Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sick Days: From Splat to Spunky

Wobbly, wobbly go the rules when my kiddo is sick.  It's the silver lining when a child is so sick to be able to nurture them, pamper them, in ways that would stifle independence when they're well, but say "I love you" when they're sick.  When my child, who usually quivers with energy, asks to be carried upstairs, I've even gone that far.  It was much more trying to see him splatted with a bug when he was younger and didn't understand, but now we sooth and talk about how his body is fighting the viruses or bacteria.  He knows he has a strong body.  He's not worried he'll win.  He knows it just hurts while the body is fighting.

So, when you have a splatted child, assuming we're not talking dangerous illness, I have just a few quick well-tested-times-one ideas to try:
1. Listening to well-known movies instead of watching them
I do have lots of stories / audio books, but the movies seem to work better.  My son doesn't have to keep his eyes open, falls asleep on the couch easier, and can just let the well known scenes play in his mind.  I intersperse this will reading to him too, snuggly moments are a bonus.
2. Offering, but not pushing comforts
Heating pads, warm drinks, whatever snuggly or nourishment might help, but accepting the answers.
3.  Offer hyper-choices
This has been so effective with pulling my cranky kid out of whine-mode.  He's not in control of being sick.  The younger the kid, usually the more irritable they are about it.  Giving them many options for control, can make a huge difference.  It can sound really silly, but it has saved me many an emotional flood as I intervene when the volume, distress, misery is climbing toward a crescendo!
For example, in response to a distraught shriek, followed by sobs, spiraling into more cries of an ouchy throat:
"I hear you're throat hurts.  
Would you like warm water or warm milk?
Would a little honey in it taste good?
Would you like me to put it on the table or this chair?
This side of the napkin or that side?"
With each response, my son would get calmer, the cries (which were making him hurt more) would get less, he was able to control something (if not his throat) and he could take some sips to make it feel a bit better.  Of course, the hugs, the warm tone are there too, but offering the calm choices while not getting pulled into their emotional flood can make sick days so much less parent traumatic with a young kid.

Now, about reclaiming that sick kid once the wobbly rules need to firm up again.  I do allow a bit of an interim process because I certainly know that it takes me awhile to feel 100% better and kids are still learning about how sick bodies / well bodies work.  So, I'll decline carrying upstairs, but offer to hold hands instead. 

They're all better, but still interested in the royal treatment?  I loved this one from the latest cold my kiddo conquered last week (inspiration for this post).
"Mommy, I'm thirsty!" (He's been getting his own drinks for years.)

Sometimes, I favor the noncommittal "Mmmm" recommend in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen.

Sometimes, I use a gentle, "Oh?" or just an acknowledging look with a quiet pause.

But, my current favorite (usually for something a bit more complicated) is a simple, "Ideas?"

When I first starting using it, I would get, "No! You tell me!"  But, my dear six year old has moved on from planning his career as a circus acrobat to being certain that he's going to be an airplane engineer and he knows what jiffy brains airplane engineers need.  (He knows jiffy brains come from thinking practice too).  So, I have been absolutely amazed by how thinking-stimulating saying "ideas?" has been.  He'll actually ponder the response to his demand / statement as a problem that he can have "ideas" to solve.  I think, in this case, he came up with a detailed description of how he was going to get his drink and make it just perfect for his current needs :)  I can just smile and support and I so love this kid!

Colorful Sounds

I must recommend avoiding glass in the garbage disposal.  The noise it made as one of my small glasses was demolished was quite energizing.  The clean up.  The emergency plumber trip.  I'd overall vote for a miss.

Other things to share -

This week's objectivist round up:

Cute antics:
• booming a his wake up message, "MY EAR!    [Pause]   IT'S HEALED!"
• challenging me to explain suicide.
It started with the phantom in Phantom of the Opera because I had been singing and he wanted to know the story. Then we got into how psychologists are doctors that help people when there's a thinking problem because if someone thinks killing themselves is their only choice, they probably need some help with thinking. Then he wanted to know how the doctor helped and we talked about how a psychologist could help them see where their thoughts didn't match what was real, what other choices they could have and... oh, it went on. Just your normal, everyday, breakfast conversation with a six year old :)

• Evaluating a carrot.  You see, his homework involved drawing a carrot and he shrieked at me about not knowing how (such a lovely tone that I get to hear when the sick crankies are lurking).  Luckily, I had a nice reference sample to plop on the counter.

• His social group went on a bowling outing this week.  Cameron put the ball on the floor and heaved with both hands.  Naturally, he had to watch the meandering course from the best vantage point.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tool Box: Contracts

I could be wrong, but I think I first started musing on contracts based upon ideas presented in Horse Sense for People
 or maybe the Monty Roberts book I enjoyed more The Man Who Listens to Horses.  Either way, the idea of contracts or deals is presented in many different parenting forums.  

I want to start again with the caveat of how thoroughly I have come to appreciate the differences among kids.  There are many children who would find this approach much too wordy, drawn out, or process-focussed.  I never would have dreamed how much of successful parenting is based on a solid comitmtment to improve and lots of trial and error with your own kid.  So, these are the aspects which I have found to be key to a successful contract, in my experience with my six year old.  

1. It states the factual issues including all the relevant perceptions.
2. It includes a plan for both "yes" and "no" actions
3. It is developed with the child and agreed to by both parities
4. It is changeable, but not mid-issue

So, lets look at an example.  I started using these around age 3.  They were simple, like this one which dealt with water play during hand washing that was getting way out of hand.  I hadn't included perceptions at this point and he was new to reading so we couldn't use too many words, but we developed the plan together and this worked really well.

1. One pump of soap or hand cleaner and  little water
2. Hands low in sink, water stays in the sink
3. Red hand towel for little messes
You Choose

I think we even posted this on the mirror for awhile.  Contracts became much more useful though when we were dealing with different perceptions.  For example, this was an example in progress for developing a bed time contract:

Going to Sleep Discussion
  1. We are worried that toys are making it hard for Cameron to get to sleep.
  2. We are worried that toys are getting broken.

Cameron wants:
  1. A toy bin
  2. Wolf picture off the wall because it's too scary
  3. No alcohol in the room because that would make me so energetic that it would wake me up and make me punch everything in my room.

Agreed Schedule
6:30 PM Cameron in his Room = Lots of playing in the room and getting more sleepy. No toys outside room and no playing in bathroom.

8 PM All toys in the bin, time for reading or resting

8:15PM Sleep Rules, no more awake noises

We will get a timer for Cameron.
Ideas- lights out, sound machine, door closed... we'll discuss more.

We wrote down everything and spent lots of time with direct eye contact, working together to figure something out that would be positive for both of us.  (I have absolutely no clue where the alcohol comment / conclusions came from, but we agreed that we wouldn't put alcohol in his room?!?)  The picture had some wolves on a snowy hill which he'd never mentioned before, but the point is that we were on the same side.  It wasn't an exasperated tone, it was a searching for solutions session.  

It's probably been almost a year since we've used contracts because we just sit down and have the discussions now.  They were such a valuable tool though for when he needed to see the issues, choices, and feel heard.  He certainly would try changing the bedtime contract at bedtime and we'd assure him that we'd be glad to discuss a different contract the next day.  Usually, he was still happy, but it was adjusted a few times over the year (I think the times were shifted almost immediately).  

So, if you have a young, highly cognitive, processing-happy child, this could be an awesome tool for you.  If not, I would guess this is a tool that would be valuable for all older children at some point in the parenting process.  I've really been impressed with the power of sitting down and writing both feelings and ideas, sitting side by side, enjoying problem solving together :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Charlotte's Web

Almost 200 pages, a sick kid splatted on the couch, and a new reading comprehension technique that I wanted to try [rubbing hands gleefully]... Cameron and I shared the whole book (Charlotte's Web) together this week and he absolutely loved it!  He didn't want to let it go back to the library, but was OK once he knew we got to keep our record of "What we know" and "Questions We Have" (technique).  Snuggly couch times are wonderful moments to treasure :)

Other things to share:

This week's Objectivist Round Up:

Cute antics?:
I'm afraid nothing popped up this week, but he's been rather sedate fighting a cough/fever bug.  I've perfected staying supportive, while not getting pulled in to the emotional trauma of the occasional emotional flooding.  So, this incident actually made me smile yesterday... it was at least 45 minutes of wailing because, first I declined to get the cheese out of the refrigerator for him and then, I wouldn't cut it.  Rough life for a kid.  I continued to express understanding for the difficulties of his choices.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Scattered Family. Close at Heart.

Grandparents on different coasts.  Aunts, uncles, cousins all spread out across the country and then it's birthday or holiday time and you have a very confused kid. Keeping track of distant family and bringing their warmth and love to a child can be tricky.  They don't know the person who sent them a present and can be understandably bewildered at the slew of names that they hear once or twice a year and often see even less often.  So, how to make those people real, recognizable, and positive... enter another playful parenting aid, Happy Go Fish.

1. Find an available cartoon picture of a fish and print about 8 rectangles around the graphic on card stock.
(This turns out to be a good size for kid hands to grasp.)
2. Find smiling pictures of family members and print two copies of each, the same size as the fish boxes.
3. Cut pictures and paste to the back of the card stock
4. Laminate and play!

We started off with pictures of our immediate family to get the hang of it.  "Do you have a happy Mommy?"
[Play with the classic rules of handing it over if you do and telling them to "go fish" if you don't.]
When you start with four pairs, it goes pretty quickly and they can delight in the making the pairs.  (No real focus on winning for little kids here.)

Once they get the hang of it, you can add more than one person in a picture.
"Do you have a happy Grandma and Cameron?"
"Do you have a happy Daddy and Uncle Brian?"

I thought this would be fun, but I had no clue how positive it would be.  My son was gleeful when he saw a cousin he had only met in picture form because he knew her and he knew her as "happy".  The smiles are important.  Seeing these people as happy, fun, friendly people from distant places adds that extra dose of love that family usually intends and it adds more fuel to a child seeing the world as a benevolent place.  There are all these people out there doing nice things for me.  The world is a nice place (benevolent universe).  I can have fun meeting new people because they are likely to be nice too.  It's been such a powerful tool and, as an added bonus, there's no reason you can't add other influential faces!  Our deck contains my son's pediatrician and preschool teacher too, both with big, happy, grins :)

Again, remembering / meeting new people is harder for kids with autism, but it's certainly a challenge for every kid as they are introduced to extended family.  I hope you'll see the same kind of joyful sparkles that this game provided for me!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Slapstick Week

Kid laughs are certainly contagious and Cameron has had a week filled with giggles.  It will be nice when he can understand humor beyond the slips and splats variety, but for now, he's a slapstick kid!
(According to Wikipedia: Slapstick is a type of comedy involving exaggerated physical violence and activities which exceed the boundaries of common sense.)  If you haven't seen this scene from The Rescuers Down Under (Disney Gold Classic Collection) , it is delightful and has started several in depth conversations about thinking and choices... that is, after the giggles are done :)

Other things to share:
This week's Objectivist Round up:

A poem I enjoyed, written by a friend... reflective, very wintery:

Cute antic: after informing me that he'd decided on my next surprise, he said, "It starts with L."
[Naturally curious after the jar of jalapeno olives was empty (he'd presented them to me three times as breakfast treats), I asked about the second letter of this new surprise.]
"Well, it's just leaves you know." 

[Properly intimidated about waking up in a pile of muddy foliage, I listened to his rambling thoughts with trepidation.]
"Go right out and hunt some leaves and then eventually, when there's a pilot around, we're going to sort out our leaves so there's an airplane in our house."

[Um, of course?!?  Nothing has come of this progression which occurred at the beginning of the week.  We did have a nice chat about how welcome he was to do leaf projects outside!]

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tool Box: The Movie Freeze Game & Body Language Dictionary

I'm smiling even as I start writing this post because I know body language comes naturally to most kids. Well, for those with autism, it doesn't. But, that's no reason why you can't have a grand time playing this with younger kids (I was teaching a four or five year old who could read 40 page books)!

So, what to do when you a put a finger to your mouth and your kid looks at you like antlers are sprouting? Or, they see a picture of a kid sticking their tongue out and have concerns about illness instead of grasping teasing. Sounds like a teachable skill and a fun one to tackle at that! So, I created a body language dictionary. I printed out the following list and taped in on both sides of a piece of card board. (Feel free to cut and paste for your own play.)

A and B

Beckoning: Come here

C and D

Clap: Well done, attention please

Cover ears / Fingers in ears: Too loud

Cover eyes: Afraid

Cross arms: Crankya

Cup hand to ear: listen

E and F

Finger on lips: be quiet

Flat hand in front: Stop

G and H

Hand in front of mouth: surprised, embarrassed

Hand up in car: Thank you

High five: Good job

I and J

Jumping up and down: Excited

K and L

Little frown with hand on chin: Thinking

M and N

Nodding head: Yes

O and P

One finger up: Pause, one minute please

Pat on shoulder: Encourage, that's OK

Pointing: Pay attention to ____

Q, R, and S

Raise hand: I want a turn

Rubbing eyes: Sleepy

Rub tummy: If feels hungry, happy, or ouchy

Scratching head: I'm confused, I don't understand

Shake head: No

Shaking finger: No, not a good idea

Shaking fist / finger: Not good, I'm angry

Shrug: I don't know

Sticking out tongue: rude no, rude teasing

Swinging the arm elbow first: Darn!

T, U, and V

T with hands: Time out, pause

Tipping hat: Hello / Good bye

Tongue out to the side: Concentrating

Twirl finger in circle: Keep going, pass that

W, X, Y, and Z

Waving: Hello / Good bye

Yawning: Sleepy

We read it a few times and then started playing. First, I got to play the body language and, if he forgot, I could point to the entry. It doesn't take much to imagine how gleeful it makes a kid to see their mommy doing all these motions in full exageration mode. Lots of laughs, lots and lots of fun. Then it was a car game where I could just say, "What does beckoning mean?" and we'd see if I could stump him. We'd point out body language in pictures and movies and during outings too. This was a fairly easy one to master. The next step was much more tricky, but hugely rewarding.

Movie Freeze Game
Social situations are so complex for a kid learning to decode, to deeply understand what is going on. If you've got a kiddo who likes to talk, and process, process, process out loud [hand raised, I've got one of those!], then this can be a great tool to add to your parenting tool box!
So, you're going along in a familiar movie, say, Disney's "Peter Pan" and Wendy has just asked how to get to Neverland followed by Peter's answer, "Fly!"
The screen is paused.
Wendy has a surprised look.
Peter has a smile and his arms up to show flying.
Then we play the Movie Freeze Game!
(Paraphrased from: Building Social Relationships: A Systematic Approach to Teaching Social Interaction Skills to Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Social Difficulties )

1. What is happening or what has happened? (Describe what's going on, the place, behavior, or problem)

2. How does the person feel? What are they thinking? (Name the feelings or thoughts of the people)

3. Why is the person feeling that way? Tell me why you think they are feeling that? (Show me evidence or proof that you understand the people's feelings.)

4. What do you think will happen next? What will be the consequences? (Figure out what will happen next.)

5. What could the person have done differently? (Figure out other choices, alternatives)

6. Figure out the consequences for alternative behaviors or choices

So, this would have been an early example, because it doesn't take much imagination to figure out what each character is feeling (open mouthed surprise / smiles / arm gestures), why they're feeling it, and that jumping into a pretend world means normal consequences are not to be expected. I have had some incredibly deep, insightful conversations with my son though with more complicated scenes that really allow him to explore the depth of emotions, choice making, and potential consequences. For example, the scene at the start of  The Princess Bride (20th Anniversary Edition)  where the grandfather bursts in with a big smile, his arms open wide, the boy is rolling his eyes (has just told his mom that he doesn't want the visit), and the mom is looking sympathetic. Playing the two minute scene (from entrance through the grandfather pinching the boy's cheek) and evaluating all the characters thoughts / motivations provides a rich context for evaluation. My son can think about the grandfather who is happy, thinking he's going to share a special story with his grandson, excited, eager, and unaware that pinching a cheek is not earning him affection. We can think about the kid who is sick, doesn't want visitors, is excited about receiving a present, terribly disappointed that it's a book, and would rather be left alone. After the five minutes of conversation at the time, these conversations tend to come up again and again as my son processes the social ramifications. He understands that the tone he uses to respond to a gift means something because, in the movie, the boy's response "a book" was said in a tone that clearly indicated the gift was not welcome. I can think of so many other examples... we're still talking about how he doesn't want to live in Egypt because he wants to make his own choices and they have a dictator there (discussing about pharaohs after Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ).

Steps 1-3 are really the key for getting the most out of the scene at the time. I found 4-6 useful after lots of practice with 1-3 and also when those first steps were quick, so the meat of the social context was in figuring out what to do with an obvious conflict i.e. over an object or situation. The questions are guidelines too, meant for pulling out the context and helping a child evaluate the situation with your support. The beauty of this tool is the lack of urgency and fascinating conversations it can spawn. I hope you find in useful in enjoying your child's cognitive growth! I've found it a delightful practice over the past several years.

I'm certainly interested in what others have done to nurture social learning. I've used many of these questions with books and social interactions we've observed too!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Claudio Corallo

Claudio Corallo Chocolate to be more exact!  This is my new favorite  75% Bar and I've just started delving into my gourmet stash.  If you have any interest in discovering the thrilling world of connoisseur chocolate, I highly recommend The Chocolate Connoisseur: For Everyone with a Passion for Chocolate for a sheerly delightful education.  My sister got it for me as a holiday present and it's proving to be the inspiration for many a yippy skippy happy experience!

Other things to share:

This week's Objectivist Roundup :

The best of this week's cute antics:

• saying, "Oh, a candle!"  (Um, that would be a bit of flame that licked up toward the mantle out of the fire while we were burning tree branches.)

• jumping into our arms while yelling, "Mistletoe!" (Doesn't know anything about it except that he'd been hearing the word.)

• amusing non-superman progression while playing Zelda, "It's a goat.  It's a chicken.  It's a cat!"

• informing Daddy that it was not OK to touch one of our adult friends bodies because "she has horses".  (Um, ya, missing the point?!?!)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sharing Emotions

All us moms who have studied positive discipline and the How to Talk books, seem to have a pretty good grasp on the idea that there are no wrong feelings for a child.  As Faber and Mazlish state it, "Children need to have their feelings accepted and respected."  (A separate issue from the necessary limits on their actions).

I think the same applies to parents.  I think parents need to have their feelings accepted and respected.  I certainly don't expect my six year old to have the maturity to handle the kinds of emotional floods he throws my way, but I do think it's important to honestly share what we are feeling.  There is a fine line here.  The goal is not to scare a kid and you don't want to let emotions dictate your actions.  But, your emotions are a fact too and kids will have to deal with the emotional responses of others to their actions.  I think it is letting one aspect of the teaching opportunity pass to supress our emotions as a shelter for a child and focus only on the physical consequences, alternative actions, identification / acknowledgement.

For example, I picked up my son the other day and, as we were driving away, I offered him the tape recorder with a "Boxcar Children" (story tape).  I though he'd said yes, but apparently he'd indicated he didn't want it.  I reached back with one hand and set it on his lap.  His response was to to kick it off his lap.  I was mildly annoyed (and didn't suppress the note  of irritation in my usual firm tone - not loud our yelling, just clear) as I remarked how he could use words.  After a few exchanges where we clarified the situation, he wanted me to take the tape recorder back and kicked it off seat as he made the request.  I was angry.  Again, the words / tone are the same of identifying the feeling, natural consequences, choices involved.  I told him I was angry, that kicking at my things could hurt them, and that I wasn't feeling like taking him to a toy store.  The tape recorder wasn't broken, there wasn't a consequence of that object needing repair.  But, my possessions are important to me and there was a consequence of making Mommy angry so she didn't want to go on an outing.  What I've loved is that by not hiding these emotions, I have gained a huge amount of awareness in my child.  I am very careful not to over react and to share my emotions in a non-threatening manner.  I don't see fear on my son's face, he is seriously trying to figure out how these emotions work.  Yes, this is harder for autistic kids, but every child needs to learn how their actions impact others and that they will need to deal with the emotional responses.

In the above example, we talked about why I was feeling angry (Cameron is a major talker when processing) and what the potential solutions could be.  He offered to read me a story when we got home and he apologized and (since it was a long drive home) we had that all figured out in time to stop by the toy store (the first episode of using his bank box and starting our work on his understanding of money - again, another post).  What is particularly poignant about his particular example is what happened the following morning.  I was moving slowly down the stairs when he screamed, "Come back!"  I'm not a morning person, but, sensing the note of urgency, I thumped back up.  He had cleared off the guest bed (so I could lay down for breakfast in bed) and proudly presented me with a plate of 30 jalapeno and garlic stuffed olives (he knows I'm the only one that eats them).  Not quite up for such an assault on the system as breakfast, I gave him huge hugs and thanks for the special thought and we went down stairs together.  He explained that he had wanted to do something nice since he'd kicked my tape recorder yesterday and, then, as I was cooking the bacon, he had a truly beautiful moment of integration.  He came up to the stove, grinned, saw my hands busy and said, "I love you. [pause]  That's how you kiss someone at the stove.  You think it and say, 'I love you.""  That isn't something he says often.  He not only grasped the full context of what I was doing, he grasped how he could achieve his goal in the emotions of another person and that's a powerful life skill!  

So, I think the same rule applies to grownups i.e. that all our emotions are OK and that there are necessary limits on our actions (different limits based on our mature context).  If my son had kicked a friend's belongings off a chair, he would need to deal with immediate anger.  I can help him learn.  The emotional responses of others are a fact that children have to learn to address and I think we can be their most nurturing guides in that process.

Thoughts?  Comments? :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Here's to a joyous new year for each of you!

Notes to share:
-This week's Objectivist round up:
-I figured out Google Analytics and passed 50 page views!
-A little pampering for the new year with festive, sparkly nails :)

-Best of this week's "cute antics":
• waking us up with a musical medley of Jingle Bells and Joseph (Cameron loves the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical version, but it does sound a bit different mixed with holiday music.)
• explaining a fall, "I was trying to get to the other side but gravity just got me off."
• dropping his plastic bowl into the sink with a crash and shrieking, "Hammerhead!"   (No clue.  It must of have made sense to him, but it is a bit trying on the parental calm first thing in the morning.)
• "I saw a perfect diamond." (x 40 repetitions after I pointed out that some of the HOV lane diamonds had faded on the edges)
• responding to legos help with, "Maaaaaahvelous.  Yes, yes, yes.!"