Category: stress

Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums, for kids with autism or other disorders

Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums, for kids with autism or other disorders

calmroom1

This article was provided by Ryan Novas on behalf of National Autism Resources.

For those with an autistic child, it is a parent’s nightmare to face a tantrum with no way to calm them down.  That is why it is important to have a calming room or area set aside for your child that helps ease distress before a tantrum starts, or to send them to in order to ease the distress. Here are three versions of a calming room you can create to help when your child is about to have a tantrum.

The HUG room

calmroom6The hug room is popular for calming any child down, especially one on the spectrum. The hug room needs to have calming items that provide a sense of security and warmth, and a cocoon-like hug.  In this room, provide a weighted blanket or snug embracing vest (in case your child won’t lay down). Both of these are like bear hugs, which can be comforting and calming for children with autism.  Another great item to have in this space is a crash pad (used by many therapists and parents in combination with a weighted blanket), or a large or stuffed animal or pillow that the child can hold on to or hug.  You want to make sure the animal or pillow does not have parts that can be ripped off and chewed on or cause damage in another way.  You’ll also want all other items to be soft and safe to throw to protect the room or others in case your child does have a full-blown tantrum.

The SOOTHING SOUNDS & SCENTS room

calmroom4One thing that can work very well for some children, especially with tantrums brought on by overstimulation, is a room with soothing sensory experiences. In this room, block or mute outside sounds–TVs, stereos, and people walking or talking near the room so it’s as quiet as possible.  Once your child is in the soothing sounds room, you’ll need to have a place for them to relax or lay down.  You can use a bed, a crash mat, or something else they can fall asleep on or even just sit on with their eyes closed.  Silence or a soft gentle background ‘hum’  or soothing sound helps, such as  from meditation CDs, music or birds or flowing water.

calmroom3You can also try products like the Twilight Turtle which has soothing sounds and even includes a light show of constellations (also perfect for the 3rd room, below).  Noise blocking earmuffs and headphones make great additions for this room if your child needs to be removed from all noises.  These also provide a kind if ‘hug.’  You can combine them with a scent or scented toy or stuffed animals to calm your child.  Think about little pillows stuffed with lavender flowers, or an air freshener they like.

The VISUALLY CALMING room

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  • For a visually calming room, remove overly bright colors and small points like those from a static night-light that plugs into the wall.  Instead, find something like the Tranquil Turtle above or even liquid motion lamps or light projectors with calming colors and patterns. You can also try adding black out curtains on the windows to block bright sunlight–the point is to make light easy on their eyes. Darkness may help the lights do a better job.

calmroom2

The most important thing when creating a calming room is to make sure it meets the needs of your child. Include features that are most effective for him or her. Don’t forget to exclude or remove anything that is easily thrown or could hurt your child or others or cause damage to your house.

 

Addendum:  I’ve seen these other things used to calm people to prevent overstimulation or anxiety.  The first two were in a psychiatric unit for calming mental patients.

  1. A bubbling aquarium, or a digital aquarium on a computer monitor
  2. A video image of a burning log in a fireplace or the rippling surface of water
  3. A small motion toy powered by a solar cell
  4. A pendulum clock

 

Have you discovered something that works for your child?  Please share.


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How to help your child cope with anxiety

How to help your child cope with anxiety

anxiety2We all get anxious, but it becomes a “disorder” when it prevents a person from normal functioning. Anxiety and panic are very real, whether triggered by life in general or certain things such as phobias. Take it serious–it’s not something an extremely anxious child can “get over”.  Willpower alone does not work.

Anxiety disorders are also one of the most common psychiatric conditions in children and adolescents, but often go undetected and untreated. Early, effective treatment can reduce the negative impacts on academic and social functioning.

Excessive worry or anxiety about multiple issues, which lingers six months or more, can indicate an anxiety disorder. 

anxiety3Anxiety is often expressed in physical symptoms:

  • Anxious mood: excessive worry, anticipating the worst
  • Tension: startles or cries easily, restlessness, trembling
  • Phobias: fear of the dark, fear of strangers, fear of being alone, fear of animals, etc.
  • Insomnia: difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares
  • Intellectual difficulties: poor concentration, memory impairment
  • Depression: decreased interest in activities, inability to feel happy
  • Somatic complaints (muscular): muscle aches or pains, teeth grinding
  • Somatic complaints (sensory): ringing in the ears, blurred vision
  • Cardiovascular symptoms: tachycardia, palpitations, chest pain, feeling faint
  • Respiratory symptoms: chest pressure, choking sensation, shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: difficulty swallowing, nausea or vomiting, constipation, weight loss, abdominal fullness
  • Genitourinary symptoms: frequent or urgent urination, painful menstruation
  • Autonomic symptoms: dry mouth, flushing, pallor, sweating
  • Physical behavior: fidgeting, tremors, pacing
  • Other: risk of abusing alcohol in adolescence, cutting and other self-injury (not suicidal)

Cutting

Physical pain reduces psychological pain by shocking a person’s attention into the here-and-now.  Like a glass of water thrown into someone’s face when they are upset, the shock overrides inner turmoil, and releases adrenaline and endorphins.  It’s stimulating, even energizing.  According to statistics from research, cutting becomes addictive after about 14 episodes.

anxiety6True story: Laurel, age 14, cut herself regularly on her fingers, preferring to cut under her fingernails.  She hid the cuts and scabs with nail polish.  Her father eventually learned about this and asked her why: “I feel more calm because the sting feels good and distracts me.” A therapist recommended that Laurel draw “cuts” on herself with a red pen instead of a knife, and also wear a rubber band on her wrist or fingers and snap it when she wanted to feel a sting.

It is common for cutters to hide their scars or scabs under clothing if they think you will try to stop them, or they will cut in a place you won’t see unless they are unclothed.  They may also make an excuse about an injury if you do see visible cuts.  You can look for unexplained blood on clothing.  Don’t be afraid to ask if they are cutting; many young people have freely ‘confessed’ when asked.

Treatment for anxiety

anxiety5anxiety4A child or teen will often be diagnosed with more than one type of anxiety disorder, in addition to a psychiatric disorder–30% of all anxiety cases include a diagnosis of depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in combination with antidepressant medications “have consistently shown efficacy for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents.” Many anti-anxiety medications on the market are addictive, so a doctor or psychiatrist will be very cautious about prescribing them except on an as-needed basis. Treatment must also include parent involvement, especially if the parents are also anxious.

Cutting relieves psychological pain because it stimulates endorphins and adrenalin

Instead of cutting, allow your child to experience pain that is harmless, for example:  hold ice tightly in their hand as long as they can, taste vinegar or a hot pepper.  These may sound strange, but these are effective techniques used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to help an anxious person tolerate stress.  You find out more about CBT and DBT here:  Therapy types explained – DBT, CBT, CPS, and others

How you can help

  • Validate or affirm your child’s feelings. If he or she is worried, fearful, upset, or distraught, don’t insist they should not have their feelings, regardless of the reason. You can let your child know that feelings are normal and it’s OK to have a little fear at times.
  • Reduce their dependence on you. Help them learn to cope by offering less reassurance, which can undermine their commitment and skills for coping. Messages that “everything will turn out OK” teaches them that you will help them through all fears, but they need to learn that they can get through fear on their own.
  • Avoid helping too much. If you try to protect your child from all harm, it prevents them from becoming independent and keeps them socially immature; traits they need to learn in their teens. Learning and maturing require that kids handle challenges on their own by confronting small anxiety hurdles along the way.
  • Model how to cope*. A parent’s anxiety greatly aggravates their child’s anxiety.  If you are anxious, tell your child how you plan to cope with it. For example, “Sometimes I feel nervous when I have to climb a ladder, but I just need to take a deep breath, be careful, and do it. If I get too nervous, I can always climb back down, and try it again later.”

* Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. “Anxiety: Three Messages to Avoid Giving Kids”

Anti-anxiety diet

This article has a shopping list of foods and minerals that specifically target brin functions to increase calmness and reduce anxiety.  “Brain Food for Troubled Kids.

anxiety1Escape plans

If your child is in a situation where they are experiencing severe distress, always have an escape plan or an “out” so your child can leave the situation as quickly as possible. Prepare yourself ahead of time so you won’t feel inconvenienced when it happens, and accept this as part of their treatment needs.

  • This reduces anticipatory anxiety when they are exposed to stress, and teaches them how they can manage themselves on their own. This is also a teachable moment when you reinforce self-calming skills.
  • This builds trust in you and a willingness to listen to your guidance. (When I did this consistently, my child grew more comfortable in similar stressful situations.)


Don’t forget to take care of YOU

 

If you’ve found ways to reduce your child’s anxiety, share them in the Comments section for others to consider.

–Margaret

Is my teen ‘normal’ crazy or seriously troubled?

Is my teen ‘normal’ crazy or seriously troubled?

girl in rear view mirrorA high percentage of teenagers go through a rebellious or ‘crazy’ phase that is normal for their age and brain development. The difference between normal teen-crazy and truly troubled behavior is when the teenager falls behind his or her peers in critical areas.  At a bare minimum, a normal teen will be able to do the following:

  • Attend school and do most school work if they want to;
  • Have and keep a friend or friends their own age who also attend school;
  • Develop a maturity level roughly the same as his or her peers;
  • Exercise self-control when he or she wants to;
  • Demonstrate basic survival instincts and avoid doing serious harm to themselves, others, or property.
  • Enjoy activities that interest them.

boy in baseball capIt is normal for many teens to be inconsistent, irrational, insensitive to others, self-centered, and childish.  Screaming or swearing is normal–regard this the same as a toddler temper tantrum.  Outlandish imagination and ideas are normal in the adolescent phase too. These are behaviors that crazy teens grow out of unless something else is holding them back.  What you’d call troubled behavior, the kind that necessitates mental health treatment, is a matter of degree.

This is your challenge:  How do you tell the difference?  Troubled teens with mental disorders have the same challenging behaviors as ‘normal’ crazy teens… How do you know if they need serious mental health treatment?  Look for pervasive patterns of social and behavioral problems that stand out against their peers, patterns which persist or occur in different settings Look back at how long these patterns have been occuring.  Are the patterns repeating themselves, or are behaviors increasingly worse? Do you You your troubled teen is slipping behind and won’t grow out of it.

screaming boySigns of abnormal behavior

A sudden change in behavior.

  • An abrupt change in friends and interests, and loss of interest in things your teenager used to enjoy.  This might indicate the onset of a serious mental illness or drug use or both.
  • Unusual ideas, or obsessive beliefs, or unrealistic plans, see:  “Unsettling: what psychosis looks like in children and young people.”
  • Others think there is something abnormal about your child.  (e.g., your child’s friend comes forward, their teacher calls, other parents keep their children from your child, or someone checks to see if you’re aware of the nature of his or her behaviors).


Unsafe behaviors
 (“Unsafe” means there’s a danger of harm to themselves or others, property loss or damage, running away, seeking experiences with significant risk (or easily lured into them), abusing substances, and physical or emotional abuse of others.)

  • If a troubled teenager does something unsafe to themselves or others, it is not an accident, but something impulsive, intentional, and planned.
  • They have a history of intentional unsafe activities.
  • They have or seek the means to do unsafe activities.
  • They talk about or threaten unsafe behavior.


How psychologists measure the severity of a child’s behavior 

“Normal” is defined with textual descriptions of behaviors, and these are placed on a spectrum from normal to abnormal (or “severe emotional disturbance” – SED).  Below are a few examples of a range of behaviors in different settings.  These descriptions are generalizations and should not be used to predict your child’s treatment needs, but they do offer insight into severity and the need for mental health treatment.

School behaviors

Not serious – This child has occasional problems with a teacher or classmate that are eventually worked out, and usually don’t happen again.

Mildly serious – This child often disobeys school rules but doesn’t harm anyone or property.  Compared to their classmates, they are troublesome or concerning, but not unusually badly behaved. They are intelligent, but don’t work hard enough or focus enough to have better grades. They could use help from a school counselor, teachers, and possibly a therapist for themselves or the family.

Serious – This child disobeys rules repeatedly, or skips school, or is known to disobey rules outside of school.  They stand out in the crowd as having chronic behavior problems compared to other students and their grades are poor even if they’re very intelligent.  This child needs mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Very serious – This child cannot be in school or they are dangerous in school.  They cannot follow rules or function, even in a special classroom, or they may threaten or hurt others or damage property.  It is feared they will have a difficult future, perhaps ending up in jail or having lifetime problems.  If they cooperate, this child requires intensive mental health and or substance abuse treatment.

Home behaviors

boy looking right

Not serious – This child is well-behaved most of the time but has occasional problems, which are usually worked out.

Mildly serious – This child has to be watched and reminded often, and needs pushing to follow rules or do chores or homework.  They don’t seem to learn their lessons and are endlessly frustrating.  They can be defiant or manipulative, but their actions aren’t serious enough to merit intensive treatment, though a school counselor or private counselor would be very beneficial.

Serious – This child cannot follow rules, even reasonable ones.  They can’t explain or take no responsibility for their behavior, which can include damage to the home or property, or harm to themselves or others.  They need mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment.

Very serious – The stress caused by this child means the family cannot manage normally at home even if they work together.  Running away, damaging property, threats of suicide or violence to others, and other behaviors require daily sacrifices from all.  Police are commonly called.  This child needs intense psychiatric treatment and/or substance abuse treatment, and likely residential treatment.

Relationship behaviors

somber boyNot serious – The child has and keeps friends their own age, and has healthy friendships with people of different ages, such as with a grandparent or younger neighbor.

Mildly serious – This child may seem extra immature.  They will argue, tease, bully or harass others, and most schoolmates avoid them. They are quick to have temper tantrums and childish responses to stress that always require extra attention from parents and caregivers.

Serious – The child has no friends their age, or risky friends, and can be manipulative or threatening. They can have violent tendencies, poor judgment, and take dangerous risks with themselves and others.  They don’t care about others’ feelings, or may readily harm others physically or emotionally.  This child needs therapy and psychiatric mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment.

Very serious – The child’s behavior is so aggressive verbally or physically that they are almost always overwhelming to be around.  The behaviors are repeated and deliberate, and can lead to verbal or physical violence against others or themselves.  This child needs intensive psychiatric and/or substance abuse treatment.

Pay attention to your gut feelings.

If you’ve been searching for answers and selected this article to read, your suspicions are probably true.  Trust your intuition. Most parents have good insight into their child.  If you’re looking for ways to “fix” or change your child, there just aren’t any easy methods or medications or therapies to do this except over time.  Treatment means multiple life changes in addition to medication and therapy, and these can include help for insomnia, a change in diet, treatment for digestive system problems, and household changes to reduce stress.

Mental illness is serious and recovery is a long slow process.  It is  understandable if you want them to recover quickly–your stress can be intolerable.  Avoid pushing for recovery because it will only stress your child and lead you to disappointment.  Instead, cooperate with professionals (teachers, treatment providers), and prepare yourself for a parenting marathon.  What’s the best way to prepare?  Work hard on your own mental health and wellbeing.  Lower your expectations for steady progress.  This advice and wisdom from other parents may help you face this daunting task.

boy in plaid shirtEarly treatment, while your troubled teenager is young, can prevent a lifetime of problems.  Find a professional who will take time to get to know your child and you and the situation, and who will listen to what you have to say–a teacher, doctor, therapist, psychiatrist or other mental health practitioner.

–Margaret

Your comments are encouraged.  Your story helps others who read this article.


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Why teens run, and what you can do about it

Why teens run, and what you can do about it

It’s an emotional shock when your teen runs away the first time. Your feelings are complex:  anger at his or her rebelliousness; fear for his or her safety; shame that you may be called a “bad” parent or that your behavior caused your child to run.  Runaway teens also have complex reasons for running, and they may or may not be the parents’ fault.

Why they run

Basic teenage development All teens go through a stage where they define themselves as unique, and start demanding two things: 1. freedom; 2. a say in their life.  These are necessary and important for maturity—some do it gracefully and some don’t.  Even teens with a mental illness will go through this normal phase.

Rebellion Most rebellious teens do not run away because they may have better survival instincts.  If a teen is emotionally behind their peers, using drugs or alcohol, and part of a risky crowd that encourages them and undermines their parents’ authority, it’s likely they’ll run.

Mental disorders Mental health problems magnify any or all negative aspects of rebellion and immaturity.  They also disrupt a teen’s thought patterns and cause irrational ideas and fantasies.  They have a high likelihood of running.

Family stress This is the biggest reason: “65% of youth reported running away because of family conflict.”* Think about what’s going on at home that a teenager can’t handle (they are not as strong as they act).  Is there non-stop fighting between members?  Are they being nagged or constantly criticized, and not shown support or love?  Like all children, teens still deserve support and love.  Are they being bullied, or physically or sexually abused?  *National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY

What you might observe that foretells running

  • Changes in behaviors or normal patterns mean something is wrong.
  • Teens who suddenly stop eating or begin to overeat, sleep all day or never sleep, spend all their time with friends, or never want to leave their room.  Sudden mood swings mean teens are unsettled and restless, and they’re not coping well with stress.
  • Outward rebellious behavior is often the start of trouble, but not always.  Inward rebellion is also a problem, such as depression and isolating from their family.
  • Falling grades, truancy, school behavior, and breaking house rules are all symptoms that your child is having problems.
  • Disclosure of intentions to run away.  Some teens will hint that they want to run away and some will outright threaten their family with running.
  • Expressing fantasies that they will ‘divorce’ their family.  Teens often believe they can be legally emancipated before age 18, skip high school and get a GED* and a job, and be free.  A juvenile court judge told me otherwise!  The legal test for emancipation is very restrictive.  *General Educational Development exam–a less valuable substitute for a high school diploma.
  • Accumulation of money and possessions. To survive, runaway teens need resources. Some prepare for their run by saving any money they receive.  They might keep a bag or backpack of clothes and food in the closet to make a quick escape.
  • Risky friends have a very powerful influence on the decision to run away.  Relationships like these almost always include substance abuse.  The risky associates include adults who undermine the parents, and who coach teens how to get away from home. They provide them with cigarettes and drugs, and possibly take advantage of them.
  • Full time access to unmonitored and unrestricted communication, and easy access to transportation, especially a car or an at-risk acquaintance with a car.

What to do if you suspect your teen might run away

“Clearly and calmly let your teen know you are concerned about them, and that their behavior makes you afraid they might run away from home. Invite them to talk with you or someone else about what is troubling them and be supportive of finding positive ways of dealing with their stress.”

Let them know you don’t want them to run away and you’re committed to helping the family work things out, and let them know you are concerned about their safety.

If your teen is intent on running away, give them the phone number of the National Runaway Switchboard* so that they can find safe options while out on their own.”  This does not mean you approve.  A good analogy is informing your kids about contraceptives even though you don’t want them to have sex.  *1-800-RUNAWAY

Give them some facts: Your teen should know the laws, and they should know about youth shelters.  This may help them recognize that you are concerned for their safety… just like you told them.

– – – – – – – – – –

Are you thinking about running away?

Are you worried about staying with a friend and getting your friend or their parents into trouble? Does it matter if you’re reported as a runaway or not? Deciding on whether or not to run away and where to go can be difficult. Here’s what you should know:

  • In most states it is not illegal to run away.
  • If you leave home without permission or stay away longer than you’re supposed to, and you are under the age of 18, your parents can file you as a runaway with the police.
  • If the police find you, you will be taken home or to police headquarters, and your parents will be called to pick you up.
  • If you are staying at a friend’s house or somewhere your parents didn’t give you permission to be, they can face possibly legal consequences.
  • If you are filed as a runaway, your parents can press charges against those allowing you stay with them or abiding you.
  • If you go to a youth shelter, generally they have to contact your parents within a certain amount of time to obtain consent for your stay.  Often, you are allowed to stay only 72 hours (3 days) before you must return home.  This gives you and your parents time to cool off.
  • If you are staying with a friend, in most cases the police are only allowed to do a courtesy check; which means they are not allowed to search your friend’s home without a warrant.
  • It is always best to check with your local non-emergency police hotline or legal aid when it comes to specifics because the law varies.

Hopefully the information listed here answered some of the questions you may have had. If not, you can give us a call and we can help.  1-800-RUNAWAY

(Parent: list the names and addresses of local youth shelters here—not adult shelters)

 – – – – – – – – – –

Get to know their friends and their friends’ parents.  If anyone who knows them is concerned about your child’s safety, they may help you if there’s a problem.  Other parents can keep an eye out for your child as well as their own.

Statistics indicate that most children stay in the same general area that they live in. Some go only as far as a friend or relative.  You must know where and be able to communicate with the responsible adults.

Get to know the at-risk youth

and adults that your teen associates with. “At-risk kids hang out together, they know each other’s stories (true or not), protect each other, and keep parents out of the loop.  What if parents got together too, shared stories, and supported each other?  Everyone has the same goal of protecting their child.  Kids’ unsafe plans and activities are no match for the many eyes and ears (and cleverness and wisdom) of all their parents combined.”  Gang up on your kids: Parent networks for tracking at-risk children

If your teen is staying at a friends’, this may be helpful.  You might negotiate with the parent for a friendly arrangement for ‘shelter’ until things calm down.  If you cannot communicate with this parent, they may be guilty of custodial interference.  This is illegal and should be reported to the police.  More often than known, some parents actively encourage other parents’ children to leave home, as well as provide them with alcohol and drugs.

What to do if they run

Notify the police and file a missing persons report.  If your teen has a mental disorder, bring this up on the call and be specific (he needs to take medications, she has a history of assaulting others, he has threatened suicide, she might be out of control and unable to respond if you shout at her…).

Are you worried that your police report will go on your child’s record?  Don’t.  Even if your child is charged and convicted as a juvenile, his or her record can be expunged (erased) at age 18 with good behavior.

The National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY operates a 24-hour confidential hotline for teens and their families. Leave a message with them for your child, www.nrscrisisline.org. They also provides bus tickets to get kids back home to their families

Spread the word among friends and your child’s friends that you reported your child, and ask them to ask your child to call or give a message to you if they see them.  Also spread the word that protecting a runaway is a crime.

Track.  “Friend” your child on Facebook, or find someone who can and will report to you.  Set your computer up to track and store web search history and email.  Search their room.  Get their cell phone contacts if possible, track their GPS location by cell phone, and get every address and phone number of every friend.  All of this is legal.

Investigate.  This is not a situation where you respect your teen’s privacy.  Besides tracking their activities above, drive around and look for them.  Be sure they and their friends see you because then the risky friends will avoid your child.

Check in with your child’s teachers or counselor for any information that might be useful.

Take care of yourself and your other children. This is a difficult time and you don’t have to deal with it alone. Turn to people you know and trust for support. The NRS is available 24 hours every day and offers information and support for parents too.

Ask yourself the hard questions:  Is life at home that bad?  Is there abuse (emotional or physical)?  What changes am I willing to make to reduce my child’s stress at home or at school.

Good news from statistics

  • 85% parents reported that the issues that led the youth to run away were somewhat, mostly, or completely resolved within a month.
  • Most parents reported that their youth used alcohol or other substances less once they returned (68%).
  • Most reported they engaged in physical fights less (64%).
  • Most reported they broke the law less (66%).
  • Of those who ran once, 75% did not leave home again.

Creative things other parents did that worked

True story.  A father made business cards to give to everyone who was ever in contact with his 15-year-old daughter.  It had her photo, contact information, and the message that he and her mother loved (name) and wanted to ensure her safety and appropriate behavior.  He made a point of personally visiting with her friend parents where daughter went.  She hated her dad for this, but never ran again, and every time she visited a friend, the parents always reminded her to call her own parents and report her whereabouts

True story.  Two 13-year-old girlfriends decided it would be fun to run away and party.  During the week they went missing, their frantic mothers collaborated on a ‘full court press’ to notify others and get their daughters back safe and sound.  They printed flyers with photos of their daughters, their phone numbers, and offered a $25 reward, no questions asked.  These were given to the police, posted at school, at youth shelters downtown, and at business hangouts the girls were known to frequent (a mall, a fast food place, a big box retailer).  Both girls were eventually returned safe and sound, and they were really angry.  Apparently, street kids and risky adults spurned the girls because of the flyers, for fear of attracting the attention of law enforcement.

–Margaret

 

Do you have a runaway story?  Please comment on what worked to return your child, or what didn’t work.  Thank you.

ARE YOU OVERREACTING?

ARE YOU OVERREACTING?

Your child’s incessant problems and scares can literally give you symptoms of PTSD and anxiety disorder that you can’t control.

Like many parents, you might go to extremes to control situations so they won’t get out of hand. You don’t intend overreacting, but so much frustration has built up that any little irritation sets you off like rocket.  You’re battling to make things stop now.

Overreactions are emergency alarms without the emergency.

You can’t see it coming, but then it happens.  In an instant you are on an unstoppable mission to fix, contain, punish, or halt anything that upsets your sense of well-being, imagined or not. Overreacting is a sure sign of stress and that you need a break!  Overreactions may also come from the anger of losing the day you planned, or the life you planned and came to expect.

Dad, project strength on the outside, even when you don’t feel it on the inside. Relieve your tension later, away from the family or co-workers, by doing something physical, for example.

If you are overreacting to gain control, you are actually losing control.  Your parenting choices need considered, thoughtful decisions instead of an automatic 911 call. When your blood boils, you’re not aware how your behavior creates a toxic environment around you and the rest of your family… nor how it worsens a troubled kid’s behavior.

  • Do you worry even when things are fine?  Do you find things to worry about that aren’t problems?
  • Are you so stressed and traumatized that you just can’t stand it anymore and want the behavior to stop immediately, yesterday?
  • Is every little minor thing a reason to pull out the heavy artillery?
  • Do you overwhelm difficult situations with your own anxieties or explosions?

It’s common for parents with really difficult kids to get stuck this way, so forgive yourself if you overreact, and stop and look at what this does to your relationships and interactions with your troubled child.

  • Do you stop eating, or start drinking, when your stress is just an overreaction to a situation you’ve already handled?
  • If you’ll do anything to make your child stop a challenging behavior, might you go too far with little things? Will you call the police because they slammed the door?
  • When others hear you constantly complaining, might they consider that the problem is you?
  • Do you mirror your child’s bad behavior to show them what it looks like? Are they interpreting this the way you hope, or are you lowering yourself?
Mom, you know this helps no one. You have every reason to “lose it” but find a safer way to relieve tension. Get away occasionally, or distract your worries with friends or an activity you enjoy.

Overreactions sabotage opportunities for improvement. They terrify everyone , and your family starts to hide things from you, or downplay things, just so you won’t overreact or worry yourself to death. When family members feel a need to keep secrets, the isolation feeds your worry. Members will smooth over problems or distract you with lightness to counterbalance your fearful or explosive state of mind. Now you are less in control and receive less of the support you need for your own well-being.

If you feel paralyzed by worry or lash out as a way of coping, you are disabling yourself stress and/or depression. Before you completely lose control and your self-respect and parental authority, take care of yourself and get help for both your physical and emotional exhaustion. Check in with others and ask them if you are thinking clearly or realistically.

You must be emotionally centered and healthy or you will never be able to help your child become healthy.

Remember, your child and family need you to be 100% together.  Let some things go for the greater peace.  Center yourself so you can notice when your child is doing well and offer praise.  When centered, you are flexible, patient, compassionate, and forgiving.   This draws people towards you, to look after you and care for you.  Go ahead, aim for sainthood.  Just starting down that path would relieve everyone else’s stress over you.

–Margaret

Animals that make good therapy pets

Animals that make good therapy pets

An amazing variety of creatures make good therapy animals:  dogs, cats, “pocket pets” like ferrets, birds, and reptiles are therapeutic for children who struggle with any disability:  physical, behavioral, and developmental. A calm smiling dog, an affectionate cat, or a small pet a child can hold is a great therapist. The right therapy animal offers unconditional love and affection, and the ideal animal makes your child feel special.  Measurable benefits have been seen with many creatures “ranging from dogs, cats, birds, and fish to goats and snakes.”

If you are considering therapy pet, strategically pick the right animal.

When identifying a pet, monitor your child’s interactions when they are first introduced to the creature. Be honest with yourself, the therapy animal you think is best may not be the best for your child. Hyperactive and barking dogs, aloof or mean cats, fearful hamsters, and noisy birds don’t work and can be outright stressful. Pay attention—people are often unaware how much stress a fussy pet causes with distractions and chaos.

What is the right animal?

  • The animal’s natural manner fits your child’s emotional needs.
    • Quiet–if your child easily experiences sensory overload;
    • Soft, active, or affectionate–traits that help a withdrawn or anxious child;
    • Interactive–if your child needs to maintain interest or needs attention: a bird that speaks, or a dog that follows instructions;
  • The animal likes to be with your child for long periods. The animal has a preference for your child.
  • Your child is able to treat the pet humanely. (Animals can be abused consciously or unconsciously by troubled children.)
  • You appreciate the animal too and aren’t concerned about mess, smell, hair, or feathers in your home. You should consider yourself the one responsible for its care. This pet is a therapist first, and not a lesson in responsibility. Your child can learn responsibility another way.
  • The child’s pet should still be welcome and cared for if it doesn’t work out for your child. If it’s not wanted, consider a rescue shelter or humane society that can find a caring owner.

Dogs

Most people are familiar with therapy dogs. Their natural affinity with humans is the reason why dogs are the most popular of pets.  And research shows dogs reduce depression and anxiety.  If you are interested in getting a puppy to train as a therapy animal, you can find instructions on how to train certified therapy dogs, and pick up tips for training your dog to fit your home.  (Real certified dogs need significantly more training so they can trusted in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.) “How to train a therapy dog”

Birds

The parrots and parrot-like or hooked beak birds are smart and can have marvelous personalities.  They will affectionately bond with their owner for life. These colorful birds can be trained to perch on a finger or shoulder and spend time with people, other birds, even dogs and cats! The best low-cost option is a parakeet, a low maintenance, happy chirpy creature, easily tamed, and easily trained to talk.

“Patients hold and stroke cockatiels so tame that they often fall asleep in a human lap.” Maureen Horton, the founder of “On a Wing and a Prayer” tells of “non-responsive patients in wheelchairs who suddenly begin speaking again while petting a cockatiel as their relatives weep at the transformation.” She described bringing her birds to visit a group of violent teenage delinquents who clamored to touch a cockatoo named Bela. “For a few minutes,” Horton says, “these hardened criminals became children again.”
— “On a Wing and a Prayer,” a pet-assisted therapy program, uses birds to visit patients.” Connie Cronley, Tulsapeople.com

Fish

Fish can’t be held, but few things beat the visual delight and serenity of a beautiful aquarium.  Fish have personalities and form interactive communities in a tank, which are fun to watch, and individuals are fun to name. There is a reason aquariums are common in waiting rooms and clinics, lobbies, and hospitals.  They help people relax and calmly pass the time.

“Pocket pets”

Little mammals that like to be cuddled and carried around, often in pockets, are good therapy:  ferrets, mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and very small dogs. It is best to select a young animal that is calm and won’t bite, and handle it gently and often so that it becomes accustomed to being held. Challenges with many pocket pets include running away or escaping their enclosures, urine smell, and unwanted breeding. As the main caretaker, you will want to be comfortable with their needs.

Reptiles

Snakes and lizards are also excellent pets and demand little attention, and they are readily accepted by children. My bearded dragon, Spike, comes with me to my support groups. Dragons are a very docile species–safe with young children and popular with teens and parents. Other good species are iguanas, and geckos.

“I’d have to say my Leopard Gecko Mindy is very much therapy for me. She really is my therapy lizard, she wants to sit with me when I’m upset and tolerates me, which even my two dogs and cat won’t. She’ll just find a place on me and curl up and be like “I’m here, I won’t leave you.””
–User name “Midori”, Herp Center Network

Horses

Properly trained horses are extraordinarily healing. certified horse therapy programs are considered medically effective treatment and often covered by health insurance. Horses benefit disabled children and teens across the board: those with physical disabilities such as paralysis and loss of limbs, mental/cognitive disabilities such as development disabilities and retardation, and children with mental and behavioral disorders. The horses are selected for their demeanor and trained to reliably respond appropriately to children who may misbehave. Therapists are specially trained also to collaborate with the horse as a team. Horses have a “large” serenity and a lack of concern with the child’s behavior. They are also intelligent and interactive like dogs, provide a warm soft hide to lean on, and they empower their riders. A child on a horse will connect with the animal’s rhythmic bodily movement, which stimulates the physical senses and keeps the child physically and mentally balanced. According to parents and children in these programs, horses change lives.  New research proves horses are genuinely effective:  Study Suggests That Equine Therapy is Effective.

–Margaret

How has your child’s pet improved mental health?
Your comments help others who read this article.


The science behind animal therapy

Are dogs man’s best therapist?
Psychiatric Times. H. Steven Moffic, MD. February 29, 2012

Note: this is an excellent article by a psychiatrist who moved from disbelief to belief that dogs have a genuine therapeutic value, healing some of the most psychiatrically challenging children. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/blog/moffic/content/article/10168/2040421


Children’s best friend, dogs help autistic children adapt (summary)
Journal: Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2011, Universite de Montreal

Dogs may not only be man’s best friend, they may also have a special role in the lives of children with special needs. According to a new study, specifically trained service dogs can help reduce the anxiety and enhance the socialization skills of children with Autism Syndrome Disorders (ASDs). The findings may lead to a relatively simple solution to help affected children and their families cope with these challenging disorders.

“Our findings showed that the dogs had a clear impact on the children’s stress hormone levels,” says Sonia Lupien, senior researcher and a professor at the Université de Montréal Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital, “I have not seen such a dramatic effect before.”


Pet therapy: how animals and humans heal each other. (summary)
by Julie Rovner, March 5, 2012, National Public Radio

“A growing body of scientific research is showing that our pets can make us healthy, or healthier. “That helps explain the increasing use of animals — dogs and cats mostly, but also birds, fish and even horses — in settings ranging from hospitals and nursing homes to schools, jails and mental institutions.”

“In the late 1970s that researchers started to uncover the scientific underpinnings animal therapy. One of the earliest studies, published in 1980, found that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t. Another early study found that petting one’s own dog could reduce blood pressure.

“More recently, says Rebecca Johnson, a nurse who heads the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, studies have been focusing on the fact that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin. “That is very beneficial for us,” says Johnson. “Oxytocin helps us feel happy and trusting.” Which, Johnson says, may be one of the ways that humans bond with their animals over time.”


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Solid Wisdom for Parents of Troubled Children and Teens

Solid Wisdom for Parents of Troubled Children and Teens

 

Other parents have gone before you and faced the challenges that come with a very troubled child.  Get a jump on your task and learn from other’s experience. Wisdom is out there.  You can avoid common mistakes and the stress they cause everyone.

First things first:

You are not alone. All families experience the same fears no matter what the child’s challenges: guilt, anger, frustration, failure, and mental and physical exhaustion.

There is a way. The steps to finding peace in the home are the same for all families and all children regardless of diagnosis

You can start now. You can improve behavior without having a diagnosis, and the techniques work for the majority of difficult children.

There is reason for HOPE. Your child has the capacity to do well . With your support and treatment, difficult children improve.

Have realistic expectations: They may need extra support into their 20’s… but that’s OK. There’s time to catch up with their peers on education and life skills.

Plan ahead for a crisis, brainstorm options for an effective response and create a checklist. You can’t think clearly in a crisis that you didn’t see coming.

What helps your child in the long-term

Pay attention to his or her STRENGTHS not weaknesses. Always find something great about them.

Guide them to their gifts. Give them ample opportunity to do what they are already good at.  They may not be able to be well-rounded, so don’t force them.

What helps you day by day

  • Be your own cheerleader. Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control.”
  • Regularly talk through your feelings with others who understand and won’t judge.
  • Get a life, maintain personal interests, and occasionally set thoughts of the child aside without guilt.
  • Commit to doing the best you can, and accept that this enough – plan to let go someday.

You’ll know you’ve done a good job when your child is able to take responsibility for their own care. This is a monumental personal achievement!

How to calm down a tense situation 

In a neutral patient voice, give directions or requests. You will need to repeat yourself, calmly, several times. Your voice should not communicate strong emotions. Tone of voice, not words or volume, is what creates a bad response.

Don’t rush calm. Give the child plenty of time to unwind and settle. Calm is more important than quick.

Ensure there’s a calm place to go – a time-out space, even for you.

Bring in help – a therapy animal or another person who can calm your child if you are not able to calm down.

Reduce sensory chaos in your home:  noise, disorder, family upheavals, the intrusive stimulation of phones and excessive screen time.

Ideas for managing resistance or defiance

You want your child to be resistant to the negative things they’ll face in life. It represents willpower, and is a strength to cultivate… but only certain defiance.

Be quiet and LISTEN. If you respond, address how they feel underneath, not what they say.

Use reverse psychology–ask them to do something you don’t want them to do, so they can defy you and do the opposite.

Choose your battles. Let them think they’ve won on occasion.

For an ODD child, give multiple instructions at once, including things they do and don’t want to do. It becomes too much work to sort out what to defy and your child may do as told.

Actively ignore – for a child who demands inappropriate attention, stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, act like you can’t hear. They can eventually give up. Works best for ages 2 – 12.

Mix it up – Be unpredictable. Give a reward sometimes but not all the time. Try new ways to use incentives or set boundaries and structure.

9 common parenting mistakes

If you’ve done any of these, don’t worry.  Forgive yourself.

1. Treat your household like a democracy. Your child should  have an equal say in decisions.

2. Find fault with them and tell them about it repeatedly. If they do something positive, it’s not good enough.

3. Pretend your child has no reason for their behavior. Ignore his or her needs or challenges. Are they being bullied? Are they having a hard time sleeping? Is your home too chaotic?

4. Make rules and only enforce them once in a while, or have consequence come later.

5. Treat your child like a rational mature adult.  Make long explanations to a 3-year-old about your reasoning. Assume a teen wants to be just like you.

6. Expect common sense from children who are too young (5), or from young adults with a long history of not showing common sense.

7. Keep trying the same things that still don’t work. Repeat yourself, scream, show how frustrated you are with them.

8. Jump to conclusions that demonize your child. “You are manipulative and deceitful,” “You don’t listen to me on purpose,” “I’m tired of your selfishness…”

9. Make your child responsible for your feelings. If you lose your cool, insist they apologize.

Not problem children, but problem symptoms 

When you observe these behaviors, remember that many of them are normal for children from early adolescence into adulthood. For troubled children in particular, expect these and don’t be frustrated by them.  What you focus on instead are things pertaining to their safety, education, and physical and emotional health.  If these are going along OK, you can work through the other problems with immaturity later.

Problem symptoms

Does not show common sense and is not influenced by reason and logic (irrational because are thinking is driven by: chemistry, neurological issues, past trauma…)

Has no instincts for self-preservation, and poor personal boundaries (brain disorders delay or limit their capacity for social learning and awareness)

Has no well-adjusted friends, or has friends who lead them in risky directions (they’re being bullied? good friends leave because of their behavior? risky friends share and understand their problems? risky friend are using them?)

Doesn’t respond to rewards and consequences (rational thinking competes with mental noise in their head: paranoia, anxiety, panic, fear, depression. ADD, ADHD)

Has limited character strengths of honesty, tolerance, respect for others, self-control (social learning is delayed or nonexistent)

Seems lazy or apathetic or lacking in willpower (clinical depression, marijuana use, or the result of taking their phone to bed)

Does not make plans they can realistically achieve, hangs on to fantasies (“magical thinking”, mania or hypomania, anxiety, ADHD…)

Acts younger than their peers, they will not be ready for adulthood by 18  (common to many normal children, your child may grow out of it or improve with treatment)

Lives in the here and now; doesn’t think about the past or future (also common to many children, they may grow out of it or improve with treatment) 

Does not notice or care about their effect on others.  (self-absorption is normal to some degree, but not in excess, instead it could be from:  depression, schizophrenia or psychosis, autism spectrum disorders, narcissism, or many other disorders)

Make these your priorities, in order

1. You and your primary relationship(s)

2. Basic needs and responsibilities: housing, clothing, food, income, health

3. Your challenging child or teen.

Ineffective:  This is often how parents end up spending their time when a child has a mental illness. Make the slices equal in size–not too much for one, not too little for others.

 

Good:  The really important foundations in your family need adequate time.  Don’t let your child dominate.  Everyone will do better when your household is stable.

Lean in.  One day at a time.  Deep breath.  Hope is. 

 

–Margaret

 

What to do when they stop listening

What to do when they stop listening

You don’t need to be this frustrated

At some point in their development, all kids stop listening. It’s frustrating but normal. There are lots of good advice for getting normal children and teens to listen, or at least follow the rules and directions given by the parent. But it’s different when your child has serious behavioral disorder and when their behaviors are extreme or outright risky. Your priority may be to prevent destructive behavior and family chaos when they hate you, blame you, or are willing to take extreme risks. Then who cares about the dishes or homework?

First things first, avoid upsetting yourself.

Avoid repeating things over and over, raising your voice, or expressing your frustration. It really matters.  This stresses you as much as it stresses them. Children and teens with disturbances have a hard time tracking, and it may be pointless to expect them to listen. Your child or teen is overwhelmed by brain noise and does not hear even hear you.

But what if they are refusing to listen?  That’s a different issue.  They ARE listening, and they are definitely communicating back to you.  This is resistance and defiance.  (see Managing resistance – tips and advice )

Things to do when they stop listening

Use technology: texting and email.

This mother should be texting her daughter instead

Therapists encourage high-conflict parent-teen pairs to communicate exclusively using email and texts, even if the parties are in close proximity, like at home together, like even on the same room! Think about this. You are using their chosen medium; you can keep it brief and concise; both you and your child have time to reflect on your response. Your conversation is documented, right there for both of you to track. No one is screaming or repeating themselves or using angry tones of voice.

Word of caution

Watch what you write. Don’t use emotionally charged words. Be sure to read texts and emails over and over before sending!

“The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2006 revealed that studies show e-mail messages are interpreted incorrectly 50% of the time.”

Move somewhere closer or farther, change your body language, no glaring

Instead of communicating with your voice, use your body. For some children and teens, an arm around their shoulders calms them quickly. Or try standing calmly and quietly. Or put some distance between you and your child’s personal space, even if it means stopping and getting out of the car and taking a short walk. Experiment to see what works for your situation.

Use a third-party

Maybe you are the wrong person to carry the message and settle a tense situation. Don’t be too proud to admit that, for whatever reason, your child will not listen to you no matter how appropriately you modify your approach. So use a substitute or third-party. Is there another person who has a better rapport and can convince your child to complete a chore, do homework, leave little sister alone—a spouse, a grandparent, a teacher or counselor, a therapist? What about a friendly animal, live or stuffed? For young children, you can bring out Kitty and ask her to tell Joey that mommy and daddy only want him to do this one simple chore.

Draw a picture, make a sign

As a young child, I recall my parents hounding me for something, I don’t even remember what.  Then they’d ask, “What do you want me to do, draw a picture?” Well, yes in fact, I understood pictures and they didn’t frighten me as much as my parents yelling at me. Pictures and signs work, put them up where the family can see them (and your troubled child won’t feel singled out). Maybe a funny comic gets a point across in a non-threatening way.  Some sign ideas: “It’s OK to be Angry, not Mean,” “STOP and THINK,” “Our family values Respect and Kindness,” “This is a smoke-free, drug-free, and a-hole free home.”

Time outs for you
.

Take your own sweet time to calm down and think things through what to say when you’re challenged by your offspring. Consider how you’ll respond to swearing. Put him or her on hold. Don’t return texts or email right away, “I’m busy and I’ll reply in 30 minutes.” Be specific on time, then follow through, or they might learn to blow you off with the same casual phrase, expecting you to forget. 

A Precaution

Watch your tone of voice

We are hardwired to detect emotions communicated through tone. Even infants respond to tone of voice even though they haven’t learned language.

From infancy, we are wired to pick up emotions in the voice—it’s literally in our brain.  Your tone is very powerful and can be calming or destructive. Think about asserting strength and caring in your voice without lecturing. Be assertive but forgiving. Be firm and not defensive. Don’t get caught apologizing for upsetting your child or justifying your rules. 90% of parents know the right thing to say, but its common to say it the wrong way.

Is your child bullying you with their behavior?

I’ve observed child verbally bully and abuse their parents. This is not communicating and not negotiable. You have options for standing up to this without making things worse. Temporarily block their email or calls, or ignore and let them go to voicemail. Declare bullying unacceptable. Pull rank and apply a consequence. You cannot let their harassment continue because they will use it on others.

About that mean-spirited voicemail or email.

When you get an ugly message, tell yourself you are hearing from a scared, frightened person, and you’re the one whose feelings they care about the most. See this as a good thing. They are trying to communicate but it’s mangled and inappropriate. You want them to stay in contact and engage with you even when its negative. When a disturbed child stops communicating is when you must worry.  It hurts, but your hurt will pass.  You can handle it.  They will still love you and some day they will show you.  Be patient.
If the things they communicate hurt.

It is best that you take your feelings out of the picture and seek other sources of affirmation and support—this can’t come from your child. If they write “I hate you,” maybe they are really saying “you make me mad because you are asking me to do something I can’t handle now.”


Good luck out there,
–Margaret

 

Please share your comments. They help other parents who read this article.

The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders

The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders

Parents!  Want to know how to make it?  These commandments were written for parents with children with serious (physical) disabilities, but they apply to you too.

  1. Thou art thy child’s best and most consistent advocate.
  2. Thou hast valuable information about your child. Professionals need your input.
  3. Thou shalt put it in writing and keep a copy.
  4. Thou shalt not hesitate to contact a higher authority if you can’t get the help you need.
  5. Thou shalt keep records.
  6. Thou shalt seek out information on your child’s condition.
  7. Thou shalt have permission to be less than perfect.
  8. Thou shalt not become a martyr, thus, thou shalt take a break now and then.
  9. Thou shalt maintain a sense of humor.
  10. Thou shalt always remember to tell people when they are doing a good job.
  11. Thou shalt encourage thy child to make decisions, because one day, he or she will need to do so on their own.
  12. Thou shalt love thy child, even when they don’t seem lovable.

– – – – – – – This is a revised version of “The 12 Commandments…” published by the Pacer Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) for children with physical and medical disabilities. www.pacer.org.

Practical ways to calm yourself, your child, your family

Practical ways to calm yourself, your child, your family

You need peace and calm in your household, and you can provide the touch that supports all other approaches:  Therapy; disciplined meditation and yoga, anti-anxiety medications (don’t be afraid to use them), but they’re not the best long-term solution.  There are proven techniques for calming yourself, your stormy child, and all other family members.

1. Calming yourself in the tension-filled moment

Become consciously aware of your tension and ask:  What are my options for coping with my tension right now?  Brainstorm options ahead of time and create a list because you won’t be able to process in the moment.  For example:  take a very deep breath, then silently count to 10 backwards.  Another idea:  eliminate distractions.  Turn off the cell phone, send others out of the room, pull the car over, turn off the music…  You must strategically choose your response to a common situation.

Ways to calm your child in the moment

Note:  the techniques are different for each child depending on their disorder and its characteristics.  Experiment to find out what works with your child’s typical patterns at home, in school, with others, and in other situations that are stressful for them.

In a steady voice, give them directions or requests to calm down.  You will need to repeat yourself periodically as they struggle with their inner storm.  If you ask them to move to another space or use their own calming, skills, use your body language to initiate the act.  If you ask them to take a deep breath, do it yourself.  If it helps them to punch a pillow, punch it yourself and hand it over.

2. Be your own cheerleader.

Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control;” “I am the calm upon the face of troubled waters…”  Have fun with it.

3. Give your child a calm place to go.

There’s nothing like a kid cave, or a blanket fort, a special garden spot, or other time-out space, even the car.  My personal favorite is a tree house.

4. Give them extra time to “change channels”

An anxious child or teen is stuck in a fear loop, and has great difficulty moving from one environment to another–something called “transitioning.”  Some typical transition problems occur when: coming home from school; getting out of the car after a long ride; going to bed after a stimulating activity; and waking up in the morning.  Plan extra time for transitions.  If they are too wound up but not hurting anything, wait them out.

5. Redirect their focus to physical action.

Draw attention to something to distract them in the moment (this is a useful kind of channel-changing).  A young child could be directed to a physical activity (draw, grapple with clay, throw a Nerf ball against the wall), a teen can be allowed to play their favorite music (if you hate it, have them use headphones, or you use earplugs, seriously.); shoot baskets; or take the dog for a walk.

6. Other supports

Animals heal, but strategically pick the best animals.  See “Animals that make the best therapy pets.”  Think of a calm smiling dog, a calm affectionate cat, or a little mellow animal like a hamster or turtle, and you’ve got pet therapists.  Energetic or barking dogs or scratchy kitties probably won’t work.

A big squeeze.  People and many kinds of animals are comforted with enveloping physical pressure, like a full hug.  I’ve completely wrapped anxious children and teens in a blanket or coat, and they quickly calmed down.  Teach your child the self hug… and hug yourself often, too!

You may be able to stop things before they start.  Once a situation has passed, ask yourself what happened just prior to your child’s episode.  Was there a trigger?  Did they just transition from one kind of place to another?  Do you have options for removing the trigger?  Triggering events can be so small or elusive that you miss it.  The child’s sibling could have sniffed or rolled their eyes without you noticing.  An object your child or teen reached for (like a remote control) could have just been unintentionally grabbed by someone else.  If you can identify the little frustrations that send them to the stratosphere and address them immediately, it will reduce the length of distress.

Calming your home for the long term

Calm your emotional self first and think Zen.  If you can take 5 minutes during a day, even a stressful day, sit quietly and breathe, and consciously work at eliminating all thoughts, ALL THOUGHTS, you would calm down.  Not thinking anything is the hard part of meditation, yet it is the skill that makes it work, and there’s proof.

Maintain bodily calm with the big three: exercise, sleep, and healthy diet.  I know you’ve heard this a million times already, but there’s good reason and proof.  If you can’t simultaneously maintain all three habits in your family, take one at time and you will still see benefits.

Calm the sensations that exist in your home environment.  Reduce noise, disorder, family emotional upheavals, and the intrusive stimulation of an always-on TV and other screen time, etc.  Create a place for quiet time in your home where anyone can go that’s contemplative, where people agree to behave as if they’re in a library, or a place of worship, or a safe zone.  Or create a time period for settling in, such as right after school, or right before dinner.

Did you know that psychiatric hospital units are designed to keep patients calm?  I’ve toured a number of psychiatric hospitals, and the best ones I saw had these elements.

  • Soothing visual environment:  they had windows and lots of light, plants, beautiful aquariums with gorgeous fish and lots of bubbles, and a TV screen with a film or a burning log.  All great for relaxation and brain-calming.
  • Soothing sound environment:  besides the bubbling aquarium, there was low-energy music of various styles.
  • Soothing physical environment:  soft furniture, a large table where people could gather in the comfort and buzz of a group, and nooks where people could remove themselves from the group buzz to avoid over-stimulation or listen to music on headphones.

Add these to your home too, or create a special calming room: Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums for kids with autism or other disorders.

Two things to avoid

1.  Do not communicate strong emotions in your voice.  What you say absolutely does not matter as much as how you say it!  Negative tone of voice is the only thing an upset child or teen will hear.  Yes I know, this is hard to control when you are excited or under stress! (Later on, after the incident, apologize for how you said something, but don’t apologize for an appropriate direction or request you made.)  Practice vocal neutrality.  Take a deep breath and an extra 2 seconds to squash the urge.  Which is better: “Will you please let the cat out?” versus “Will you PULLEEEEZ let the cat OUT!!!

2.  Don’t pressure the child to calm down when they’re not ready—it takes time for anyone to unwind.  Wait patiently while a child or teen works through ugly emotions and finishes spewing their ugly stuff.  Let them have their catharsis.  We all need to release our stuff, and we all need others to patiently listen and endure.

In my support group, I’ve observed that very stressed parents need at least one solid hour to vent and cry before they’re calm enough to benefit from other parents’ supportive words and sympathy.  They start out with ugly or devastating emotions–things they might not say to anyone outside the safety of the group–and eventually calm down and come to peace with their situation.  That’s when they are able to listen to the support and advice from other members.

–Margaret

– – – – – – –

ABSTRACT – Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density
Britta K. Hölzelab, James Carmodyc, Mark Vangela, Christina Congletona, Sita M. Yerramsettia, Tim Gardab, Sara W. Lazara
Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging,Volume 191, Issue 1, Pages 36-43 (30 January 2011)

Summary in plain English:  Meditation causes structural changes in the brain associated with memory, empathy, and stress, according to new research. Researchers examined MRI scans of participants over a period of 8 weeks. Daily meditation sessions of 30 minutes produced measurable changes in subjects with no previous meditation history. The anxiety and stress region of the brain, the amygdala, produced less gray matter. In a non-meditating control group, these positive changes did not take place.

“Therapeutic interventions that incorporate training in mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular, but to date little is known about neural mechanisms associated with these interventions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders. Here, we report a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre–post changes in brain gray matter concentration attributable to participation in an MBSR program. Anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images from 16 healthy, meditation-naïve participants were obtained before and after they underwent the 8-week program. Changes in gray matter concentration were investigated using voxel-based morphometry, and compared with a waiting list control group of 17 individuals. Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls. The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.