Friday, January 25, 2013

Being My Child's Helper

Kanoa turned 4 at the end of December.  

Wanted to take a pic of Kanoa and the cake.

Let's eat it now!
He is the sweetest little boy and I often wake up to him putting his arm over me and snuggling into me saying, "I love you, Mommy" in a sleepy voice.  (Right now he is laying across my lap napping with his hand holding onto the collar of my shirt as he sleeps.  He had been on the couch, but woke up, nursed, and then has been on my lap and fell back to sleep.  Sweet, but he is getting heavy!!  I rarely choose to write on here and prioritize other things, so I shall let him sleep and type away!)

He also gives lots of hugs and cuddles throughout the day and we have a close and connected relationship.  He loves to bound over toward me to wrestle with enthusiastic playfulness!  He has been diggin' pretend play so much for a couple of months or so.

He loves it when I use our blue blanket as a puppet to be "Sammy" or to play with the stuffed animals and make them talk - He'll say, "Let's play puppies!"  Much of the talk and action is directed by him.  If he's having a challenging time and I don't get the script or action the way he intended, instead of letting me know as a matter of fact, he may get upset fast and throw himself down on the bed or floor and cry and thrash about for a short bit, then regain composure and return to playing.  Same for if I don't understand what he says.  Luckily, I usually do understand (most of the time), but it wasn't always that way.    

No matter what, I know he loves me and likes to play and be with me and I feel grateful and blessed to be with him and have him in my life.  I do wish I could help him feel less frustrated though....sooner rather than later..and yet I know I can't rush things as he is still learning how to cope with frustrations and big feelings and I need to be patient as he continues to develop.  

It does feel like at times he learns new ways of coping, and then after I notice a change, for a while it feels like nothing or only slight changes happen.  I guess that is life though and that is the pace that is happening for Kanoa, so I try to accept that this is right for him.  Some things take more time to learn and some people need More time than others.  So I suppose I will have to be patient and continue to offer loving kindness to him and find ways to support myself as we go through this together and as a family.  

The many sweet moments we have sustain me when Kanoa has multiple frustrations in a short period of time or on and off throughout the day.  

I KNOW he good and trying his best with whatever tools he has gathered and from what we have modeled in his four years of life.  

He is not to be blamed for being Who he is.  He is only able to take so much and then can't handle whatever is frustrating to him.  

I do believe that this will change with age and experience.  For now, I try to prevent and anticipate when I can, and when he growls, makes a loud noise of frustration or yells, I breathe deep and then am there for him.  *Being there for him* has been the most important and helpful way of supporting him so far.  I have learned that he doesn't want me to talk most of the time (he's told me), but to sit and be available for him to come to me.  My lap is a safe space for him that he climbs into or rests his head and where he can recenter himself and take time to calm down.  

Since mid-December or so, climbing part way up the stairs or all the way up have been a place for him to retreat to when he needs space and quiet for a minute or two.  He's not quiet at first he is still mad and expressing himself with anger or frustration sounds or crying, then after a minute or two, he will feel more at ease and will come back downstairs.  I stay downstairs, where he can easily see me when he comes down, silent and available in case he wants comfort.  Sometimes he goes back into doing whatever he was doing beforehand with whomever it was and other times he wants to climb in my lap or touch my arm or leg and/or say "I'm sorry," then move on.  

He is not to be blamed for his feelings of frustration nor for how he acts when he is frustrated.  

I know he doesn't want to do what he does.  I know he doesn't want to feel so upset so often!  I know he is only newly 4 and only has a limited amount of skills and experience to deal with his big emotions.  Shoot, many adults still work on how they express their emotions too.  I don't expect him to act like a person who has had decades more experience in life.  

Is he getting upset to aggravate and frustrate other people?  No!  How do I know he doesn't do this on purpose?  Because I know him.  I know how sweet he is.  I can read his body language.  He often comes to me afterwards and says in a weak, sorrowful voice, "I'm sorry Mommy" as he buries his head on my leg or snuggles into me.  I know he feels bad.  I write that because some people think punishment would be the answer.  It isn't.  It would only add to the troubles and cause him to feel bad about himself even more.  It would also tear at our relationship.  Punishing doesn't make sense.  Plus he is having such a hard time already, making things worse by adding punishment to the mix would be cruel and certainly Not helpful.  It wouldn't help anyone.  

Punishment or getting mad at him might give me someone to blame so I can partly get rid of those uncomfortable feelings such as being an insufficient, inadequate or bad mother (but might add to those feelings too as it wouldn't be in accordance with what I think is a good parent anyway).  Yes, I have felt that way at times.  There are times I wish I could make things all better or at least help him not feel so upset or feel a little more at ease with frustration.  There are times when I grow inpatient and frustrated of him melting down so frequently (in spite of knowing he's doing his best) and unfortunately might think to myself, "I've done all this and you are still not satisfied or happy!"  Sigh.  Those kind of thoughts aren't helpful and they are full of resentment.  Thankfully, I usually don't feel that way, but I have had those thoughts before.  Other times I wonder why I can't please him or make him happy even when I am trying so hard and doing what I think would help and avoiding that which I think wouldn't.  What am I doing wrong?  And more typically I think, "Oh, maybe it is not me and I need to be that mom that he needs and be there for him to help him ride those turbulent waves of emotion that he is feeling."   

I don't have control over him and I am not him and I can't magically make things all better.  Time and patience are what I think it will take.  And me being More preventative and attentive.

Instead of thinking of blaming him and dwelling on how awful it is that this has happened once again, I concentrate on what I can do to help. I see my role as a helper. Even if it is me who is frustrated with something he did, I try to let go of that so I can *be there* for him. He needs me and he needs someone to love him especially then!
When a child is upset and stressed, they need someone they love to help them cope.  If a parent instead gets angry, yells, blames or punishes the child, then the person to whom they'd turn to for help is not available and not on their side.  The person whom they love is not even there to help them cope, but instead adds to the upsetness and then there is no safe person to offer love and comfort and safety and security at the time he needs it.

An upset and frustrated and stressed child already feels so bad.  He doesn't want to feel the way he does, nor react the way he does, yet he doesn't know what to do with all those Big feelings and emotions that come up.

Some people think that once you explain to the child in a reasonable way why not to feel a certain way or react a certain way, the child Could do it.  So if they don't, the child is to be blamed.  We humans are pretty good at finding ways of justifying blaming others.  I'll explain why I don't agree with this way of thinking.  

First of all, each person feels what they feel and there is no wrong or right with that.  Feelings are subjective.  A person can learn new information or have different thoughts and then change how they feel or maybe a person had some misinformation and then realized how they felt before was based on that.  Feelings just Are - How a person feels is not right or wrong. Others may feel someone else should not feel the way they do, but that still doesn't change how that first person feels.  They have their own reasons for why they feel the way they do.  That happens in the internal workings of their mind and body.  There are even times when a person doesn't understand why they feel the way they do, but they know how they are feeling.  Many people trust their "gut feelings" or their instinct and are glad they did.

Secondly, what does it do to a child when he is blamed?  How does he feel?  Does he start to think of himself as a bad kid?  Does he feel helpless because he can't control himself to his parents satisfaction?  (Understand he really can't control himself or he would!)  Does he wonder if he is still loveable and loved?  Does he begin to feel alone and hopeless because his parents aren't on his side, but instead angry with him?    

In our culture, it is not uncommon to hear people wonder why this or that happened to them. This is still another way to blame others.  Get out of the pity poor me mode of feeling like, "Why me?...Why did this happen to me?...I don't deserve to have a child treat me this way!....Look at all of the things I do for him!...He doesn't know how good he has it!...My parent's never would have allowed me to act this way!!!"  Get rid of that blame and jealousy and relish that You are the unconditional-loving parent and that you have the skills and tools and patience and loving kindness to Be the sort of parent who will give your kids the space they need and the time they need to develop emotionally and gradually.

Who can your child depend on for help and love when he is feeling out of control and needing a safe, secure person to be there for him?  How would you feel if that ever happened to you?  What if you depended on your partner or spouse to be there for you, but instead they blamed you and you felt like you were doing your best but that you couldn't please them?  What does an upset person do with all of their intense feelings and energy when in the moment they want to crumble to the ground or direct it at something that is not okay?  What if that person is only a very young child and is overwhelmed easily and finding it so hard to cope with even daily frustrations?  Couldn't you find it in your heart to not blame them and instead to be the helper?  Couldn't you be the one to love them no matter what and to trust them to continue to walk forward doing their best in each moment?  Don't you love them enough to try to do those things?  

When a person is crying out for help, however they show they need help, give them help!  Not blame and punishment.  Be on their side. Do things that you think will make them feel you are on their side.  Help them to love themselves and trust themselves.  Let them know that they'll be better able to deal with things in time and that you will always love them and are always there for them.  Let their journey forward be as light as possible, filled with joy and wonder.  It is important to have many joyful moments because they will be part of what builds your relationship and a happy life.  And remembering the good times will help you both get through the difficult times.  The more joys you have, the easier it will be to get back to feeling centered and moving on as that will be the norm.  Let you both celebrate and breathe deep as he finds ways to cope and learn new ways of dealing with the joys and sorrows.  

I do not believe in punishing my child for feeling upset and expressing it.  I do feel it is necessary to stop anyone from getting hit or hurt, and I do explain to my family that it is alright to feel and be mad but not to hurt others or throw something that will break the house, etc.  And I do give suggestions of what else he could do when he's upset.  Best to go over some things at a time when things are calm as in the upset moment, he probably won't be able to process it.  But I do say "Stop!" firmly (sometimes loudly) and get between anything physical if need be.  

Here is an article Danielle Conger wrote a few years ago - VERY worth reading!

2/4/2013 - Since I wrote all of that, things have changed a bit.  Kanoa has been eating egg sandwiches in the morning almost daily this week and has been much calmer overall and had many less upsetnesses.  I am feeling relieved!  I wonder if it has to do with protein or food intake.  I began to read the Whole-Brained Child over the past week and though some of it did not jibe with me so far, I did like the idea that exercise can help integrate the mind  - to help it come back from stressed to a place where it can think clearly and more calmly again.  I have mentioned to Kanoa that if either of us feel upset, jumping on the trampoline or doing jumping jacks might help.  We could give it a try anyway.. I tried jumping jacks once when I was upset.  I suppose movement makes you take deep breaths, which are commonly recommended for calming down.

2/19/2013 - One of the reasons I wrote this post was because a friend was visiting and I explained that I usually didn't have people over because it is hard on Kanoa...he has more meltdowns as my attention is diverted to other people and there is more stimulation (her kids were there too).  She suggested that it might be *good* as it would show Kanoa that I have needs too.  I know she meant well, but Ugh.  Sigh.  It is NOT helpful to purposely put him in a situation where he will not thrive to "teach him a lesson."  That is cruel and will lead to frustrations for him and you.  Instead set up his environment so he can thrive and shine as much as possible.  Set him up to be successful. Help him feel good by creating an environment in which he will feel good in. If that means no social time or finding ways to have social time without guests at home, so be it.  There are other ways to meet those needs without creating stress for your child.  ie.  I took a walk with my friend on night last week and got to exercise and chat while my husband stayed home with the kids.  It was so refreshing and I felt energized from it.  And my son very much enjoyed playing and being with Daddy.  It was a win/win.  

2/20/2013 - Joyce Fetteroll wrote a post on UnschoolingBasics yahoo group that reminded me so much of what I was trying to explain.  With her permission, I am copying and pasting it (Thank you Joyce!! :)  ).  For more on the thread,  it was dated around Feb 18th 2013 and the thread subject was Re: Hitting was: chores/helping clean up.

> But if anyone knows of other ways to handle or talk to him, that would be helpful.

See the tantrums as communication rather than him being manipulative. He's *desperately* asking for help but no one's helping. So he melts down. (And some kids are more sensitive so it takes less frustration for them to melt down.)

Focus less on trying to change his way of communication and more on meeting his needs well before he gets to the tantrum stage.

This will be hard! Try not to see his needs as unreasonable or trivial. They *feel* important to him. And at this age he can only react to his feelings. As he gets older his thoughts will be more in control, but right now it feels like aliens invading him and taking over. And your reaction from his point of view is: "Stop reacting." You're not doing anything about the aliens. You're just complaining that he's letting the aliens take him over.

The advice to not stop the tantrums sounds like a recipe for disaster! Practically every parenting book will tell you to nip the behavior in the bud. But what if you were thirsty but couldn't speak the language well? What if everyone you asked for water corrected the way you were asking totally ignoring your thirst. How long before you broke down in frustration?

His power to meet his needs comes through you. If you're a roadblock who switches the agenda from his need to your need for him to behave as you want, it's got to be enormously frustrating!

> Life would just go a lot smoother for everyone if he could stop the tantrums.

And he would feel less like tantruming if he could count on the one with the power to lend him some so he could meet his needs! ;-)


5.20.2013 - I can't believe what changes Kanoa has gone through.  He is eating more (growth spurt?) and seeming to be feeling so much happier, calmer and less explosive overall.  His upsetnesses do happen occasionally, but WAY less often.  Yay!!  And Phew!!  I had to write this here because Jim and I were just talking about how much things have shifted.  It felt for a while liked we walked two steps forward and one step back.  And suddenly, almost without realizing it, we are in a new place.  Awesome!!!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stress, Anxiety and Making Changes in Challenging Times

I don't like the above picture....probably because that is what I'm being told!

I see this picture and I think of the new mom who is told to put her baby to sleep using the cry it out method so the mom can get her rest instead of the mom understanding that it is normal to not get full nights of sleep for a while and that she could sleep with her baby in a family bed and to sleep when the baby sleeps, etc.

I don't like the connotation of the words with the picture - as if the children are making her ragged and causing her to be harried so much that she is ill. And the children are to blame.

Yes, parenthood like any part of life has it's challenges at times, but it is not like that all the time. Not even most of the time. It's not funny to me. I don't see the humor in it when so much of our society blames children for so many things including being children! Children are a blessing, not a curse. And if a parent is stressed (like I am feeling lately especially), it is up to the parent to be creative and seek ways to make changes and find support and encouragement so that the parent can support their child as he continues to moves through the place he is in. Blaming children is not cool and not okay in my opinion.

A couple of weeks ago, I had some kind of stomach thing going on where I felt nausea, had very weak muscles from the back of my chest down my arms to my hands, kept going to the bathroom, couldn't relax, couldn't sleep and didn't until 10 or 11 am the following morning until 1pm the next day - totaling about 3 hours. The worst of it was that I felt like something was terribly wrong, like I was going to die. Man, that was BAD! And it lasted ALL night! This was on January 9th into January 10th. I had been drinking green smoothies and juiced once withing the prior couple of weeks, and that night ate a huge salad (Jim felt nausea and used the bathroom in the night too...his stomach felt fluky as well and we wondered if it was the salad), the night before I taught my first stretch and tone class in three weeks. Katie came with me to take the class and then after it was over, she wanted me to do some of the exercises she does which are arm and back intensive - lots of planking type exercises which were too much for me and I stopped midway through.

During the day on the 9th I had driven to Portland and back for Li's dental visit and then that evening Makana, Kanoa and I went to the YMCA to swim while Li was in the gym. We had been to the Y three times in four days, including me following Kanoa around in the playgym which was probably full of various germs as the daycare kids and Y members use it often. So what did I have? Maybe a combination of overstretched muscles, some kind of stomach bug, and anxiety?

A visit to the ER on Sunday night (the 13th) showed my blood tests normal. Heart sounded fine. Blood pressure was a little higher than usual for me, but I did feel nervous that night too...and ended up going home and not sleeping. I had gone because I was talking to my mom on the phone and she mentioned that it could be a heart attack coming on or something serious and I might want to consider going. Well, I HAD thought of that, but didn't really think it was as I'm in pretty good shape. But....that got me worried and so I thought better safe than sorry and I went. After returning home with at least knowing it wasn't my heart and all looked good, I couldn't sleep and was up all night again. Sigh. The dr there thought it was a panic disorder, such as a panic attack. When I looked up panic attack on my own, the information said that they are supposed to last about a half hour. Mine was all night though. Can they last all night? I checked out Lyme disease and anxiety online and found information that said if a person has a panic attack that lasts for more than a half hour or all night, consider that it may be lyme-related. That is a possibility as the lyme tests I have had in the past have shown bands that indicate lyme, but if I'm remembering correctly, the result was "equivocal" as there weren't enough bands to say it was positive. Yet other doctors say that if you have a band that is lyme indicative, then you have it. So, who knows....

On 1/21, I went to our local nurse practitioner and he said he doesn't mean to sound stereotypical, but he thinks I don't get a break and it was anxiety caused by not having time to myself and that a stay at home parent has a harder time than those who go to work and don't get enough credit. I don't sit around eating bon bons, that is true. But, what he said reminded me of that comic. I HATE the idea of blaming children for a parent's anxiety. If it is related to anxiety, then the parent didn't notice the signs of stress and didn't make the necessary changes to better deal with it and cope with whatever is bothering them. The only thing I can think of that is bothering me a lot is Kanoa's frequency of quick and intense upsetnesses. (Since I've written this, I should add that since I've been a kid, I've always had a fear of death too - fear of the unknown I guess and worrying that it will be bad or painful or fraught with anxiety. Maybe if what I had was some sort of combination of virus, muscular thing and I was feeling it, then the anxiety kicked in about death and my anxious thoughts lasted throughout the night...? Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with Kanoa then? Or maybe all of that and Kanoa's upsetnesses were ramped up for a while?)

In an effort to help myself, in case that is what it is, I've decided to make some changes which I hope prove helpful.

1. See a chiropractor who does kinesiology and NET (mind-body, emotional and physical symptoms).

2. Have a phone appointment with Michelle Barone, a family therapist that is knowledgeable about unschooling and NET practitioner.

3. Try to go to bed earlier.

4. Exercise - run on treadmill or walk outside, preferably run, to help alleviate anxiety. (My dad suggested running as it helps him.)

5. Read The Whole-Brained Child (Michelle suggested that book. As I began to read it, I realized I had read at least the beginning of it before, but not all the way through. This time, I will read the book all the way through.)

6. Give Kanoa more attention, spend more time connecting and make more of an effort to anticipate what I could do to prevent upsetness or what might be useful to bring if we are out.

7. Got 2 other book suggestions from a play therapist in town who spoke to me over the phone. I decided not to see her, but ordered the books to see if there was anything helpful to take from them. The first title is "The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate" and the second title is Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums, and Other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World through Your Child's Eyes." Also ordered "Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful" which I haven't read since Katie or Li was little. (Now to find some time to read...maybe bits at a time.) I am not fond of part of the title of the second book, but like that it says Seeing the World through Your Child's Eyes. That is something useful and I already do try to do that.

I am with Kanoa, Li and Makana almost 24/7 except for if I go to teach Stretch and Tone, (now I'm catching the last bit of a 6 week writing class that runs a little before and a little after stretch and tone too), or do the occasional shopping/errands when Jim is home. I am usually with the kids almost 24/7. Jim is usually at work. Katie is at school for hours each day, then with friends or home but often still connecting with friends online or gaming, reading, or doing homework (sometimes simultaneously). She did take gymnastics for a while too. Rarely Li goes to the game store downtown (by himself) or the gym at the Y (when he does go to the Y, I stay in the facility with Kanoa and Makana so he feels comfortable). Once a week Makana takes a gymnastics class (same time as Katie's), but I'm in the facility with Kanoa. While we are there, Li usually goes to the fitness area. Kanoa and I ride elevators, roam the halls, run the track at the fitness center, go into the other gym or the playgym if it is open. Whatever else we do, Li, Makana, Kanoa and I tend to do together, though I do offer the other kids to do things on their own if the activities aren't suitable for Kanoa or we sometimes do them on weekends when Jim is home. Both Li and Makana are more into gaming and skyping with their friends right now than doing things outside. Plus, it is winter in Maine and we tend to be in a lot more than when the weather is nice out. (Though you wouldn't know it is winter in Maine if you looked at Makana! She has often worn shorts and tank tops throughout the winter! She must be growing or is one of those people who feels more warm than cold.)

As Kanoa has gotten older, he often enjoys watching his brothers or sister play on the computer or will watch a show or play Minecraft on the computer for a while. Those do give me times to make food, clean up, check email, do laundry, write, have a cup of tea, or whatever I choose to do with that time. Michelle Barone suggested that to check in more with him and not do multiple things at a time, even if he seems like he is fine. He might need me to be with him more often than I was.

It is a balancing act to figure out what to do and when and what to prioritize and when to prioritize one thing over another. And as things change or one person seems to need More of my time and attention, things shift once again. :)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Doing things for others can make you happy says Li

We were on our way home from our friend Liam's 4th birthday party.  We stopped off at French and Brawn to get some things and then began driving home.  As we passed the assisted living facility on Washington Street, I said to Li, "Oh!  We forgot to mail a card to that nice man that smiles and waves!"  The kids and I talk about him often as he has brightened up many of our days because he sits in a wheelchair outside near the street and waves and smiles at every person and car that goes by.  We look for him and wave back and have been surprised at how often he is there.  We chit chatted about the man and then Li said that when people do something that helps others, it is really about themselves.  They do it because it makes them happy.  It makes them feel good inside to help others or they wouldn't do it.  (Very wise young grasshopper!!)  I agree, though I think some people do things out of obligation or guilt (maybe they forget they have choices or worry what others would think if they didn't do xyz).  Even that might have some selfish qualities because they are temporarily happy or relieved to have gotten whatever they felt obligated to do done.  Later resentment might kick in or that feeling of I did too much...again.  That is one reason to slow down enough so you can understand what you and your body need and want and to take the time and make the effort to care for yourself.  It is okay to not be able to do everything you wish you could do.