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My Child Plays Sports

I woke up last night in the middle of a panic attack. It’s not the first time, either. Heart pounding, sweating, mind racing. I have two son who are competitive gymnasts.  We travel all over for meets. Both go to the same gym but compete at different levels. My younger son enjoys the comradery, but he’d much rather sing, ride his bike around the neighborhood, and hang out with his friends. For some kids, being part of a team is about learning to lose gracefully and putting effort and pride into everything they do. And that’s such an important lesson. My older son, however, lives and breathes gymnastics. This is what he wants to do. He has big dreams and plans, and works hours a day on achieving his goals. I’ve read a lot of blogs. They all say, “You are doing a good thing; you’re teaching them about perseverance and how to lose gracefully”. Occasionally, people will recognize the time, money, and energy parents put into their children’s sports. Sometimes this is to fulfill the parents’ desires for greatness through their kids. Sometimes it’s the athletes drive and motivation. My sons call me a “gymnastics mom”. They make fun of me when I remind them to point their toes or get out of their heads and into the back tuck.  Which brings me back to my panic attack.  Am I pushing too hard? Am I giving him my all so they can give theirs? Should I leave it alone? Most of all, am I the cause of their stress or lack of effort? How do I stop getting tense in the middle of the night, meet, or practice? As anyone who’s ever experienced a panic attack knows, they aren’t so easy to stop. And one leads into another into the next. In the moment it’s hard to remember to breath, unclench your jaw, or count backwards from 10,000. Sometimes a podcast helps as a distraction; meditation to remind me to get into my breath and get out of my thoughts.  It’s hardest to remember not to try too hard. Just to let it go. And that’s the best thing I can for my kids: to learn to chill, take it as it comes, accept what is and trust in myself as a parent, as a chauffeur, as a psychologist, and as a back-seat coach and cheering squad. It’s hard not to take their scores and effort, or lack thereof, personally; to equate my blood, sweat, and tears with how they perform, or don’t. And I guess that the point. My sons’ gymnastics (or any other) experiences aren’t in my control. The decisions I make for them, and the emotions and drive I try to instill are done in good faith, with love and knowledge. And that’s where it must end: faith in myself and faith in my kids. I can only do so much. And I have to be ok with that, and let the rest be.

Resilience

Last night was not my best parenting moment. After a long week, topped by an even longer weekend, we offered for friends to stay over with their children for dinner. The boys were torturing the girls, who were crying and running to us for support; water was spilled ALL over the table; and the dog was in the middle, chasing and being chased. My dearest daughter, who deserves an Oscar for tears-on-command, looked at me soulfully and asked for help cleaning up her spill. And I couldn’t. I wiped her tears and told her to get it done herself. I didn’t yell, I scream, or lose my cool. But I just couldn’t do it. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from what we perceive as adversity, as hits to our self-image and esteem. Some people believe we are born with this ability to bounce back; that it’s innate, and can’t be taught. Others believe that it can be taught: that there are skills that help build reliance. One of these skills is emotional regulation. We’ve found that among youth who report high reliance, believe they can adapt in stressful and risky situations. A significant predictor of resilience in adolescents is emotional regulation. Teaching emotional regulation, and bolstering that skills, can help prevent risky and irrational behaviors.  And can help us deal better with screaming crying children and flying pizza and puppies. We feel better when we are in control; we are able to think and respond, instead of react on a whim. Our resilience, and our emotional regulation helps keeps us in control. And when we are in control we are better parents. And our kids learn how to respond to stress. And their brothers and sisters.

Gratitude

Gratitude is a hot buzz word right now. Everywhere you go, you hear about being “in the moment” and being thankful for what you have. If you Google 'Gratitude', a million different definitions come up. I like the one from Psychology Today, which states  “Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for example, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants.” People who express gratitude, meaningfully and often, tend to experience more positive emotions, sleep better, are kinder, and have stronger immune systems. Gratitude does not just have to be shown after a big event, like a bar mitzvah or a promotion; it works best when integrated into our daily lives. Being thankful for every day, little things, helps us realized how blessed we are. When forming a habit, we’re told to practice at the same time every day, over a significant period of time. When we think about practicing gratitude, we are taught to notice new little things. If you say “I am thankful for my spouse and children”  all the time, you lose interest in gratitude. It just becomes a meaningless platitude. But if everyday we are able to find even one new things to be thankful for, we begin to look at our world differently. Studies have shown there are many different, healthy, and effective ways of displaying gratitude: you can write in a journal. Logging your thoughts for yourself helps keep you on track and reminds you of all the many things around you you are thankful for. You can also write a letter to those who have helped shape you into you. Letting people know how much they mean to you, what effect they have had on you, is immeasurable. You feel good saying something, and knowing that you are making someone happy. The other person is touched and honored, knowing that their comments, or actions, have made a difference, even to one person. Giving is another way to practice gratitude. Winston Churchill once said “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” When we give money, even a small amount, to someone else, we feel more pleasure than if we were to spend that amount on ourselves. When we donate, Oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone, is released in our brains, which helps to lower our stress and increases our sense of connection to others. This oxytocin boost will cause people to give more generously and feel a greater sense of empathy towards others. This in turns causes people to want to pay it forward, to keep the loop going. A recent survey noted that people who donated to charity in the past month reported a greater sense of satisfaction. In fact, across 136 countries, donating to a charity that you believe in and are thankful for had a similar impact on happiness levels as doubling your household income. A little Thank You goes a long way. Not just for you, but for all those you meet.

Chocolate Chips

I just finished a bag of chocolate chips. To be fair, I had been slowly working through the bag for six months. But this morning, I finished the whole bag. By 9:30 in the morning. Getting all four kids off to school by myself wasn’t as difficult, or fraught with stress, as it could have been. But it’s wearing. And I know I’m not the only one. I’m not writing this to give myself, or you, a pep talk; I’m not looking for pity either. Just to say, sometimes, you have those days. Sometimes, my children are wonderful. They can be kind, and warm, and loving. They can be compassionate and conscientious. But most of the time, they aren’t. They yell at each other; they yell at their parents. They try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to homework and projects (“I don’t need to study”, or, “I kinda know it, it’ll be fine”). They don’t do their chores. Their rooms are a mess. And we, as parents, try to compensate. We say “It’s not a big deal, I can empty this dishwasher.” Or, “It was his first failure/suspension/whatever,” or, “Give him another chance.” Sometimes we just do it ourselves because it’s easier. And that’s exhausting. Raising children is mentally exhausting. Letting our kids make their own mistakes and missteps, while providing love and supervision is hard. Letting them know when they can try on their own (i.e. studying), and when the rules need to be obeyed (i.e. sitting down to a meal with the entire family), is tough. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Even the most oppositional child learns, eventually, what the family considers truly important. And the lessons they learn through their own trial and error make a greater impact than any amount of yelling or bribery we can offer. And so, go enjoy that occasional bag of chocolate chips. You earned it.

Exercise and Your Child

Remembering back to one hot spring day years ago, as siblings often do, my first and third son were just at each other; screaming, yelling, possibly trying to pull the other one’s hair out. And I had had enough. The lawn was a mess. It was a beautiful day. I screamed for everyone to go outside and start pulling up every weed that I could see. And three hours later, we had a beautiful lawn and garden. More importantly, my son’s behavior was impeccable for days. He was polite. He sat when appropriate. He was kind. He got along better with everyone. This lasted for about three days. Then everything went back to normal. Sigh. What is it about sweaty and sustained activities that changes these children? There is a plethora of scholarly articles that talk about how various parts of the brain are “rewired” temporarily through exercise. There are probably even more anecdotal stories you will hear about how this person’s life changed when they began to, say, play soccer. While there’s a lot of neurochemistry involved, here’s a simple analogy to understand how learning works with kids, especially those who have ADHD. Imagine you ride a bicycle through dry dirt which is hard and packed solid.  Regardless of how often you ride the same path, you probably won’t make a significant dent.  Now, try riding the same path after it has rained. The ground is wet and muddy. The more you ride in that same path, the deeper the trench you make with your tires. Even when it dries, that trench will still be there for a bit.  After a while, sure, it dries out and you have to start again. But riding over that same area, again and again, over years, creates a deep groove in the ground, and that’s the path your bicycle will naturally want to follow. This is how children learn. And the more they exercise, the more they are able to pick up on appropriate social cues and provide appropriate responses.  By being rewarded, even by the simple fact of feeling good because they aren’t being yelled at, the more likely they are to do that behavior again. These kids need a little more help to understand how they should behave. Exercise helps them read the social cues being thrown out all around them. The more they exercise, the more they are able to read the social cues. The more they practice that behavior, the more reinforced that behavior is. In the long run, children who regularly exercise will not only develop a love for it, but will have the tools to help them relieve and cope with stress.  Ultimately, it is a wonderful way to help them learn how to be able to learn.

How to Choose a Summer Camp for Your Child

In our minds, summer is usually the time to break loose. Our kids get excited about having no more rules, no more books, riding around the neighborhood with their friends. However, let’s take the time to imagine if summer wasn’t that carefree. Our kids know the rules in school, they know where to sit, who to talk to and how to play. Yet, in the summer those rules don’t apply. It’s as though they are thrust into a world they aren’t yet ready for. They have a bundle of energy, they want to play but they don’t know how. For a child encountering these feelings, summer can be really stressful for them. Enter summer camp! It provides a structured environment that is wholly centered on fun. Like school, it clearly defines how to have fun, when to have fun and with whom. The right camp provides a structured, active environment that can help your child blossom and learn to have fun with their friends, whether they have ADHD or not. Now that we’ve established camp can be a lifesaver for you and your child, here are some tips on choosing the right summer camp for your little one(s). 1. Ask. The most important thing you can do is, ask your child. They go to school and try to listen/follow the rules all year long. This is the time to listen and find out what activities they enjoy? Do they want to meet new people or go to camp with familiar faces? If they are involved in the process of choosing a camp, they are more likely to enjoy their summer. Ask their teachers and school staff as well. They know your child and have a different opinion on how they interact with others at school. Remember to keep this information in mind when you are choosing a summer program. 2. Staff. There are a few important things you want to look for in a camp. The smaller the camper the counselor ratio, the more supervision there will be. Imagine everyone is off playing basketball and your child doesn’t want to. A small camper to counselor ratio will allow someone to take a walk with your child, cool them off, and maybe even tutor them on the game while sitting on the sidelines. This approach is wonderful because it doesn’t stress out the rest of the group or embarrass your child. This experience really happened with my son and it was the best solution possible!
You also want to know the age of the counselors and their training. You might choose to pay more for a camp where every counselor is a teacher, as opposed to a teenager but you know they have more patience and training to work with your particular child. You also want to know how many nurses are on staff. This is important if your child is going to be receiving medication. It’s reassuring to know that someone is on staff that can either administer the medicine or keep a trained eye on your child to make sure no adverse reactions occur in the hot sun while they are running around. 3. Activities. In this day and age, many kids want to spend the summer glued to an electronic device. Don’t let them. The more physical activities they are involved in, the better and happier they will be. This is true of all children, but especially those with ADHD. There’s something to be said about being outside, running around in the fresh air. There are tons of studies that say that one of the most effective treatments for ADHD. Outdoor exercise is highly beneficial, so look for a camp that provides outside activities, shade and access to water and hydration. On the flip side, you want to know that if it rains the fun doesn’t stop. A good camp will have an organized rainy day plan. 4. Types of Camp. There are camps that specialize in working with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, learning disabilities, or Tourette’s Syndrome etc. These may be a great option for you. However, don’t rule out the local programs either. They may be just what your child needs. Remember, each camp is different, and each child is different. It may take some investigating, but there is a program out there to help your child have the best summer of their lives.

My top 3 resources if you have kids with ADD/ADHD

Having kids is tough. Having a child with ADHD can be especially challenging, but it doesn’t need to be. As parents we need to remember that we are not alone. There are lots of resources in our own communities to help us. We teach our kids that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it; well it’s time to take our own advice and take advantage of the resources available. 1. Find a local mental health professional. Preferably someone who works with kids if you can find it, but if not, that ok too. Keep in mind; if you are ok, your kids are ok. They look to you to gauge their moods; to see if a situation is worthy of stress. Speaking to a professional and learning how to cope with your stress shows your kids how to handle their stress. If that person happens to specialize in working with children who have ADHD, that’s even better. 2. Community Centers can be a family friendly resource. Parenting groups, swim classes, babysitting, Mommy/Daddy and me programs etc. These classes are often available at a community center or place of worship within the community. There are therapists or counselors available in these centers who can help you and your child unwind and have a good time together. You’ll meet parents who are going through the same thing you are, who understand who your child is and where you are coming from. Chances are, the two of you are like-minded, because you are both there! It’s nice to enter a room and know that you are not alone. 3. Find a Park or an outdoor space and go. Running around and playing are wonderful places for you and your child to meet other people. Not to mention the exercise will help your child eat, sleep, and socialize better. Most of the parks are free of charge or a nominal fee, so you don’t have to worry about spending tons of money. Parks are places of beauty and nature that allow you and your child to literally run around and practice all the skills you work on at home and in therapy, so go out and enjoy! Different communities may have more specific resources. Utilize them and remember that you are not alone.

5 Ideas to Help Parents of Kids with ADD/ADHD Stay Positive

Welcome to the New Year!! With a new year comes new opportunities to help our kids. Remember when your kids were young and people would say, “Happy parent, happy baby?” Same is true now. No matter the age of your child, the happier and calmer you are, the happier and calmer your child will be. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. When you, as a parent are calmer and happier, your child will be less easy to rile, quick(er) to calm down, and will seek to emulate your relaxed and cheerful mood. With that in mind, here are 5 helpful tips to help you stay calm and happy. 1. Remember that this too shall pass. You might crave sleeping in later or the freedom to go out for a leisurely meal and walk, but when your kids are out of the house and you’re on your own, you will miss the noise and chaos. Keep that in mind when you start to feel your shoulders inching towards your ears. 2. You love your child. As frustrating, annoying and maddening as his or her behavior is, it’s not who THEY are. Sometimes we need to take a moment or two out of our day to remember that. Pull out their pictures and look at these candid moments when your kids are happy and smiling, and go over a few of their wonderful qualities in your mind. Remember you love THEM, madly and completely. Be grateful that they are yours and that they are as wonderful as they are. The more you practice gratitude, the easier it will be to remember these important points. 3. Practice Meditation. Even a few minutes a day can help you easily clear your mind and focus on what’s important. I understand how hard it is to find two, let alone ten minutes to stop and think. Maybe you have to take a moment and do it when you first wake up, or just before you go to sleep. It doesn’t matter when, but taking those few minutes to just breathe and clear your mind will help immeasurably. 4. Practice Mindfulness. Be in the moment. Smile when your kids are running around playing super heroes. Maybe someone will cry out in a moment, but for right now, they are laughing and playing together and that’s one of the best parts of being a kid. 5. Do something together. Pick a LEGO project, or color a picture together. Don’t stress about whether it comes out “right”. The goal isn’t for it to look professional; the goal is to spend quality time with your child. So whatever the activity is, make sure it’s something that is enjoyable and something they want to do, not something that targets their weakness. Take the time to do this and the outcome will be wonderful, because you are doing it together. Enjoy the New Year, and take the time to enjoy your child. They are only young once, and time flies by way too quickly.

How You Can Have a Holly, Jolly, Holiday At Home

Welcome to the Holidays! A time of joy! A time of songs, twinkling lights and presents! However, for kids with ADHD, it’s also a time of stress, fights, and chaos. For parents and caregivers of kids with ADHD, here’s some great news…it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some ideas to help make this holiday season calm and full of joy. Kids (and adults) with ADHD function best with structure. During school, or work, there is a schedule to follow, and they can lean on that to help support them. During the holiday season, that structure isn’t there. And oftentimes, they feel that their support is gone too. So, it’s our job to help create a structure for them. That might mean having a schedule set up every day, and sharing that with them the night before. It doesn’t mean you need every minute planned out, but you can’t be spontaneous and fly by the seat of your pants either. Don’t plan a day of running around. Many people can’t go from the mall to the park, to the restaurant, to the grocery store, to the playground and then to a friend’s house. They would need down time and so would your child with ADHD. So, limit what you plan to do throughout the day. Don’t overload the schedule, and you won’t overload your child. Give them something to do. If they are given a responsibility, oftentimes, they will live up to it. They get the opportunity to “own” it, and feel like they’re an important part of it. This goes a long way to help their self-esteem. So, take the time to give them a job, and don’t forget to give them credit and praise for a task well done. Even if they need a little bit of help to get through it. Lastly, remain calm. Take some time for yourself during the day. If it means 10 minutes of meditating, or taking a moment to savor a cup of coffee or eggnog (alcohol free, or course) in the morning, that’s going to help set the stage for the whole day, and possibly the entire holiday season. You are important! If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. Also, when you take care of yourself, you are also showing your family how important it is to take care of THEMSELVES. For your children with and without ADHD, that’s an invaluable life lesson for them to learn. It’s a true gift from you to them. Happy Holidays!!!
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