at our house. He’s not THE Elf on the Shelf – he’s Chritopher Pop-in-Kins, which is just a different, less snitchy version. We all know I thought I’d never do the elf because I’m kind of lazy about Christmas things like that. But I actually think I love this little guy! I know my boys are only 5 and 2, but N in particular is so smart, so practical. When he asked me to help him tell K who Santa is last week, I actually felt silly trying to get them to buy that he is magical and has flying reindeer and can go all over the world in one night. I keep waiting for him to call b.s. on me, but he doesn’t. And now with this 12″ pose-able elf – it requires such a complete suspension of reality to believe that he is anything more than plastic and wire.
That is the truly fantastic, amazing thing about children. They believe with everything in their little bodies. Magic is so very magical and mysterious and wonderful, and they behold it with the light in their eyes shining so brightly, so free of skepticism. No one has told them yet that there are impossibilities. I sure as hell am not going to be that person.
You run into those adults who for some reason don’t like to let kids be little. They feel like it’s their duty to tell little ones how it really is – how cruel and un-magical life has been to them and surely will be to every child they cross. And there are older children equally eager to squash the glow of little minds. I feel sorry for them, because I know it comes down from someone having taken away their glow too early as well, but I’d also like to protect my boys from these walking rain clouds.
I don’t want to know at what age that light of belief fades against the force of disillusionment. Right now, all I want is to see them run down the stairs to see where little Christopher the elf has posed himself each morning, and I want to give them liberty to believe all the wildly implausible stuff that Christmas gives to little children. They won’t get to keep that fleeting gift for long, and once it is gone, it won’t return again until they have children of their own to share it with them. So I thank N and K for that – for giving me back the gift of that childhood Christmas magic in spite of life’s efforts to demystify everything that is bright.