ADHD? Hyposensitive? and what old Soviet school (maybe) got right.

30 May

I want to talk more about our kids. “Our” because I also have two children like that. They need to fidget. They need to move. They are bright but make silly mistakes. They struggle with transitions. They struggle starting their work. The struggle finishing their work (unless they LOVE what they do – then they will do it non-stop, forgetting about eating, sleeping and bathroom). They are impulsive.  They are labeled as ADHD.

I don’t want to start a discussion about whether ADHD exists (and why so many children are diagnosed in the US and so few are diagnosed in France). But one thing is certain in my mind: like Autism, ADHD became a huge umbrella for a range of different symptoms, and those symptoms might not have the same etiology.  For example, some of those ADHD children indeed have a non-“mainstream” neurological wiring, some of them suffer from a diet which is wrong for them, some of them face challenges created by anxiety (and it is actually anxiety that makes them fidget, not so much ADHD itself). Some of those kids are creative, bright and sporty. Some of them are loud and angry. Some of those kids are sad, introverted and quiet  (and still making silly mistakes on tests when asked about material that they know perfectly).  Because ADHD (or labeled as ADHD) kids are so different, what I will write won’t help everybody. But, I hope, it will be helpful to some.

Movement

The need to move results from a need for stimulation. It is a variation of what we call sensory-seeking behaviors.  It goes together with running around, standing up, jumping, squirming in her seat (poor kid, she wants to RUN), sucking her thumb, chewing her clothes, doodling and so forth. One thing that I was horrified to learn about the American schools is that kids go from one class to another practically without breaks. They are supposed to transition perfectly from Math to English without any time in between.  If you ask me, I would say it’s humanly impossible for any healthy child (or even an adult). Watch yourself please. When you work, how do you transition between tasks? Right. You go get tea. You go to the bathroom. You stretch. Basically, you move.  At the very least, you will check your email or even Facebook just to take your mind off work if only for a moment.  American kids do not have such a luxury.  An 8 year old (or even a 5 year old) is supposed to sit quietly in her chair (or on a rug, and I will get to the whole “circle time on a rug thing” later) without unnecessary movement, and close her English book and then open her Math book and continue to work without bathroom, email checking, fidgeting or even stretching.  When I hear about this “structure”, I want to remind people that cruel and unusual punishment is unconstitutional in the United States.

In the “good old USSR” we started the 1st grade not younger than 6, and most kids were 7 (compare to America where kids start Kindergarten – and get labeled as ADHD et al – at 5). Therefore, our stamina, endurance and, hence, the ability to sit still was much greater. In addition, in good old USSR every class lasted only 45 minutes (no more than that).  In between classes we had a 5-10 minute break (and there was a “large recess” which was 15-20 minutes).  That was the time for us to go crazy – run around, scream, even fight if needed (within reason of course). It was also the time to transition from Math to Russian, and so forth.

Furthermore, many ADHD kids struggle with writing. Writing requires a lot of concentration on many level (sentence construction, spelling, control over fingers, and so on).  I remember how in good all USSR my elementary school teacher (who was not such a great teacher to be honest) interrupted our Russian classes just to have us stop writing and MOVE our fingers (we moved fingers to a short rhyme which went like this : “We’ve been writing for so long, our fingers are tired, we’ll give our fingers a short break, and start writing again”).

The teachers were simply mindful of the simple fact that kids do not need to be labeled, or medicated, kids need to move!  Frequently, during the class, when the teacher detected that our attention flew away, our teachers asked us to do 5-10 sit ups.  That was enough to satisfy our sensory systems and bring our focus back to the classroom.  Here I was shocked to find out that completely natural need for movement which many young children have is pathologized and even criminalized.

Structure

Children crave structure.  Spacial structure is achieved through careful and reasonable ways to divide space with physical bodies. Temporal structure is achieved through reasonable dividing time with changing activities (e.g., from waking up, to brushing teeth, to having breakfast, to going to school etc – time is divided with various activities which create structure). Children (and adults) want to trust their structures to be solid and not to collapse.  Solid structures are those that are predictable. When children know what comes next, they are able to transition, they are less anxious, and their behavior is easily managed. American elementary schools effectively destroy the structure with the so called “rug activity”.  When I first saw that rug, I got a warm feeling, thinking how my kid will be lying comfortably listening to a story. Then I got the phone call from school that my child was lying comfortably (just like I imagined!) on that rug, during the circle time.  That completely threw me off.  If the teachers don’t want the children to lie comfortably, why set them up with that rug?  If you or I are placed on a rug during the day, I bet we will be lying comfortably pretty soon, and then fall asleep too.  But our kids are not allowed to be comfortable on that rug. They have to sit up. But if they have to sit up, wouldn’t be more reasonable to leave them at their desks? Sitting up is hard, but at their desks our young kids are not tempted by that rug.  Overall, the golden rule is: kids cannot be quiet and still when there is no structure.  And, I think, the teachers have to decide: should they be really progressive and allowing our kids a reasonable level of comfort (e.g., lying down and maybe even falling asleep on that rug) or let go of the progressive education, move children back to their desks, where they will be sitting quietly (only interrupted for sit ups every 20 minutes, like we were back when USSR existed and America was good).

Temporal structure is as important. When our time was divided into classes and recesses not only we got to move, we had predictable temporal structure to hold on to, and we had time to transition between activities.  We always knew what our next lesson will be. We were counting the minutes till the bell (the bell rang when the lesson was over). We made plans for next recesses. Overall, we existed within a clear temporal arrangement which reduced our anxiety.

To create solid structure, one needs tools.  For example, THE BELL.  I personally hated the sound. Even when the bell meant the end of the class, it got on my nerves. Half of the time though it meant the beginning of the class and got on my nerves even more. Still, better hate the bell than the teacher.  Bell is so much preferable to teachers’ screaming and asking pupils to be quiet because the next class started.  It’s also much better thatn parents’ nagging the child to do HW. That’s why I strongly recommend that all parents of those kids use technology. When the alarm goes off, the child starts homework, when it goes off in 15 minutes, your child is allowed to take a bathroom break.  You don’t have to be nagging or screaming. Let the Bell nag your child and be hated.

Rituals are extremely important tools. We had quite a few in school (some of them were crazy). But among more reasonable one was a simple ritual to stand up in the beginning of each class, when the teacher enters the room. This standing for several seconds (no more than a minute), helped us transition from running around like maniacs to becoming quiet, diligent students. While standing quietly, we were able to found the board, the teacher our pencils and collect our brains. Once we were allowed to be seated, we were ready to open books and start working. And of course, having to stand up for the teachers instills some respect, which never hurts.

Notebooks are super important. The usage of notebooks was very simple. All our HW was done in the notebooks and not on separate pieces of papers. Nothing was lost. We could easily find and check our HW from weeks ago. Notebook is more difficult to lose than a single piece of paper. Notebooks were handed to the teachers in the morning. They were returned to us with HW checked by the end of the school day. No lost HWs.

I could go on.  And I am not a big fan of Soviet schools, and I was never a fan of Soviet Union. But some of those things worked. I want to tell you quickly what happens to kids in an American school.

Did your child’s teacher complain to you that s/he makes silly mistakes? Of course. All her energy, all her concentration goes into restraining from forbidden movement! No fidgeting, no doodling (I hate that one, as I doodled my way from Siberian elementary school to Princeton University, and I’m the biggest supporter of doodling).  Of course, poor kids would make mistakes, they are exhausted from keeping still!

Did your child’s teacher complain about behavioral outbursts? Of course, when your child has to sit for hours processing a lot of new information without any recesses or breaks s/he will be overloaded and having all kids of meltdowns.

I will try to write another post about what we, American parents, should do. But, right now, I just want you to realize that your child is not a villain, not a monster and, definitely, not stupid. He simply tries to operate and survive within the system that is stack against him (and his sensory system).

When your child is the bully…

22 Feb

It’s hard to imaging anything more upsetting, frustrating and confusing than learning that your own child is the bully.  There is also embarrassment as you learn gradually the whole story (because you learned it first from your baby and s/he didn’t say the whole truth, or maybe didn’t say the truth at all). Well, now you know it. Your baby teased another child. Maybe even hit another child. Took toys from another child. Your baby made another child cry and feel miserable.  Now you know the truth. What to do next?

1. Show your shock to your child.  It is ok (in fact desirable) to be honest with your child and show your true feelings. You are shocked? Say it.  You are angry? Verbalize it. It is fine to say to your child that you never thought s/he would hurt somebody else’s feelings.  Express your feelings honestly.  And then, without initiating any punishment give your child some space to think things through.  At this point, don’t offer any solution. Don’t talk about punishment.  Explain to your child honestly what you feel, and now, when there is a lot of tension created, leave your child alone to work through this tension.  If your child tries to initiate the conversation with you, it is ok to say that you are not ready to talk to him/her yet, because you are still hurt by his/her behavior.

2. While your child is thinking things through, you should do the same.  It is important to identify what fuels your child’s behavior.  Is she frustrated with something and tries to dump her frustration on another child? Is she insecure and tries to compensate by making another child feel even worse?  Sometimes, the children don’t realize themselves that their behavior is hurtful.  So your next step  depends on the primary causes for your child’s behavior.

If she is insecure, you will need to work on her self-confidence. You might even have to explain to her that true confidence comes from within. Furthermore, by behaving this way, she is losing friends she has, because ultimately she becomes less likeable.

If she is frustrated with somebody else, and displaces her anger on other kids, you will have to help her work through her anger.  Explain to her that it’s ok to feel angry, and dumping it on somebody else will indeed give her temporary relief.  However, it doesn’t reduce her anger long term, and next day s/he will feel angry again. because all she is doing is creating a cycle of anger.

If she is not aware about how the other child feels, you might have to explain it to her. Also explain that the damage she is causing is long term, and she is much better off creating friendships.

3.  When you talk to your child again, you need to be clear that hurting other people is unacceptable. That although you  love your child, you cannot be her “friend”, cannot play with her, talk to her, do anything with her while she treats other people like that. You have to be very firm expressing your disappointment and your inability to support her in any way, while somebody else is hurting because of that behavior.  Your child will be upset, but if you want this pattern to end, this conversation has to be memorable and serious.

4. After you see that your child is upset and worries about the other child’s feelings you can go back to section 2, and help your child with his/her problems. If this is insecurity, you need to express your belief in your child. If s/he struggles creating her own friendship, offer play dates and joined activities.  Re-think your child’s extra-curricular activities to include those and instill respect for others.  If she is frustrated with something else, offer your help. Basically, after you see that your child is remorseful, offer your support.

5.  It is always  helpful to make sure that your children have some chores. This is the way to learn respect for others. They also feel that they contribute something to the family (and not just continuously receive stuff from their parents). Finally, through the chores, children create a sense of accomplishment (which should be as respected as any other achievement in sports or academics).  Children who do chores are usually more connected with their family members and they create friendships easier.

6. When do you need to seek professional help?  You should look for help if you see that your child lacks empathy.  If your child doesn’t understand (or doesn’t care) how other children feel. This could be an important symptom of an underlying condition, which should be ruled out.

7. Finally, we should always remember that sometimes children misbehave because they are seeking adults’ attention. Even negative attention better than 0 attention.  Is your child’s misbehavior one of those cases?  Is s/he trying to tell you something?  It’s always great to have at least half an hour a day (preferably more of course), when you give your complete and undivided attention to your child, which means, turning off TV, Phone, Computer and looking at your children, asking them questions and giving them answers (preferably honest).  This might be all they need to feel confident, secure and happier.

 

When Your Child Is Bullied

14 Feb

It’s extremely painful to watch your child suffering from bullying. Your child feels scared and helpless and so do you. It is natural to start blaming other kids. You might want to try to switch your child’s school. But sometimes, it’s difficult. Other times, after you change classes or schools your child becomes again a victim of bullying.

How can you help your child?

  1. As painful as it is, you have to consider what your child contributes to this dynamics. Is she needy? Is he impulsive? Is he following other children around to the point of being annoying? Is he teacher’s pet?  And so forth. The more you learn about your child the better.  There should be absolutely no blaming of your child, s/he is the victim! Still it’s important to identify behaviors that invite bullying.
  2. You need to start working on growing your child’s confidence. There are several ways to do it. First of all, you can try to create a social circle for him outside of school. Start actively working on inviting kids form the neighborhood or your friends’ kids for a play-date. He should have group play dates as well as one on one play dates. However, it is up to you to organize those kids so that they all have fun, together with your child. Remember, your child doesn’t have adequate social skills, that’s why s/he became the victim. So, please, make sure these play dates don’t fail! Be the facilitator! Prepare the board games for them to play (preferable) or a movie to watch (less perfect, but will do).  Make sure your child and the guests enjoy themselves.  It will be much easier for your child to cope with bullying in school, when he knows that he has his friends outside of it!  His confidence will grow miraculously from this increase in his social contentedness. In fact, his behavior in school might change too, and the bullying might decrease.
  3. Your child needs to get into sports. Most people right away try to send their kids to martial arts. Nothing is wrong with it. But actually, team sports might be preferable, think football, basketball, baseball.  Your child might be refusing due to low confidence. Try to be supportive and encouraging. If nothing else works, go with your child’s preference, even if s/he prefers swimming. It is great. There will be achievement, confidence growth and then, new friends.
  4. Talk to the teacher. Ask the teacher to talk to the kids without mentioning your child (to avoid exasperating the problem), but the kids to need to be reminded that there is 0 tolerance for bullying, and that the children who do it, will be punished through а detention or even suspension.  Sometimes, such a talk is enough for many kids to stop supporting the bully.
  5. Study your kids’ class dynamics. who is the bully? who is the leader? who supports him? Who are the bystanders? Start with bystanders. Invite them one by one for play – dates. Try to turn them into your kids’ friends. Take them with your child to the movies.  Your child wil gain confidence when he knows that at least some kids in the class are his friends.
  6. Finally, the bully.  Sometimes, those kids are pretty unhappy themselves (most of the times). Sometimes, they are victims too in some other situation. It is unfair to your child and to you, but on many occasions, simply talking nicely to the bully (without mentioning your child) can change things around. When you pick up your child, say “hi” to the bully, ask about how things are at his home, how it’s going for him etc. Give him a little bit of your attention.  Do it as an experiment once. The result might surprise you.
  7. If available, sign up your child for social skills group. Also, re-think your home dynamics. Your child needs help with his/her confidence and social skills. It is on you to help her!

Meditations for Kids

8 Feb

Dear Readers,  I thought a lot about how often our children feel anxious, fearful, angry and sad, and decided to do something about it. My friend, amazing Katya Sverdlov, had a great idea about how to help the kids. We should teach them how to mediate! Wait, but aren’t other people already doing it? Yes, but most meditations that are on the market now are catering to the adults, not to kids. It’s almost impossible to convince a 5 year old to count her breaths or simply sit still.

Our meditations will be designed in such a way, that children will relate to them and even have fun doing them. We are creating short stories, full of imagery and adventures, with meditations embedded in them. Those stories will be read by a child, so that your children could relate to them naturally and effortlessly. No more counting breaths! No more boredom! Our stories will be fun, relaxing and joyful.

But we need your support.  Please, help us design the application by donating a small amount. Every little bit counts, so don’t be shy to make a small donation. And of course, spread the good word about the good work that we are doing for our children.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/234261377/calmchild-meditations-to-cope-with-fear-and-anxiet/widget/video.html

Dear Readers, I thought a lot about how often children feel anxious, fearful, angry and sad, and decided to do something about it. With my friend, Katya Sverdlov, we are developing an application, that should teach children how to mediate. Our meditations will be designed in such a way, that children will relate to them and even have fun doing them. I am writing short stories, full of imagery and adventures, with meditations embedded in them. Those stories will be read by a child, so that your children could relate to them naturally and effortlessly. No more counting breaths! No more boredom! Our stories will be fun, relaxing and joyful. But we need your support. Please, help us design the application by donating a small amount. Every little bit counts, don’t be shy to make a small donation. And of course, spread the good word about the good work that we are doing for our children. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/234261377/calmchild-meditations-to-cope-with-fear-and-anxiet

8 Feb

Spinal Galant Reflex and ADHD

22 Sep

 

 

There have been many findings that retained Spinal Galant Reflex is connected to ADHD – like symptoms: Hyper-activity, inattentiveness,  impulsiveness. It has also been connected to bed-wetting after 5-years old.

What is retained Spinal Galant Reflex:

This reflex causes babies to curve their hip outward when the lower back is stroked next to the spine.

 

spinal

 

The purpose of this reflex is to encourage movement and prepare hips for walking and crawling.  Usually, the Spinal Galant Reflex should disappear by nine months. If this reflex is retained beyond 9-10 months it  is connected to problems such as bed-wetting, fidgeting and the inability to sit still, and inability to concentrate and form new memories.

 

So, if your child is hyperactive, and doesn’t concentrate, place her on the floor and stroke her back gently, close to the spine.  Did she move her hips? Did she start moving involuntary? Chances are, she has retained the primitive reflex she should have lost years ago.

What to do about it?

 

There are many techniques and exercises available to help her. Start with discussing Spinal Galant with your child’s Occupational Therapist. She might already have answers for you.

Secondly, try watching the videos and doing some of these exercises at home.   Search more on Youtube and repeat at home.

You might be pleasantly surprised with the results!

These are my personal picks:

1. Exercise (remember to go slow!)

 

2. Massage (going slow is the trick again!)

3. Here is an easy way to test for Spinal Galant (the hips should NOT move like they do in the video):

Sibling Rivalry, what’s good about it , when to interfere, and how to go about it.

14 Nov

I hate you!
I hate you too!

Some of us get to witness interactions similar to the one above way too  often. Indeed, sibling rivalry seems to be the eternal conflict at the very heart of all human relationships. Cain’s feelings for Abel were not very tender, and Jacob and Esau were not best friends either.  Even for  non-believers those biblical stories should show  that those types of conflict are archetypal and ubiquitous, and people have been dealing with them, well, since the biblical times.  What do we learn from the longevity of this conflict? That there must be something good about it! People have been doing it for so long, there must be a reason, a learning opportunity, some kind of benefit hidden in this seemingly unpleasant experience.

What is good about it?

Many wise people pointed out that childhood is a preparation for adult life. Indeed, children go to school to learn academic and social skills necessary to function in the real world, in which they will have to live, once they grow up and leave the protection of parental home.  Conflict resolution is the essential skill children have to learn.  Of course, there is no resolution without  conflict! Sometimes, you might feel that your little ones create conflicts out of nothing, they fight just to fight. And they do! They practice conflicting and fighting in the safest environment possible — their own home. They trust each other to fight excitedly but not to hurt each other too badly. They scream and cry, but in ten minutes they play together again and in 20 minutes they fight again! Do they enjoy it? They do! Children play different social roes and they practice different types of interactions. They need to practice playing an adversary just as much as they need to practice friendship! The beauty with fighting your own brother is that no conflict is final. After all, you are all going to have  a family dinner in an hour! Therefore, in a funny way, fighting strengthens their connection just as much as does peaceful playing.  As long as fights alternate with friendly playing and you see mutual affection among your kids, those conflicts are a normal part of growing up, of testing the limits and practicing different types of interactions.

When to interfere?

Of course, Adam should have taught Cain better!  Obviously, you absolutely must interfere, when you see that one of the children is being consistently hurt, when abusive words are being used or when children cannot restrain themselves from physical violence. You also should interfere when children fight to get your attention. In other words, their fight is no longer about them. It’s about you.

How do you interfere?

Avoid being a judge. In the mist of the chaos, when you have to stop violence, avoid jumping at any conclusion and assigning any blame. Things may not be what they seem. The situation didn’t start at the very moment you decided to interfere, most likely you skipped the beginning, as well as the middle, and it is counterproductive to look for the guilty party. Instead, just tell them firmly, that they must stop right now. At this very moment.Take them apart. Send them into different rooms. Give each of them a glass of water.  Help them slow down and think carefully of what just happened. And then,  make them feel loved. Without going into details, tell each child individually that you love her very much. That she is your joy. That you know she didn’t mean those words. She simply didn’t think it through. Next time she will think before talking (or using her hands). That’s all that’s necessary to stop the situation. Then move on. Have a family dinner, read a book to both of them. Take them outside. Let them know it is not the end of the world, and don’t turn it into something bigger than it needs to be.

Yes, it works in the moment, but then it happens again. And again. And again.

If your children repeatedly use violence you need to look carefully at the “guilty party”.

Mommy, Jonathan just hit me!
Jonathan! No ice-cream for you tonight!

What  just happened? If Jonathan hit his little brother because he thinks you like his younger sibling more than him, you just confirmed his mistaken belief! Remember Cain and Abel? It is indeed damaging and hurtful to doubt parental love, or feel that you are the least favorite child in the family. Remember and old saying that your child needs your love the most, when she deserves it the least?  It’s true about sibling relationship just as much as it is true about everything else.  There are two kids hurting for different reasons. And one of them seems to be undeserving of your love. And she REALLY needs it. In fact, she begs for it.  How about you avoid assigning blame, and, as you always do, provide your kid with what she needs the most at the moment!

How about his response:

Mommy, Jacob hit me!

Oh, honey, I’m sure he didn’t really mean it.  How about I kiss you where it hurts? Now, how about I kiss Jacob where it hurts him.

No, he meant it! He said he doesn’t want me to be his brother! He said he will do it again!

You know, that means he is tired, and needs to spend sometime alone. Sometimes, when you are REALLY tired, you say things you don’t REALLY mean. I’m sure you know that, right? I know you are upset he said it. But let’s give him sometime alone, and let’s see what he says after he rests.

Notice, that you are being loving toward the “guilty child”. You even try to defend him, but you do NOT approve of his actions.  The actions/words were inappropriate. They should not be used, and the only excuse is that they were not meant for real.

Should you demand that the “guilty party” apologize?

No. You should not. An apology is meaningful only if it is sincere. A coerced apology devalues the concept and breeds mistrust.

Should your help your “guilty child” to arrive at sincere apology and warmer feelings toward his little sibling?

Absolutely.

How you do that?

Let your “guilty child” talk. Let’s say your 13 year old daughter  constantly yells at her 10 year old sister. You know why she does it? Because the sister is always on her nerves. Always. Acknowledge your “guilty” child’s feelings.  Invite her to talk to you.  When the two of you are alone, tell her:

I know it is difficult for you to get along with you sister. I know you feel annoyed and irritated. I’m so sorry she makes you feel this way.

Your child will feel relieved that her feelings are known and it’s okay to feel that way. She is still loved. After that inviting phrase let her talk. Let her tell you everything about how she thinks. Everything about those occasions when the younger one was teasing her or squeal on her. Everything about those occasions when you kissed the little one, but didn’t kiss the older one. Everything about the special birthday present she had, etc. etc. It might seem unfair to you. After all, you are treating them equally. You love your eldest to death! But drop your defenses for a moment, and just let your child talk.  After she finishes just tell her

I’m so sorry you feel this way. I love you very much. I will think about how to make things easier for you.

That’s all you have to say. This simple act of empathy, humanity and compassion is very likely to do miracles. Your “guilty” child will know that you know his feelings and still love him. You don’t think he is “guilty”, you appreciate how difficult it is for him.  You empathize. You still like him!  Your response will fill your child’s heart with warmth that more often than not will get transferred to his sibling.

I’ve seen it happening many times, once the blame is removed and the feelings are validated, the child that’s been ALWAYS starting the fight realizes that there is nothing to fight for.