Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Talk About Bullying With Your Kids

Bullying. Fist fights. Cyberbullying. Mean girls. Playground scuffles.

There are many labels and many variations on the same theme. Kids aren't always nice. Even nice kids get caught up in mean behaviors. We all remember being young and getting picked on. Or maybe we were the instigator of trouble. Chances are we've been on both sides of the line. Whatever roll we had, we know that this is not new behavior. But that doesn't make it any easier for parents to watch their kids suffer at the words and actions of other kids.

photo source: Shutterstock

We all need to talk with our kids often about their lives: what they are doing, how they feel about things, what they are looking forward to, dislikes, and more. Many kids clam up when it's time to open up, and sometimes the best thing for a parent to say is simply, "I'm here if you want to talk later."

Sometimes a general talk about bullying behaviors is a good idea, whether you suspect some bullying is going on or not. As with most things, a little prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you see your own child saying or doing something that could be interpreted as mean, pull them aside and point it out as soon as possible so the memory is fresh in their mind. Children and young teens often don't even realize what they've said or done can be taken in a negative way. Don't punish or yell at them for the words. Don't belittle them. Making them angry will only block their mind to seeing another point of view. Use this time as a teaching moment to point out what was said. They might not get it right away, but later you can role play and see if they can understand better in a different situation.

I've put together things to use as talking points. Don't try to tackle this all in one sitting. Talk about one subtopic at a time, but talk often.

What else would you add?

  • A small comment that seems to not be so bad to you can make someone else feel awful, even if you didn't intend for it to be. Those comments often come out of the blue and you don't give it a second thought, but the other person can dwell on its negativity for a long time. Even worse are the comments that are repeated over time. 
  • You cannot change what others do or say, but you can change how you respond to what they do and say. 
  • If you did or said something hurtful, it can't be taken back, but you can ask for forgiveness.
  • If you know you're tired or in a bad mood, try to be extra careful before you say anything. 
  • Don't send texts when you're angry, sad, or tired. 
  • Don't reply to a text that makes you angry, scared, or sad. Show an adult if it is a threatening text or if it really upsets you.
  • If you have negative thoughts, keep them to yourself. This might mean that you think someone got something they didn't deserve, someone's a teacher's pet, or their hair is awful. Whatever. Nothing good comes from sharing a negative opinion. In the end, people will see that you are negative and won't want to be around you as much if you share those thoughts. 
  • If in doubt about saying or sending something, save the thought overnight and see if you still think it needs to be said. Think about the wording to make it constructive and not destructive if it does need to be said. Talk to an adult if you're not sure.
  • If you wouldn't say something to someone's face, don't say it at all.
  • If you hear someone saying something negative, tell them to stop. Let them know you don't like hearing negative comments. This might teach them what they are saying is hurtful, because sometimes people don't realize what they are saying. They can learn to be a nicer person- what a great friend you can be to help them in this way! If they don't change their behaviors over a few days or weeks after being told what they are doing (depending on how severely or intentionally they are being hurtful) then you need to tell an adult. Doing nothing or agreeing with them puts you down to the level of being a bully, even if you didn't start it. If you don't feel comfortable telling them to stop, leave. If you stay, you’re part of the cruelty. Leaving means you refuse to be part. If they don't have an audience they won't continue.
  • If you realize that something you said was hurtful to someone, talk to them about it. If you have a hard time talking face to face, a nice note can work. Have a trusted adult help you wordsmith what you will say so the words don't get twisted. You must be careful to not put blame back on the person or put them down again when you apologize. It can be tricky to find the right words, but it is possible. 
  • Texting is a dangerous way to communicate emotional or sensitive issues. It is great for simple questions and answers, but short phrases in texts can easily be misunderstood or incomplete. If you are disagreeing with someone, do not use texts to talk it out. Remember that anything shared electronically is public and permanent. Even if you think you are sending it to just one person, there are many ways for it to be seen by others. These words and pictures can be very hurtful. Never send anything you wouldn't want to put on a sign on your front door for all to see.
  • Kids are often afraid to tell adults things for many reasons. It is okay to tell an adult if you are trying to help someone or yourself, but not if you are trying to get someone in trouble. Think about it. There's a difference. 

Positives drown out the negatives...

  • Every day write down (or discuss as a family) one thing that you really appreciate or are grateful for. It can be anything, but think of things that really mean something to you. It can be as simple as a person said something really nice when you were feeling down, or you did well on a test you studied hard for. It doesn't have to be a huge thing like winning the lottery, but it should be something that you really feel thankful or happy about. Focusing on the good things really helps keep life in a healthy perspective. It can help protect you from the negative effects of other people's behavior.
  • Smiling really can make you feel better, so try it.  
  • If you see a friend struggling because negative things have been said, say kind words to him or her. Be extra nice to him or her so they know they aren't alone.
  • Praise people when they say nice things. Recognize the kindness. Make it contagious!
  • Try to do something nice or say something nice to at least one person each day. Notice the response over time in yourself as well as others.

Everyone needs a circle of respect. You don't have to like everyone, but you need to treat everyone with respect.
  • Respect yourself enough to do what is right. Eat right. Exercise. Get 9-10 hours of sleep each night. Don't take unnecessary risks, such as smoking or drinking alcohol. 
  • Respect others. Say kind words and keep negative thoughts to yourself. Don't make anyone else do something they aren't comfortable doing. Don't make fun of people. 
  • Be sure people respect you. If someone says or does something that you feel is disrespectful, let them know. If they don't change their behaviors, avoid them and find other people to have fun with. Get away from people who make you uncomfortable or scared immediately. Find new friends if your friends repeatedly disrespect you. Get help from an adult when needed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teal Pumpkins for Non-Food Items at Halloween

Teal pumpkins have a new meaning this Halloween. Displaying one means that your home has non-food items available for the little goblins and superheroes as they come looking for treats.

Some might wonder why this is important.

Because what child likes to be left out of the fun of Trick or Treating?

And what happens if that child has severe food allergies, diabetes, or another condition that limits the types of foods the child can eat? Or what about all the parents who worry about the excessive intake of sugar this time of year?

Show parents that you are giving kids the option of a safe treat by displaying a teal pumpkin. There are many non-food treats that kids would love ~ stickers, pencils, glow sticks, bubbles, plastic jewelry, vampire teeth, pencil toppers, hair pieces, magic trick cards, and many more. Be sure you have some that are safe for toddlers.

Non-food items are better than nut-free, because kids have allergies to all kinds of things, and it is impossible to know in advance what all those allergies are. And for kids who must limit their overall sugar intake, non-food treats rule.

We put together some reusable teal pumpkins at the office. My initial plan was to spray paint some plastic pumpkins, but decided to use Duct tape to cover plastic pumpkins instead. Less smell, no time waiting for them to dry, and if we ever want to use them outside, they will be fairly weather-proof.

Pretty cute, huh?

And yes, plenty of people have asked if they are to celebrate our KC Royals. Not exactly. But hey, we can double their duty during Blue October!

Share this idea with your neighbors and friends. Use social media. Put a note in your neighborhood bulletin. Share with your school nurse. Ask stores to display a flyer.

Get the word out!

For more information and a free printable flyer (like the one pictured in our office above), see the original post where I learned about this great idea: The Teal Pumpkin Project

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why We Should Cherish the Gift of ADHD

Ok, so I know most parents of children with ADHD will read this title and think I'm crazy. Kids with ADHD wreck havoc on family life. Spouses with ADHD can do the same. How in the world can we cherish ADHD? It involves impairments in executive functioning... how can anything causing a broken executive functioning system be cherished?

photo source: Shutterstock

First, we must realize that everyone has gifts. ADHD has many variables in the way it shows up, so people with it also have many variations in gifts. But they do have gifts. I want parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncle, neighbors, teachers, and more to understand the value of these gifts and help children (and adults) recognize the benefits that people with ADHD can have. I'm not saying life for them is easy. It's not. They struggle with many things other people can easily manage. But they still have gifts. I want kids to grow up building their confidence by using their gifts, not by measuring their failures when they don't conform to norms.

People with ADHD tend to think outside the box. They have lots of energy. They are often very creative. We all think of their inattention and poor focus, but they also hyper focus on things they love. If they become passionate about something, they can sustain attention and work on it for long periods of time. If they use this hyper focus wisely (with setting time limits so they can do other daily activities) they can become an expert in that area. For young children the hyper focus tends to be on "kid" things, like trains or video games, but as they get older, allowing kids to experience activities that interest them will give the opportunity to find a life passion that could turn into a fantastic career.
"ADD people are high-energy and incredibly good brainstormers. They will often happily work 12 to 15 hours by choice. The business community should not fear ADD. Instead, they should see that they have a potential gold mine here.” - Dr. Kathleen Nadeau, psychologist
With all that good, we are more quick to see the negatives. Kids can lose their drive and ambition if they are not supported along the way. School is not favorable to kids with ADHD. Kids must follow rules. They need to color in the lines. They need to do all the steps in the order the teacher wants. Doing things someone else's way is not easy for kids with ADHD.

For example, kids need to learn the steps to solve a mathematical problem. They need to solve the math problem the way the teacher did it and show their work. They lose points if they get to the right answer but didn't show their work or if they get there a different way. The teacher might assume they cheated to get the answer, but some kids just skip steps. To me that might just show brilliance. They can skip steps. Their brain just "gets" to the right answer. I never could figure math out without being told how to do it, but there are kids out there who can. What a gift! Unfortunately they feel dumb if they can't show the steps just like the teacher taught. And it would be quite typical for a child with ADHD to have a brain that thinks this way if math is that child's gift. What a shame that our schools tend to make these kids feel inferior because in the end they might resist working on math and will never reach their potential.

For a fun look at ADHD that will continue to show you the better side of the diagnosis, check out this short documentary, A.D.D & Loving It. I promise it will have you laughing, but you will get a lot of great information from respected ADHD experts.

If your child struggles with the diagnosis, consider reading about real people who have done well despite (or due to) ADHD (link with many articles about successful people with ADHD and other learning disorders). Have them read Percy Jackson (link to a book review). He's a fictional character with ADHD and dyslexia that kids can look up to.

Throughout history many successful people have had ADHD. Your child with ADHD can also become a leader, an inventor, an artist, or an otherwise excellent contributor to society. We just need to help them find their gifts and work on their challenges so that they can flourish. Support them so they do not lose self confidence. Celebrate what they do right more than harping on what they do wrong. Encourage them to develop their talents. Help them find ways to accommodate for their struggles and to learn tools to help with some of the executive functioning problems they have. Cherish them!