Parenting a child with special needs is tough work. If you ever thought you were alone, you won't anymore. Join 4 parents of special needs discuss their journey, their everyday struggles, and how they have learned to cope and find resources for their children.
#MomBoss prevails! I had this wonderful opportunity to speak with Cheldin Barlatt-Rumer, of THIS IS IT TV, a fabulous mom and entrepreneur. We spoke about the field of child psychology and raising our babies the best we can while balancing multiple worlds.
As a reference point, Cheldin was one of the panelists at the #MomBoss event in June at Bloomingdales. She gave me perspective and inspiration to SCREAM MY DREAMS and to truly believe that anything is possible.
Prepared by Chrissy Sunberg, M.Ed., AAC:
When you are asked to describe your teenager, what are some of the adjectives you would use? Moody, angry, nervous, sensitive or emotional? This stage of life is loaded with intense feelings and drama. Remember your teenage years? But while all of these feelings are age appropriate there has been a significant increase of teenagers who have reported having anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorder is the leading mental health issue among American teens, and clinicians and research both suggest it is rising. According to KidsHealth.org experts don't know exactly what causes anxiety disorders. Several things seem to play a role, including genetics, brain biochemistry, an overactive fight–flight response, stressful life circumstances, and learned behavior. There is no one size fits all solution or pill for anxiety but I do have a few logical and out of the box ideas that may help your teen ease some anxiety.
The Bully of the Brain
Teen anxiety is not only debilitating for your teen, it is debilitating for the whole family. People experience anxiety because the amygdala thinks there might be something it needs to protect you from. The amygdala is the security guard of the brain and it decides what is safe and not safe. If it feels like you are not safe, it’s very easy for the amygdala to get overactivated and can become the “bully in the brain”. When this happens, it surges your body with a mix of neurochemicals (including oxygen, hormones and adrenaline), designed to make you stronger, faster, more alert and more powerful so you can fight for your life or run for it. This is the fight or flight response. It’s normal and healthy and it’s in everyone. In people with anxiety, it’s just a little quicker to activate.
The amygdala can’t always tell the difference between something that might hurt you (like a basketball coming at your head) and something that won’t (like walking into school) – and it doesn’t care. All it wants to do is keep you safe.
Fight or Flight Over Drive
Everything you feel when you have anxiety is to do with your body getting ready to fight or flee, when there is actually no need for either. When there’s nothing to flee or nothing to fight, there is nothing to burn the neurochemical fuel that is surging through you. The fuel builds up and that’s why anxiety feels the way it does.
You may hear your teen say, “My stomach and head hurt!” and the above explanation is why. So, understanding why anxiety feels the way it does can be one of your greatest tools in managing it.
Resources and Strategies for You and Your Teen
Here are some other resources for families that are parenting teens with anxiety:
GoZen!: is an anxiety/stress relief program that can be found on-line: 6 modules that teach kids to understand and control their anxiety.
Mindfulness: many studies have shown that mindfulness can help ease anxiety. Here are some on-line resources and books that describe benefit of mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware of our bodily sensations when we are anxious, and then using specific visualizations and breathing techniques to decrease that hijacked feeling to regain control and feelings of calm and well being.
Psycom.net recommends keeping a worry journal. It may help teens see how their anxious thoughts improve over time. Writing the worries of the day followed by one positive thought helps break the cycle of negative thinking that can exacerbate anxiety.
Providing your teen with coping mechanisms and a tool box may help with their anxiety disorder. If you find that the coping mechanisms that you and your teen created are not working in your favor can also find a therapist that can help them build these skills.
With anxiety rates continuing to rise among adolescents, it is important to try and figure out ways to make them less anxious. Focusing on parenting techniques, Cory Turner from NPR Ed. shares an interesting blog on ways you can help empower your children!
Dr. Liz's Book Review: "Billions Lost: The American Tech Crisis and the Roadmap to Change" by Hilarie Gamm
Dr. Liz's Review:
Hilarie Gamm has hit the nail on the head in her eloquent and well thought out preparation of this book, “Billions Lost: The American Tech Crisis and The Road Map To Change.” I have read the “Hard Work Factor” and “The Damaging Effects of The Disintegration of Teen Labor” chapters several times, and they are resonating very strongly with me. In essence, Hilarie recognizes that our generation of children has lost the “work hard, play hard, earn hard” mentality and is now functioning on the sense of “work minimally, earn hard” which is creating a sense of lethargy and lack of motivation. As parents, we also have not continued in the push to work and save, but rather we are funding our children’s social activities and providing a lavish lifestyle that they will not be able to maintain independently in their future.
The damaging effects on our children as adults will be huge. In line with my professional work as a Clinical Psychologist in private practice, specializing in children and adolescents, we have a generation of children and adolescents who are scared, lacking skills and resilience. We are also seeing much too much of “failure to launch” young adults who have developed a mind set of “don’t work hard, but get a good paying job and maintain a high end lifestyle.” The connection between work hard, start at the bottom of the ranks and work your way up, does not resonate with many of our young adults. Hilarie stated it so clearly in that our children lack the “hunger for success” that motivated us as their parents to continuously challenge ourselves, learn more, and to hold goals.
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book as a parent and professional, and will recommend it to other parents as a way to understand how our culture and societal values have changed over time and how they are negatively impacting our children’s emotional, social, academic well-being, and future career aspirations. Hilarie also offers an entire chapter on how to make those positive changes, and it can start at home in our conversations and expectations with our children.
Raising a child with a mental health issue can be hard. It is important to know that mental health issues are common, and that there are ways to make life easier. This blog offers insightful tips on how to help your child if they are experiencing a mental health issue.
Prepared by: Nicole Filiberti, LSW
Have you ever felt stressed out?? I’m guessing it would be really difficult for me to find someone who can respond with a “No!” Let’s take this one step further, how many from our stressed bunch have had to make decisions? I’m not talking about only big life decisions, like shall we move? Shall we have a child? Shall we have another child? I’m actually thinking about daily life decisions, like picking out an outfit to wear, what to prepare for dinner, or what time to set the alarm. Decision making is an everyday part of the human experience. When we combine feeling distressed and needing to make a decision, that process can feel overwhelming. Now, let’s think about this from our children’s perspective – our little ones can also be overwhelmed with daily decisions when they are anxious, inattentive, or find sensory experiences to be overstimulating.
The Physiological Process of Anxiety and Stress
A 2017 article on Healthline.com explores the effects of stress on various parts of the body. This article reports that stress directly impacts the body's central nervous system (CNS). This system controls our "fight or flight" response, which involves a super fast increase in stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Once these hormones are coursing through your system, your heartbeat has increased and blood is rushing to various parts of your body, including important organs like your heart and muscles. (Pietrangelo and Watson, 2017). With blood rushing, negative chemicals pumping, and heart beat pounding, it doesn’t exactly sound like a time when it would be be easy to carry out analytical, decision-making thinking? Now imagine this "fight or flight" response happening on a regular basis to you and/or your child. Do you really think you or your child will be able to make level-headed, well thought out decisions? Probably not.
According to a study carried out at the University of Southern California, stress has a serious influence on the way we think about different decisions. Considering multiple options and choosing the one that aligns the most with our needs is a complex thought process that becomes compromised when stress is added to the mix. Researchers Mara Mather and Nichole R. Lighthall write that "the challenge of weighing and integrating positive and negative aspects of decision options" is often the most challenging aspect to decision-making (Lighthall and Mather, 2012).
These researchers went on to find that adding stress to the decision-making process alters the way we recall positive and negative feedback based on previous decisions made. In Mather and Lighthall's studies, people who were exposed to stress before having to make a decision better recalled the positive outcomes of past decisions and minimally recalled the negative ones. This could explain why people sometimes resort to negative, old habits when they are stressed. We forget the negative side to these old habits since our ability to think logically and with reason is compromised when the brain is in a state of stress. Our stressed brains simply "forget" about the negative aspects to these habits.
Meltdowns and Behavioral Tantrums
Let me take this one step further. When we, our children or our adolescents are anxious and process the world in with an anxious framework, stress overloads the system, especially when it peaks. When you see your child having a “meltdown” or is being “behavioral”, this is their signal that their system is on overload and they are scared. Their emotions and brain and body are not speaking to each other. Now, have you tried to speak rationally to your child or adolescent in the middle of a meltdown or behavioral tantrum? How did that go? Not too well, huh? That’s because the systems are shut down and are not able to take in any other information. So, trying to have a logical conversation with your child or adolescent in that high intensity moment is just not a good idea.
Unfortunately, stress is an inevitable part of life. It will be with us until the end of time. But, decisions don’t have to be so painful or anxiety provoking.
Check In With Yourself
As a parent, your level of anxiety will be felt by your child or adolescent, no matter how much you may think it’s just your internal experience. It’s not. When you, as a parent, are feeling anxious, your tonality, volume, speed of speech all change, as well as your body language.
As you check in on others, your mother, or your friend, it’s important for you to check in with you. Rate your level of anxiety on a scale of 1-10 (0-low; 5-medium; 10-high, very high). Ask yourself, “why is this decision distressing me right now?” By you asking yourself this question, you may be able to identify the source of distress and hopefully be able to work around it or with it. Check where you are holding your tension, physically – is it in your jaw or forehead? Walk away into the bathroom and take a few breaths to give your body and brain the signal that you are okay and the lion you are perceiving is the internal lion that lives in your head.
This skill can also be used by our children and adolescents. Check in, problem solve, and breathe.
Use Fewer Words
When we are anxious, we tend to talk more, almost ramble. Our thoughts are flying through our head and they are going in directions that don’t make sense. When your child is in that heightened phase and is emotional, angry, tearful, use fewer words. Our natural inclination is to problem solve for our child or to throw out consequences and make ultimatums, but once again, that’s information/word overload which will further feed the meltdown.
When the emotions are high, your emotions are low and your words are few. Letthat be your mantra. For many of our children, it helps to dim the lights and to sit by your child and either hug him or rub her back. Re-connect on a more primitive level, like when they were babies. Wait until the emotions come down, and if there is still a need to problem solve, you can tackle that when the body and mind are calm.
Allow Yourself Enough Time
If you know that you are distressed by making decisions, then make sure that you give yourself time to consider the variables, make a choice, and then sit, or even sleep on it for a few hours. If you know you are not the type of person that can make decisions on the fly, then don’t put yourself in the situation where you have to make them quickly.
As for our kids, make sure that your routines provide you with ample time to transition in the morning, after school, in between activities, and before bed. Rushing is a trigger for anxiety and stress which will negatively impact the ability to decide on which shoes to wear. It also physically slows down the body from moving.
Setting timers to cue transitions, giving your child a visual/verbal schedule of routines to hang in their bedroom or in the kitchen, and providing your child with a desk calendar to plan ahead with activities, school events, birthday parties, homework assignments, tests, and school breaks gives your child that sense of control of what’s coming up. Build in time in between activities instead of going to soccer right after school, for example. Anxiety and stress do not like surprises and they need time to acclimate to the next demand.
For us, as parents, and for our children, I can’t emphasize the importance of building in time to quiet our body and mind and decompress from the day into our daily schedule. Transitioning from an activity to bed right away does not give our body or mind time to process the day and bring the day to an end. Sleep becomes less productive and we feel tired the next day, which will leave you and your child prone to feeling even more anxious and distressed.
For your children, build in time to engage in a quiet activity prior to bed, or build in time to sit in bed and color, read or listen to calming music. That means leaving a party or social gathering, maybe, prior to everyone else so that you and your child/children have time to go home and get ready for bed before everyone reaches that point of extreme fatigue. Fatigues and sleep deprivation also create anxiety and feelings of distress. With that in mind, build in time for yourself and your family to unwind at the end of the day.
Written by: Eva Benoit
When you’re a mom looking to start your own business, there are some practical matters to consider. There’s financial decisions, work-life balance, and utilizing your free time. Here are five basics you need to know as you start your own business.
Streamline Your Family Life
You might already be doing some of these things, but keep looking for ways to increase your efficiency. Carpools, for example, are major time-savers. You can have your children carpool to school and trade off driving days with other parents.
Also, consider focusing on meal prep. When you’re first starting meal prep, it can feel impossible to prepare all the week’s meals in a single afternoon. Start small by preparing four or five meals that will allow you to have time in the evening to devote to your new gig. If necessary, hire some help, or trade responsibilities with your partner for at least one hour each day. It can ease your mind and help you focus on your business more directly.
Set Up a Workspace
Having a workspace in your home allows you to devote a lot of time and energy to a single task. This can help you maximize creativity and improve productivity. Talk with your kids about boundaries regarding your work area. Help them understand that you need some space and a chance to focus. According to Forbes, a huge benefit of setting up a home workspace is tax deductible, given the money you invest in setting it up.
Your office space is an investment, so make sure you have practical and durable equipment. It’s important that you look for ways you can save money and maximize your financial productivity, like utilizing travel or health care as tax-deductible parts of your small business.
Do a Little Each Day
When you’re first starting your business, you’ll see tons of things that you want to fix, update, or change. If you try to do everything at once, you might experience burnout. Focus on doing a little bit each day to avoid burnout and set up good habits. Focusing on the most important parts of your business will improve its value and help you feel more confident with bigger projects.
Do Small Tests
In the early stages of your entrepreneurial pursuit, finances might be tight. You’ll have questions about how much to charge and what your service should be. This is where testing comes in. Visit a potential client, develop a prototype, and ask around to test your idea and figure out how much it might be worth. Look at the competition and solicit opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of your product in relation to what else is out there.
Build a Business Based on What You Know
A recent Huffington Post article emphasized that if you start a business for strictly financial reasons, then it can be more difficult to stick with it and enjoy it. Try to start with what you know and see how you can help people and earn money from it. Working on something that you enjoy can help you stay motivated and push through times when success might not come easily.
If you’re struggling with finding ideas, talk to people you know and try to identify their struggles. See what skills can help remedy those struggles. Maybe you’ve got a knack for crunching numbers and know exactly how to save money for big family trips. Try to utilize the skills you already have to see what needs you can fill.
Starting a business can be daunting, but if you break down the basics, you can start small and grow from there. You can start a business without spending a fortune and reap the benefits in small ways. It’ll take time and effort, but you’re more than capable of doing it.
With more moms than ever entering the workforce, juggling work and family time can get quite overwhelming. Often, moms tend feel guilty due to the divided attention between the two. This blog shows you ten different tips on how to find a healthy balance of family time and work time!
Hyperactivity and impulsivity can be misread as aggression. Here are steps to take if your child has been called a bully.
When children with ADHD first come to see me, it is common for them to ask, “Am I bad?” It’s heartbreaking every time. Whether it is due to their hyperactivity or impulsivity, these kids sometimes take roughhousing too far and hurt others unintentionally. Although a child should always be held accountable for hurting another child, these kids aren’t usually reacting in anger; they’re offending by exuberance.
Telling a child that he is “lazy,” “aggressive,” or “a bully” doesn’t improve behavior. And if he hears it repeatedly, he comes to believe that it’s true. Eight-year-old Jake came to see me one week, dejected after he played “too hard” with his friend on the playground. He didn’t mean to be rough, but he got carried away. His impulsivity led to a serious punch to Joey’s shoulder. The teacher called in Jake’s parents and told them he was a bully. When Jake heard this, he wondered, “Am I really a bully?"
Learn About Self Control.
Of course, if a child frequently displays anger, parents should take steps to manage it. But if you believe that your child didn’t intend to lash out, move too fast, hug too hard, or knock someone over, lay off the labels. Instead, talk with the child about his good qualities and come up with a plan to improve his self-control.
Discuss the problem.
Jake’s parents talked to him about roughhousing. They were specific about the rules at school and at home — no hitting, no kicking, no rough play, stop if a friend asks you to stop, and no mean words. (Children with ADHD also get called bullies when they say things they think are funny, but that friends find hurtful or irritating.)
Identify “hot spots.”
Jake told his parents where and when he was most impulsive at school — standing in line, during recess, in the lunch room, and in PE class. They talked about these “hot spots” and became more aware of Jake’s challenges.
Limit potential triggers.
Jake and his parents made a list of kids who did not get him too roused and stimulated. They limited his play dates to those kids, instead of scheduling one-on-one time with more challenging friends.
Brainstorm and test strategies for each hot spot.
Jake made a list of ways to get control of his emotions. These included: walking away, taking a deep breath, staying close to the teachers, “freezing” like a statue for a second or two to reset his emotions, reading a book, and using positive “self talk.” Then he decided when each solution would be most effective.
> Jake often got frustrated at recess when he didn’t want to play the game his friends were playing. A few of them started taunting him for not wanting to play. Instead of getting angry or lashing out, he decided to use the “walking away” strategy. He found that, sometimes, he calmed down enough that he could circle back and participate in the games, even if it wasn’t the game he would have chosen.
> Jake tended to get excited during group work. He talked too loud, and classmates often thought he was angry. When this happened, Jake learned to take a deep breath or two before saying anything else. This helped calm him down.
> Jake noticed that he got the urge to push or touch classmates while they were waiting in line between classes and in the cafeteria. “Freezing” like a statue stopped Jake from jostling his classmates.
Jake’s classmates and teachers started to see him in a different light when he worked hard to control himself. They realized that he had not intended to be rough, but that his impulsivity often got the best of him. Jake came to realize that he wasn’t a “bad” child, he just lost control of his behavior. He worked at changing because he wanted his friends to feel safe around him.
Written by Dr. Liz Matheis:
When it comes to parenting, we may think that “more is more,” but what I’m finding is that when we are verbose in our directions and daily expressions, we may actually be overwhelming our children.
Sounds crazy, right? How could words, which are invisible, be overwhelming? I think it’s time to go back to the basics of “less is more” and use our own behaviors and non-verbal gestures to communicate with our children on a more genuine and simple level.
Limit Your Sentences to 2-3 at One Time
And while you’re at it, limit your sentences to four to six words. How many times have you asked your child to go upstairs, take a shower, brush their teeth and get into bed? For younger parents, how many times have you asked your child to ‘get ready for bed’?
When you think about that in a number of steps, it’s actually: stop what you are doing, walk to your bedroom, remove your clothing, go into your drawer, find your PJs, put on your PJs, go into the bathroom, find your toothbrush, find the toothpaste, place the toothpaste on the toothbrush, turn on the water, brush your teeth and then return to your bedroom. There are 13 steps to getting ready to bed.
So if that also includes choosing clothes for tomorrow, we’re adding: think about what you want to wear for tomorrow, find out the weather (by consulting with Alexa or your parents), open your drawer or closet, choose a shirt, choose pants, choose socks and choose shoes. OMG. That’s overwhelming!
When giving your children instructions, provide two at one time and then stop. Offer a high five, and then provide the next two. When we give our children too many instructions, they will either tune us out (which will infuriate us) or forget them.
Add in ADHD or a sensory processing disorder, and now you have an angry or anxious child who finds life to be stressful and just not do-able. Morning and bedtime routines are then avoided or prolonged, which makes us tense or hating the morning or bedtime routine more than our children do – and there goes the positive morale out the window.
Sympathize and Validate
When our children come to us with a challenge or problem – whether it be a lost sneaker or a conflict with a peer – instead of telling them what we should do, offer validation that this is frustrating, sad, maddening, upsetting or whatever the emotion your child is conveying to you in that moment.
Instead of offering solutions and ways to fix the problem right away, ask questions about what can be done. For example, “Hmmm, this is frustrating. Where could that sneaker be? Let’s go look together.” And then when you are looking for that sneaker, let there be little verbiage expressed.
In other words, avoid, “Let’s go look under the couch where you ate your snacks in front of the TV and made a whole bunch of crumbs,” or “Well, if you put those sneakers away right away, this wouldn’t be an issue.” Look with your eyes and not your mouth. Let your child guide the search. When your child ultimately finds his lost sneaker, smile and move on.
Listen, Really Listen
When you ask your child about her day, listen – really listen – to what she is telling you. Watch her body language or listen to her choice of words to gain information. And when you ask, make sure you’re not just asking the question for the sake of being able to say to yourself, “I asked the question.” Stop what you are doing, and look at your child.
As a mom of three and a business owner, I am always multi-tasking. It’s the only way I survive. I am learning to stop what I am doing so that my kids are not only hearing the words, but watching my body language to see and know that I am interested. I also hear them better – meaning I really process what my kids are saying when I use all of my senses to watch them and listen to the words while gauging the emotions they are conveying to me – even when their words are just “fine” or “good.”
Life is busy, and I understand there are multiple demands and thoughts to process, and we may think that they aren’t noticing. But the truth is that they are noticing. They know when you are distracted or not being genuine. They know.
I know this sounds like another thing to do as a parent, but I’m actually freeing you from the need to speak – a lot. I am giving you permission to offer yourself silence while you are listening, and engaging your child with your entire being.
In time, you will notice that your child will want to speak with you because she knows that she has your undivided attention, and your interactions will be genuine and sincere – pleasant even. You may find that you both enjoy the time, even if it is only a few minutes each day.
Prepared by Michelle-Molle Krowiak, Ed.S., LCSW
School is out and summer is finally here! Summer is a perfect time to embrace life and have fun! This summer, I am giving my bucket list a twist..
I am creating a Mindfulness Summer Bucket List with my family to highlight small pleasures of summer and enjoying family time.
What is a bucket list?
A bucket list is a range of activities from small to big that you want to accomplish. A Mindfulness Bucket List focuses on the small pleasures of life and help ground you in the present moment. I always kick off summer by jumping into the pool fully clothed! Be silly and embrace life. Making memories with the kids. Not only will this make your family happier, you will be building an appreciation for life and the small things in your children. Bucket lists do not have to cost a thing. A Mindfulness Bucket List should be a guide, not another thing to complete and check off. My mantra for the summer is Play More & Be Present More This Summer!
Mindfulness Bucket List:
In the end, it is not about accomplishing and checking off your bucket list, but slowing down and enjoying life - being present and having fun!
I wish you a fun-filled, stress-free summer enjoying the little moments this summer:)
Dr. Liz's Review:
“The Stigmatized Child, Mommy, Am I Stupid” is a really well-written description of the journey of a parent of a child with special needs. Understanding and accepting your child’s special need(s) can sometimes be overwhelming. It requires time to wrap your mind around the idea that your child’s development is a little bit off. Once the awareness builds, sometimes it really builds. As a parent, I’ve had to “do my research” about my child’s areas of weaknesses and understand them. Once I understood them, I had to figure out what she needed and how to go about advocating for her.
Anne Ford truly opened herself up to sharing her most intimate thoughts and experiences. Her trials, her search, her understanding and her acceptance. This book is validating for the parents who thought they were alone or the “only one” having this experience. She has captured how there is no one “perfect” program or “perfect” school that will meet our child’s needs in their entirety. It truly takes a village of professionals to create the program for your child. And just when it’s all settled, your child makes progress and it’s time to re-vamp it!
As a Child/Adolescent Psychologist and Educational Consultant, as well as a parent of a child with special needs, this book honestly and genuinely captured my inner thoughts and worries. It also gave me so much that my child, and all of our children, are going to get to where they need to be.
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles