parenting

Bullet Journal Tour

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In my last post I described the Bullet Journal system, which I use to keep myself organized and productive. In this post I’m going to explain how I use my BuJo, and I’ll give you a little tour of my notebook.

After reading blog articles and watching several YouTube videos, I knew I wanted to give Bullet Journalling a try. I started out with a cheap notebook from Staples and stole borrowed some of my daughter’s artist pens, then I began playing around with different layouts to figure out what was most useful for me. When I was feeling more confident about what I wanted to include in my BuJo, I treated myself to a lovely bright orange Leuchtterm1917 A5 notebook along with a set of Faber-Castell PITT artist pens (shown in this photo).

In setting up my BuJo, I knew right away that I didn’t need a Future Log, which is a 6-to-12 month view of appointments and events. I use a Google calendar to book all appointments, and it’s rare that I need to view my schedule more than a month in advance. My calendar is on every device I own, so it’s easily accessible, and I didn’t see the point of essentially writing out by hand what is already well documented.

The original BuJo system does not include weekly spreads, but many people do them. I can understand this might be helpful if your weeks are full of details, and especially if you have to-do items that have deadlines on a weekly time scale. Sometimes my weeks are pretty empty from a scheduled appointment perspective, and my to-do lists don’t often fit within weekly deadlines, so I don’t use a weekly spread.

Instead, I use a monthly spread with a simple, vertical layout.

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Here I record appointments or events that require me to do something ahead of time, such as my board meeting on the 21st (for which I need to prepare) or the fact that my Dad and stepmum are heading off on a long holiday (I should call them before they go). In my online calendar, such things can get lost among all the family appointments. By placing it here, it stands out more, and I can refer to it easily when I plan my days (more on that below).

I also use my monthly spread to keep track of things that I tend to forget. For example, we only get garbage pickup every other week, and sometimes I forget when the last pickup was. I also often forget to do the weekly reporting for my kids’ homelearning program (probably because it falls on a weekend), so I’ve noted it here.

But the part where the planning magic really happens is the Daily Spread. Each day I sit down to plan out the next day ahead. This includes scheduled appointments and events, daily tasks, and my to-do list.

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I’ve played around a lot with the layout of my daily spreads, not just for the fun of trying out new fonts and pen colours, but also to organize it in a way that is most helpful for me. At first, I had a pretty basic layout. Scheduled events were noted with an open circle and mixed in with to-dos which were noted by a bullet (then crossed with an X when completed, or with > if migrated).

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I soon decided it would be helpful to have the appointments in a separate list, so they stood out more.

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This worked better, but something was still missing for me. I realized that what I needed was a way to visualize the breakdown of time over the day, where the scheduled appointments fit into that, so I could plan to use the time in-between more effectively. Kara at Boho Berry uses a time bar to plan the layout of her day (she describes it in this YouTube video):

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…and so I used this idea to create something similar that was better suited to me.

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I love having a visual representation of the day. I colour code the segments so that I can see where the unscheduled time lies. For example, orange is the colour for anything kid-related (Mama Duty). Green is “me time”, and pink is for housework.

Based on this layout, I can see that I’ll need to be up around 7 am to get my daughter ready for school (for more on our adventures with transitioning to high school, see here, here, and here). After dropping my son off at his program (which is run by a wonderful guy named Bruce), I’ll go for a run. That leaves a block of time in between my run and picking up my daughter from school, and I knew I’d end up spending about an hour of that block eating breakfast and indulging in a large pot of tea, so I planned to do my housework after picking up my daughter. The bar takes me to 5 o’clock, which is when I typically start working on dinner prep. If I had an evening appointment, such as a meeting or dinner date, that would be written underneath the bar.

Items in red are meant for my attention. In the example above, I need to remember to pack my son’s workout bag and bring it to Bruce’s program in the morning, because on Friday afternoons he gets dropped off with his fitness coach.

Items in grey are my task list. I’m really liking this colour, as I find it stands out and doesn’t get lost among all the other black ink. If I know when I’d like to do the task, I place it by the time bar, but I can also add a list to the right if I have more tasks that day. I can look at the bar, see when I have free spaces of time, and “divide and conquer” the tasks in that way.

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I’ve recently started adding a meal plan to my daily lists.

Each day, often towards the evening, I sit down and plan out the next day. I check my online calendar and my monthly spread, and anything else I need (like my daughter’s ever-changing school schedule). I really enjoy this process; there is something very therapeutic about the act of writing things down, decorating with colours and fonts, and just making a pretty page!

Some people really geek out over this process: there are “plan with me” videos, where you watch someone laying out a daily or monthly spread in their journal. I enjoy watching them while I’m doing my own planning. Again, I have to put in a plug for Kara at Boho Berry…she’s just so cute and friendly, and I love her style. She does a “Plan With Me” video every month, but this month (February 2017) she is doing a video every day showing her daily planning routine.

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As I go through the day, I take great satisfaction in ticking those items off my list!

Since the idea is to plan one day at a time (the night before), I use a separate to-do list to track things that I don’t have time for right now (or they may not be due for some time) so that I don’t forget.

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Aside from daily planning, I also use my BuJo to house various “collections”. A collection is just a group of ideas, notes, or anything else you want to record and/or keep track of. For example, I have my house cleaning routines all laid out in my journal for easy reference (You can read more about my cleaning routine in this post).

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I also have a Pen Samples page (this is pretty common, actually, which you would understand if you love pen collections!): it’s useful to refer to this when I’m going back and wanting to use the same pen colour for something, or when I’m just deciding what colour to use next.

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Being a fan of books, I couldn’t resist starting some book lists:

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Trackers are a very popular collection item. People use them to track their moods, their habits, the weather…you name it. I created one to track my headaches. I’m pretty sure they are related to dehydration (running days where I don’t drink enough water), but I thought it might be helpful to see how frequent they really are.

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Other collections include a “Brain Dump” page, where I put random ideas and such, my daughter’s school schedule (she attends part time, and it changes about every month or so), and anything else I want to keep track of.

So that’s the tour of my Bullet Journal. It has definitely helped me get things done, and I find the fact that I have it all written down somewhere leaves a lot more room in my head for other things.

Note: lest you overestimate my artistic abilities, I want to point out that the fonts and designs you see here are virtually all copied from someone else – I have a large Pinterest board devoted to different layouts, headers, and doodles from which I take inspiration).

Categories: family life, Homemaking, parenting, Personal Growth | 1 Comment

How Living Space Affects Parenting

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You might not think that how you parent and the space you live in are related, but as I wait for our new house to be built I’m anticipating aspects of my parenting that will be positively affected by the change. Having separate rooms for the kids and having a proper dining area are just two of the important changes from our current situation that will help me as I guide my two spectrum-kids through adolescence.

The feeding therapy program for Mr. Boo is going well. His weight has stabilized and he’s eating a well-rounded diet, but I have been unable to make meals at the table happen regularly. Even just doing dinner has been difficult, due to the fact that the one space we have for eating serves as my desk and home office. To prepare the space for a family meal, I need to clear off the table (which means finding space to put all my stuff), pull the table out from the corner, and then gather chairs from various locations around the home.

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Having a proper dining table, a dedicated space for eating, will be a huge help with that. I plan to have ALL meals take place either at the dining table (family meals) or at the eating bar (kids’ meals and snack time). Not only will this help expose them to a wider variety of foods, but it will provide some much-needed family time…yes, despite being homeschoolers with mostly-work-at-home parents, older kids means less time spent interacting with each other. The few times we’ve had family dinners, I have really enjoyed the conversation and the sharing that goes on.

Having separate bedrooms is also going to help me address some parenting issues. My brother and I shared a room for the first 12 years of my life, and I have very pleasant memories of playing with him and whispered conversations after the lights were turned out. My kids have enjoyed the same relationship, for which I am very grateful. But now that they are entering their teen years, certain issues are coming up around privacy and needing a space of one’s own. They get moody, and when they are together each provides an easy target. Personal space and personal stuff is becoming increasingly more important. But bedtime is also an ongoing issue, and that’s what will change for the better when they have separate rooms.

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Miss Em has been independent in regard to bedtime for a couple of years now. Hard to remember now that I had to put her to bed until she was 10 years old! Now she puts herself to bed, and at a reasonable time. When she knows she needs to get up early, she goes to bed early.

Not so for Mr. Boo. He still lacks the maturity and self-regulation to forgo the pleasures of whatever-he’s-doing-at-the-time in order to get a good night’s sleep – even though he knows that having to get up when you haven’t slept enough really sucks and makes your whole day lousy. Up until fairly recently, I was putting him to bed, ensuring that lights got turned out and computers put away at a reasonable hour. He always hated being told it was bedtime, and I always hated having an argument when I was at my most tired.

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There were other reasons to hate bedtime: I couldn’t go to bed early if I was really tired or sick (Hubby is often away for work). Miss Em couldn’t enter the room while I was putting him to bed, because she was too much of a distraction for him. It didn’t seem fair to boot her out of her space at a time of day when she was winding down herself and wanting to relax in bed. Mr. Boo was also chafing at being “treated like a baby”, but a few trials over the holidays showed that he just didn’t have the self-discipline to pull it off on his own.

So we came up with a compromise: I would no longer put him to bed, but when his sister said “lights out”, he had to obey. Miss Em is naturally a “take-charge” kind of gal, and doesn’t find it difficult to enforce bedtime (most of the time). She also somewhat enjoys being able to set bedtime for the both of them. They have even developed a routine where she reads to him before lights out (bad fan fiction and not-so-creepy pastas* are favourites). But on occasion, he gets resistant and she has to deal with his antics. And sometimes she just doesn’t feel like taking on that responsibility. That’s when I feel guilty; it bothers me that I have essentially pawned off my parenting duties onto my daughter. But it was the best solution we could come up with, and all agreed it was their preferred choice, if not an ideal one.

But…when the kids have their own rooms, Miss Em will finally be absolved of bedtime parenting duty. She can go to her room whenever she pleases, independent of her brother’s needs or moods at the time. Hubby and I will be able to enforce a lights-out time that meets his needs, while still leaving Miss Em with the freedom to set her own hours. She will be able to get away from her brother and claim a space of her own, which is increasingly important as she gets older.

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As I dream about moving into our new home and how that will change our day-to-day lives, I see a connection between the spaces we live in and our ability to find solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Our current house was never meant to be permanent, but with the kids getting older I’m finding myself increasingly hampered when it comes to implementing new parenting strategies. Perhaps that has made the relationship between parenting and living space more apparent to me. It was certainly on my mind while I was designing our new house, and I can’t wait for it to be done!

 

* creepy pastas is the Internet term for what we used to call “urban legends”; some of them are written badly enough that they end up being funny, and those are the ones my kids enjoy reading

 

Categories: family life, Feeding Therapy, lifestyle, Miss Em, Mr Boo, New House Build, parenting | Leave a comment

Feeding Program Update

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It has been about two months since I started implementing the Ellyn Satter Institute feeding program (see my previous posts on the subject), and I’d like to provide an update on our progress.

The first step in the program was to provide regular meals and snacks throughout the day. I continued to feed him on a tray (in his room or the living room), and the trays would always come back empty. Although I worried about the amount of food he was packing away, I did feel a lot better about what he was eating. I made sure to include one of the four food categories with each snack or meal (fruit or vegetable, dairy, protein, carbs) and realized that despite his limited tastes, he was eating a well-balanced diet in terms of nutrition.

The first result I noticed was that his attitude around food and eating underwent a dramatic change. He used to frequently complain about being hungry, and would appear either hesitant and apologetic or whiny and grumpy when he asked for food. Food had become an emotionally charged issue which, according to the program, could alone account for his overeating and obsession with “treats”. I noticed the whole atmosphere around eating changed: he became more relaxed, and I rarely ever hear “Mama, I’m hungry” anymore. Now when I provide him with food I feel good, instead of feeling worried about his weight, and I believe he has picked up on my own change in attitude. It’s easy to see how our path could have led to an eating disorder one day, or even just the constant battle of weight and dieting that so many adults are locked into. Seeing him relaxed and positive about eating is really rewarding.

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I’ve also noticed an end to talking about or asking for treats. And no more bingeing, no piles of wrappers hidden under the bed. I make sure to provide him with treats on a regular, though infrequent, basis. For example, one of our meal nights includes potato chips, sometimes I’ll bake cookies and serve them with a snack, or I’ll provide a dessert with dinner. Nothing is forbidden or off-limits now, and it seems that his obsession with such foods has disappeared. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy treats, he just doesn’t seem to think much about them anymore, trusting that he will be provided with the good stuff every now and then. I can keep treats around and know that he won’t be raiding them.

As predicted, after beginning the program my son began to gain weight. It was hard not to be alarmed given he was already obese, and I tried to remind myself that this was a normal part of the process. Eventually, I succumbed to my fears and began tracking his caloric intake in secret, although by then things were already starting to look up. I sort of broke the rules in that regard, but since he didn’t know I was doing it and I wasn’t changing anything about how or what I was feeding him, I decided it was a relatively harmless way for me to feel less anxious.

The tracking showed what I had already begun to suspect – he was reducing his food intake. Trays began coming back with food left uneaten, and it wasn’t always just the good stuff that was gone. I watched with growing amazement as this pattern continued, and my tracking confirmed it. As the book predicted, once he lost his anxiety and emotional issues around eating, once it became something he didn’t need to think about anymore, he was able to pay attention to his body’s signals and just eat until he was satiated. At his next weigh-in he had lost 2 lbs and I was quietly elated.

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Soon after introducing regular meal and snack times, I moved on to the next step in the program – having family dinners at the table. It has gone better than I had even imagined. I was pleasantly surprised by how much interaction there is. My son is positively chatty and funny at mealtimes, and he seems to really enjoy it. Miss Em was not too happy about the arrangement, mostly because she has sensory issues around foods such as ketchup and salad dressings, but when she does come to eat with us it’s very nice to have her there. My son actually looks forward to eating with us all now, and is disappointed on the odd day when we don’t eat together for dinner.

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It became immediately apparent that my son eats significantly less food when he eats at the table. Even on “hot dogs and potato chips night” he eats far less chips than he would otherwise. I have received no complaints about the food I serve him, and he eagerly comes to the table to eat. He doesn’t stay long at the table, but that’s fine because he is eating only what he needs.

The one area where I’m struggling is getting more meals and snacks to the table. Our situation is pretty desperate in terms of space. I got busy with my consulting work before the holidays, and the table was covered in my papers and other things that needed some form of organization. Moving all of that each day, pulling the table out from the wall, and bringing chairs over from various places around the house – and then putting it all back again after – is a real pain. It’s all I can do to make it happen once a day, let alone several times a day.

However, since the program is already showing signs of success in terms of the amount of food he is eating, and since construction on the new house is about to begin, I’m probably going to let that part slide for now. In a few months we’ll have a proper dining table and breakfast bar, and all our meals and snacks will take place there. I’m looking forward to it!

In my next post, I’ll talk about my journey through this process and how it has affected my own feeding and eating. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

Categories: Feeding Therapy, parenting | 2 Comments

On the Road to Eating Competence

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In the last two posts in this Feeding Therapy series, I outlined the feeding and eating program developed by the Ellyn Satter Institute and provided some background to explain how I became a “feeding failure”. Today, I discuss our goals and our plan for getting there.

The ultimate goal of this program is to get my children to the point of Eating Competence, which is a model developed by the Ellyn Satter Institute. As described by the model, eating competent children:

  • feel good about eating, and have the drive to eat
  • naturally eat as much as they need, and grow in the way that is right for them
  • learn to eat the foods their parents eat
  • enjoy a variety of foods, and enjoy learning to like new foods
  • enjoy family meals, and learn to behave well at mealtimes

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In the case of our family, there was a lot of overeating going on, virtually nothing that the adults ate was eaten by the children, the kids had a very limited variety of foods they would eat, and an intense dislike for anything new. Family meals did not happen in our household, and the kids actively resisted the idea of doing so (and frankly, so did I, for reasons outlined in my last post).

Achieving the goal of Eating Competence requires me, the parent in charge of feeding, to follow the Division of Responsibility, which is:

  • provide regular meals and snacks
  • choose and prepare the food
  • serve food at the table, without TV or other distractions
  • make eating times pleasant
  • show children by example how to behave at mealtimes
  • be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to their likes and dislikes
  • don’t serve foods between meal and snacktimes
  • let children enjoy the body size and shape that is right for them

I know from past experience that, when starting any new lifestyle plan, it’s important to take baby steps towards the end goal: do the first step until it feels normal and natural, and then add the next. So, as recommended by the program guidelines, I broke the process down based on where we were starting from and the particular eating issues that our family was facing.

  1. the parent is responsible for providing food
  2. implement regular meal and snacktimes
  3. eat one meal at the table together as a family
  4. gradually have more meals and snacks at the table
  5. gradually reduce the “extra foods” added to the table to accommodate specific likes and dislikes

In my next few posts, I’ll talk about how it is going, the steps we have implemented, and any difficulties or results we are seeing. Thank you for following along!

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Categories: autism, family life, Feeding Therapy, parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How I Failed at Feeding my Children

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About 2 and a half years ago, I wrote this post about giving up on the feeding therapy program I’d tried to institute. Not much has changed since I surrendered to convenience foods and making three different recipes at every meal…until now, that is.

In the last two posts in this Feeding Therapy series, I describe the Ellyn Satter Institute approach to eating and how it shed light onto my own struggles with eating and weight loss, and I outline their program for feeding children. In learning about the program, I came to realize that I was responsible for my son’s weight problem in ways that had never occurred to me.

I had started with such lofty ideals as a new mother: How did I get to be a Feeding Failure?

It starts, as eating issues usually do, with my own childhood. My mother was a war survivor who suffered through hunger and food scarcity as a young child. She used to make us stay at the table until our plates were cleaned. It made for many an unpleasant evening as I tried to force myself to eat foods that made me gag and sat alone for what felt like hours after everybody else had left. I vowed that I would never do the same to my own children.

My kids started out as great eaters, but they soon dropped one food after another until their diet was startlingly limited. It’s called food jagging, and it creeps up on you slowly and unexpectedly until you suddenly realize that they’ve backed themselves (and you) into a food corner that is now making it difficult to provide balanced nutrition for them.

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At first, I tried to fix this by following the advice of others to make them “try a bite” of vegetables and other foods that we all thought they should be eating. This, combined with their sensory issues and attention deficits – none of which were recognized by us at the time – made for some really horrid mealtimes. Lots of crying, screaming, arguing, cajoling, and full-on body tantrums.

I tried…I really did…pressured by my husband, my mother, and my own ideas about what feeding children should look like. But my gut told me that so much stress for everyone could not possibly be good for the kids or our family. So I gave up, and began cooking and serving separate meals to the kids and the adults. Lots of work for me, but at least it was peaceful.

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I reasoned to myself that, since we were a homeschooling family with a husband who worked largely from home, we got enough “together” time that not having sit-down meals together wasn’t a problem. Feeding the kids separately from the grownups also offered us the only apparent hope for eating our own meals in peace. Every now and then we’d give it another try, and it always ended in misery and failure.

Then they were diagnosed with autism, which I took as further justification for giving up on family dinners and hopes of a varied diet. Cue the gummy vitamins.

We moved into a tiny mobile home, and the dining table quickly morphed into a workspace for me. The kids’ bedroom was right off the kitchen, and it was just easier to serve them in their room, rather than having them come into the already crowded kitchen to pick up their food.

My mother came to visit us one week and asked, as neutrally as she could (I give her credit for that), if I served the kids their meals on a tray every day or was this just because she was visiting? (nope, I did it every day, for every meal). It was then that I started to realize just how far into crazy-land we had come.

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I told myself that when our new house was built, I’d make them eat at the table or breakfast bar like normal children, and stop serving them like a waitress. But it’s unlikely we would have eaten together. I’d have served them first to get it out of the way so I could enjoy a peaceful dinner with my husband.

You can imagine that making so many meals, so many times a day, quickly became exhausting. When convenience foods no longer cut it, I moved to making them prepare their own meals. It started with me telling them I was no longer making lunches, then progressed to breakfast on weekends, and then I made the ultimate deal: in exchange for pizza twice a week, I created “make your own dinner night” twice a week. That was four nights a week I didn’t have to make a bunch of different dinners – win for me!

But despite the appeal of the pizza, the kids never embraced the concept of making their own meals (they eventually changed it to one night a week; that’s how much they hated making their own dinner). Miss Em simply didn’t make anything on those nights, and turned instead to her stash of junk food (she regularly cycles to the corner store, buys food with her own money, and saves it for just such an occasion). Mr. Boo made himself dinner (usually some double or triple stack salami sandwich creation), but he complained and stomped around every damn time. And he left a mess in the kitchen that I was loathe to make him clean up, since by then he had only just calmed down and would likely have had a full-on meltdown if I’d pushed it any further (by end of day, that is the last thing I feel like dealing with).

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So that is how I got to the point where I was able to say “yes” to every item on the following checklist for kids who are overweight (or have other eating issues):

  • meals and snacks occur at irregular and unpredictable times
  • meals are not eaten at the table, but in front of computer or TV
  • the kids tell the mother what they would like to eat and mum makes it (short order cook)
  • the kids are responsible for feeding themselves without having achieved Eating Competence (which is the end goal of the feeding program)
  • the kids binge on certain foods, sometimes even hiding the evidence (one day I discovered a stash of snack wrappers underneath my son’s bed)
  • the Division of Responsibility is not being followed

I was a Feeding Failure. And because of it, both my kids had diets that were severely limited and limiting (for example, visiting friends for dinner always meant I had to bring food for my kids). And worse, my son was obese.

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But now I have hope, because the information I’ve learned has given me the tools I need to make family dinners a success. I now understand that the family dinner is about so much more than just connecting as a family (which is nice anyway, even when you are a homeschooling family):

  • It exposes the kids to the presence of new foods, which is the first step in overcoming limited food preferences, and essential for kids with sensory issues around food.
  • Kids don’t tend to enjoy hanging around the table too long (especially if they have ADD), which gives them a motive to eat just enough, and not too much.
  • People tend to eat less when they focus on their eating than if they eat while performing other tasks (like being on the computer).
  • Having food in serving dishes means everybody can decide for themselves how much to eat, rather than being served a portion that tempts one to “not leave anything wasted” and thus eat beyond satiation.
  • Having food in serving dishes allows kids to pick and choose from the nutrients in front of them: research shows that kids will naturally choose foods their bodies need and, over a period of days, will naturally balance out their nutritional requirements.
  • Being at the table allows kids to learn the social norms and expectations around eating in their culture, which will allow them to function better when in restaurants or eating at other peoples’ homes (especially important for kids with social disabilities).
  • It’s less work for mum to have one place where eating and messes take place, and not have to collect dishes from all around the house.

So after an initial wave of guilt as I realized all the ways I’d gone wrong in feeding my kids over the years – and that this was directly related to my son’s weight issues – I took comfort in recognizing that I didn’t have the knowledge and guidelines I needed to be successful back then. And I was excited about this new information, because I believed it really could work with my children.

And once I believed that I could make this happen, that we could sit around the table together as a family and enjoy a meal, that my kids could learn to try new foods, that my son could return to the weight that is right for him…I realized how much I’d wanted this all along.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the baby steps needed to go from being a total Feeding Failure to the end goal of Eating Competence and happy family meals.

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Categories: autism, family life, Feeding Therapy, parenting | 3 Comments

Feeding Your Overweight Child

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In my last post, I spoke about the new feeding and eating plan that I discovered after taking my overweight son (who also has autism) to visit a clinical nutritionist. I discussed some of the principles of the plan, and how it shed light on my own struggles around eating and weight loss. Today, I’m going to discuss the plan in the context of feeding children.

The plan I’m referring to is based on the Feeding Dynamics and Eating Competence models developed by the Ellyn Satter Institute. I should point out that this plan is for ANY CHILD, not just the overweight child. But since that is the issue our family is dealing with, it’s the one I’m going to focus on here.

The basic premise of the program is that children are born hardwired to eat what they need: no more and no less. This immediately reminded me of my days as a La Leche League leader, when I would counsel anxious new breastfeeding mums to let their babies take the lead on when to eat, how much to eat, and how often. So I knew this premise to be true. What I didn’t appreciate was that it continues throughout childhood and into adulthood providing we (the people doing the feeding) don’t screw it up.

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We screw it up by imposing our own values and anxieties around food on our children. We fuss over the ones who don’t eat much, and we chide those who eat a lot. We try to force the picky ones to eat “just a bite” of new foods, while we deem a category of favourite foods to be “bad for you” for the overweight kids. We let them eat in front of computers or TVs, so they don’t focus on their body’s signals of satiety. Or we don’t feed them often enough, triggering anxiety about when they will next be fed and how long they will have to go hungry, which leads to overeating when they finally get some food (a smart evolutionary strategy gone awry). We don’t eat together as families much anymore, so our kids are not exposed to new foods (and here’s the part that nobody told me: sitting in front of food is the first step, a real honest-to-goodness step, in learning to like new foods. That “just one bite” that we were told to insist on? That is much further down the list of steps, and even further for kids with sensory issues).

So, here it is in a nutshell: Satter calls it “the division of responsibility”. I, the parent, am in charge of the what, where, and when of eating and my school-age children are responsible for the whether and how much.

I make sure they eat regularly (no more than 3 hours between offerings), that they sit at the table without distractions (other than my stimulating company, or that of the rest of the family), and that they are offered foods from each of the four groups Satter lists as essential for growing kids: protein, carbohydrate, fruit or vegetable, and dairy (that last one assumes, of course, that there are no dairy allergies, and the book gives details on how to accommodate those). And here’s the fun part: make the food delicious! Cook with fat, sprinkle butter or sugar on those veggies, make everything a joy to eat. Provide a well-balanced offering of delights, and watch mealtime become fun again, not just for those who eat it, but for the one who is preparing it too!

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Nobody wants to come to the table for this.

 

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A delicious, well-balanced meal that’s a pleasure to make and a joy to eat.

The kids are responsible for deciding whether or not to show up for the meal (understanding there is no eating in between meal and snacktimes), what foods on the table to eat, and how much of any food on the table to eat (the exception being dessert, the only rule for which is that there is only one serving per person at the table).

That’s it.

No rules about how long the kids must stay at the table – if they are wanting to get down from the table and/or they are starting to act up, then they are done eating and we need to respect that so they learn to understand what that feeling means.

No rules about eating vegetables before dessert – they can eat their dessert at any time during the meal. It’s only one serving, so it won’t “ruin their dinner”, and they may learn all on their own that it’s nicer to save the sweet stuff for last (or they may not, and that is okay).

No rules about “trying a bite”, no matter how picky your eater. The steps to getting to eat a new food are:

  1. look at the food,
  2. be close to the food,
  3. touch the food,
  4. play with or manipulate the food,
  5. touch the food to the mouth,
  6. taste the food,
  7. chew the food,
  8. swallow the food.

There might even be some more in-between steps in the case of kids with sensory issues. The idea is that, if they are continually exposed to the variety of foods your family enjoys, and there is no pressure on them, they will slowly (or quickly, each child is unique) go through the steps and, when they are older, will learn that new foods are nothing to be afraid of.

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No rules about eating one of everything on the table: if they make an entire meal out of bread and butter, let it be. They will eventually round it out – maybe not that day, but most likely that week – and even fresh, white bread slathered in butter gets boring if that’s all you eat every day. Their bodies will soon crave what they need to balance it out, and you’ll make sure it is on the table when they do.

Finally, no forbidden foods. Regularly (reasonably often) offer cookies for a snack (with a glass of milk and some fruit on the table). Let your kid have as many cookies as they want, while they are at the table. Have potato chips on hot dog night, and make sure there is enough for everyone to get their fill. If your child has learned not to trust that these foods will be available, he or she may begin by scarfing down as many as can fit in their tummies…but eventually they will trust that such foods will be offered, and no limits will be imposed, and this can greatly reduce that chance of eating disorders, or even just the routine binge-and-guilt cycle that too many adults (including myself) get sucked into. It will also make these foods lose their “forbidden fruit” appeal, which goes a long way to healthy eating habits in the future.

I have to say, that when I first started reading I found myself sliding into a pit of guilt. My son was overweight, and to add to the guilt of having let him get that way, I was now faced with just how badly I had screwed up the feeding of my children over the years. On the checklist following “why is my child overweight?” I ticked off pretty much every single item. Regular mealtimes? nope. Eating at the table? nope. Division of responsibility? nope. I realized that I had basically tossed my kids into the deep end of the feeding and eating swimming pool without giving them the proper foundation. No wonder my kid was fat.

How did I get there? I’ll answer that in my next post. I’ll also be blogging about instituting the plan (which happens in stages) and discuss our challenges and triumphs. These posts will be tagged under “Feeding Therapy” if you wish to follow along (or read about some previous tried-and-failed plans).

For now, I would encourage anyone in charge of feeding kids, or anyone who is struggling with their own eating and weight issues, to visit the Ellyn Satter Institute website. I have bought and read two of their books: Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming and Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family and I would recommend either of them.

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Categories: autism, family life, Feeding Therapy, parenting | 2 Comments

Finding Work-Life Balance

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Last year, Husband reached a crossroads in his career path. It was time for some big decisions, and – as our family has often done – we chose the road less travelled. We came up with a plan that excited us, but it would require some serious belt-tightening for a while. At around the same time, I had an opportunity to take on more work at my editing job, and I gratefully accepted.

I work from home, and I set my own hours. But I do have deadlines and sometimes that means dropping everything, including sleep. Taking on more work turned out to be far more challenging than I’d anticipated. By summer I was feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unhappy with the way work had taken over my life. My house was a constant mess, I stopped cooking and baking and embraced convenience foods, and I found myself saying “no” to my kids far too often for my liking. My life felt a little bit like this picture below!

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Miss Em turned 12 this summer, and I’ve noticed that she needs me just as much as she did when she was little, but unlike when she was younger, she doesn’t always let me know it. Whereas little kids will actively seek you out to “fill their attachment cup”, a tween doesn’t always do that. I realized that I needed to be proactive about making time for her. And Mr. Boo seemed ready to start getting more focused and involved in his interests, but without someone to facilitate that, it wasn’t going to happen on its own. And I really wanted to be that person.

Although I have always appreciated being able to stay home with my children, I didn’t realize just how much I loved that job until I found myself unable to do it properly. Working only served to reinforce in my mind and heart that my priorities were being with my children, sharing in their learning, and being a homemaker.

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I missed my old life, but I liked my editing job and was glad I could bring in some extra money for our family. I was also very happy to be working from home – at least I was there when someone got hurt, or a crisis came up, or someone just needed a hug – but I was missing the deeper nurturing that comes with spending time together just hanging out, when kids spontaneously ask questions, share their fears, and brainstorm new ideas. These are the types of interactions that you cannot schedule, they have to unfold when the time is right, and you do that by making sure there is lots of time for it to happen.

So over the summer I decided that, come September, things were going to change. I was going to find that elusive “work life balance”. With support from Husband, I was going to reduce my workload, commit to Project-Based Homeschooling, make an effort to spend quality time hanging out with each child one-on-one, and get a handle on my housework (I had to clean the entire place when my mother-in-law came for a visit and it made me realize how much the clutter and mess had been contributing to my stress level). Toward the end of summer I began to slowly develop a daily routine, shifting my work to later hours rather than mornings, when I have more energy for housework and hanging with the kids. I don’t have what one might call a schedule, but there’s a definite flow to the day.

Three mornings a week, I go for a run first thing in the morning. When I get back, or after I wake up on non-running days, I check my email and my news feed on Facebook while I eat breakfast. After that, I do some housework – a load or two of laundry, dishes, put some clothes away, etc. – or maybe knock a couple quick items off my to-do list. By that time the kids are awake and either myself or Husband has made them breakfast. Mr. Boo and I started a routine of brushing our teeth together so that he gets it done (otherwise he forgets, and I forget to remind him). Then he and I sit down for some PBH, or we work on his Youth Digital course. Next I hang out with Miss Em. We do PBH or we go run errands together (she likes doing that with me, I like having her along, and it’s the perfect opportunity for her to spontaneously share whatever is on her mind). If I have a work assignment, I try to get that started by mid-to-late afternoon, and Husband takes over dinner so I can work into the evening. In between all of this there is the countless putting out of fires that is the life of a stay-home mum. The kids get into fights, they need help with a transition, Mr. Boo needs support with situations that are liable to set him off, my parents deserve at least one long phone call a week, I coordinate appointments, pay bills and track finances, keep track of deliveries and garbage days, and so forth.

It’s a pretty loose schedule. But even though every day is different, I feel a rhythm and a flow to our days now and I’m much happier. True, I’m not making as much as I was before, but what I’ve gained back is priceless. I’m finally feeling like I’ve found that elusive work-life balance, and it feels good!

worklifebalance

Categories: family life, lifestyle, parenting | 1 Comment

Vacation Woes: it’s all about the transition

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We’ve recently come back from a four-day holiday at a remote cabin site with no electricity. The weekend can best be described as stress and chaos interspersed with all too few moments of calm. In the midst of the tantrums, the screaming, the throwing of objects, and the tears (mine and theirs) I felt tossed and turned on a sea of insecurity and doubt. Where had I gone wrong? Had I failed my children? Were they so disabled and dysfunctional that the basic dream of a family getaway with friends was, for our family, just a pipe dream? Had my parenting somehow robbed my children of the ability to cope with anything outside of their home environment?

Now that we are back and I’ve had a chance to think over what happened, I’m feeling less panicked about where to go from here. That last night before we all packed up to go home, my children miraculously emerged from the cabin and actually interacted with the rest of us, sitting by the campfire for cuddles and playing with the other kids on the rocks along the river that lay a few feet from our cabin, while Husband and I enjoyed some snacks and good (uninterrupted!) conversation around the campfire on the river’s edge. My friend noted that it was a shame we all had to go home the next morning, as my kids seemed to be finally coming out of their shells. Back at home, someone else reminded me that, for autistic kids, it’s all about the transitions. You’d think after all these years I would recognize this…but I really didn’t see it until after we came home.

My friend, whose grown-up son has Aspergers, told me that she never took him on a holiday that lasted less than a week, because it would take him 2 to 3 days to adjust to the new environment and routines, after which time he would be fine. They went on holiday expecting the first couple of days to be chaotic. I did not. I did not anticipate that this was a transition and that my kids would need time to adjust. All I saw were kids who couldn’t handle the environment and I despaired. I didn’t stop to think that they would eventually adjust, if given some time to get through the transition.

It’s not that we haven’t travelled before, but almost always the kids have been on board with the plans. In this case, their friends had to cancel and, with no electricity at the cabins, they felt there was really nothing in it for them. In other cases we have gone on holidays and have not experienced such a difficult transition, so I really wasn’t prepared for this one. In the future, we will make sure that if the kids are not really on board with the plans, we stay long enough for them to get through the transition phase. Also, we will go into it with the expectation that the kids will need a lot of support, and that the grownups will have to wait a couple days to enjoy their down time. We feel that it’s important to expose them to this situation once in a while (i.e., a holiday or trip that isn’t on their agenda) in order to give them practice at adjusting to such situations. Hopefully, with the right expectations, the next time won’t be so hard on all of us.

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Categories: autism, family life, parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Modelling Healthy Choices for the Kids

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It has been several months now since Husband and I began our new health and fitness plan. Hubby has lost almost 100 lbs and I have lost over 15 lbs. I run three times per week and cycle twice a week. Hubby runs or cycles six days a week and has started doing a video fitness program at home as well. It has become just a normal, natural part of our life to count calories and weigh food as we prepare our meals throughout the day. It takes such little extra time, and the results are so very worth it.

Having been so successful in changing our own eating habits, we felt empowered to help our kids. Mr. Boo was an average-weight child until around the age of 6, when he began to gain weight. He’s now 9 years old and, while very tall for his age (just shy of 5 feet), is quite overweight, clocking in at just over 100 lbs. He likes his food, especially treats, and he doesn’t like sports. Carrying around extra weight doesn’t make moving your body much fun, either.

And so we decided to put him on our health and fitness plan. He’s watched us on our journey and we asked him about following our plan. We discussed it with him, presented the risks associated with childhood obesity, and stuck to an emphasis on health rather than looks or body image. He seemed quite keen on the idea. We started a food journal in which we log what he eats, and set a goal for him based on a calculation of his daily caloric needs (his goal is < 1650 calories per day). If he meets his goal, his reward is a miniature chocolate bar for dessert (60 calories).

healthy_kids

We’ve been doing this for about a month now and couldn’t be happier with the results. Not only has he lost 2 lbs, a very healthy rate of loss (~ 0.5 lbs per week) but we can see that we are establishing healthy habits that will serve him well for the rest of his life. He now reads nutritional labels and makes choices based on calorie content. He helps prepare his food, weighing out the ingredients and calculating portion size. We help by presenting choices when he’s hungry, and laying out the consequences of those choices in terms of what he can eat later. He’s learning that he likes to have a big meal at the start of his day, a small snack midway, and a good size dinner. He also likes to save room for an extra dessert, and will often forgo a second sandwich, for example, for a banana and some yogurt instead so that he can have that extra treat later on. One day he announced that he wanted to eat a whole pizza for dinner and asked for help in choosing some healthy, low calorie options for breakfast and lunch.

He’s also beginning to see exercise as something positive because it buys you more calories (up until now, the word “exercise” was met with groans and protests). This evening we attended the first night of a new drop-in gymnastics program at our local community centre, where the kids get two hours of free, supervised time on the equipment (trampolines, etc). It’s one of the few activities he has always enjoyed and he was particularly pleased that all that fun meant he could have a treat on the way home from the gym (he carefully read the labels in making his decision).

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To make this as easy on ourselves and him as possible, and given his extremely limited diet due to his sensory issues around food, we decided that “any kind of food goes” so long as it fits within his goals. It’s not what a lot of people would think of as “healthy” eating – it includes hot dogs and McDonalds cheeseburgers, and yet we still see that he is learning about making good food choices for his body. We’ve had a couple of interesting conversations about what a body needs to be healthy and grow, and why some foods are so high in calories while others are low. What we’ve all learned is that when you are looking to get the most food satisfaction “bang” for your caloric “buck” it pays to stay away from the really junky stuff. One bag of of potato chips, for example, is more than an entire cheese and liverwurst sandwich (despite his picky eating habits, the kid loves liver sausage). The sandwich will keep him full for some time and provide his body with protein, healthy animal fats, iron, and other nutrients he needs. But with the chips, he’ll be hungry soon after eating them, and they really only provide carbohydrates (which turn to fat if not needed for energy) and some not-so-healthy hydrogenated vegetable-based fats.

Miss Em is not officially on the plan – she is only mildly overweight and is independent enough that it would be difficult to monitor her food intake as closely. She has definitely been paying attention to what we are all doing, however, and she has expressed some interest in considering calorie content, although she is not prepared to take on calorie tracking just yet. She has made an effort to work more exercise into her week, going on bike rides or long walks to the local corner store. Kids watch what adults do and I know even if she doesn’t follow us right now, we are modelling the route to attaining a healthy weight and being fit so that when and if she decides in the future to do something about it, she’ll know how.

It’s a good feeling to take charge of your health, to be at a healthy body weight, to enjoy being active, and to feel good in your body. Hubby and I are pleased enough that we’ve been able to do so for ourselves, but seeing our son embracing this lifestyle and learning to make healthy choices for himself, is truly rewarding.

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Categories: Mr Boo, parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dealing with Problem Behaviours

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Last week Mr. Boo had a rough transition while getting ready to go out with his behavioural interventionist. I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with these situations, but I still get caught off-guard sometimes. This time it resulted it me getting punched in the jaw. It has been a long time since Mr. Boo hurt me, partly because it happens less frequently than when he was younger, and partly because I’ve gotten pretty good at staying just out of range when I see that he might lash out. I was very upset by what happened. Not only did it hurt, but I worry about his future. It’s one thing to be a little kid who hits when he’s angry or frustrated, but the picture is going to look a whole lot different when he’s a teenager or an adult. While I know he’s improved immensely over the years, the potential is still there and it worries me.

I wondered if maybe I should be doing something…something more, or something different. I began to mull it over in my head and over the course of the next few days I noted two other behaviours that, while not as bad as hitting, are still things I’d like to address with a more concrete plan than just reminding him such behaviours are unacceptable. First, when he’s angry or frustrated he sometimes throws things. He’ll basically grab the nearest thing and hurl it in no particular direction. Countless things have been broken, but of course there is also the potential for damage to other people who happen to be in the line of fire. Again, this is an issue that has improved over the years, but still presents itself on occasion.

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Second, there is the swearing. This started in earnest about a year ago and, while we all drop the occasional f-bomb in our family, there are times when he really crosses the line.

I began to think that perhaps I was going to have to introduce some form of punishment in an attempt to influence his behaviour. When he is raging, in the heat of the moment, all he can think about is himself. While later he will feel remorse for what he has done, it isn’t powerful enough in the moment to stop him. I began to wonder if maybe a specific punishment would serve as a stronger motivator. I’ve always believed that punishment is ineffective at best, and counterproductive and damaging at worst. But maybe, I thought, I needed to reconsider. Autism has caused me to rethink other aspects of my parenting, so why not this one?

In this case, the punishment that would have the most impact would be one that affects what he loves most: his laptop. But if I was going to implement a punishment system then I would have to be very clear to state the rules up front. Autistic kids respond well to rules that are clearly laid out ahead of time, but they also have a keen sense of fairness: you can’t just make sh*t up on the fly.

Well, I soon ran into some problems. How long would he be removed from his laptop? What if he picked up an iPad instead, or went on the PlayStation? Would watching YouTube count? Would I have to remove access to all screens? Would the extent and duration of the punishment be adjusted to “fit the crime”? And how would I go about doing that when there are no set screen times in our family?

It got worse as I considered more scenarios. What if, as in last week, he hit me as he was heading out for the afternoon? Is he going to spend 3 hours with his interventionist and then come home and not be allowed on his laptop? That is way too much time between the crime and the punishment to be in any way fair or to have any meaning for him. He may have had an excellent session, and he’s going to come home to being punished?

And what if he needed a sensory break? Immersing himself in the digital world is his go-to solution when his sensory inputs get overwhelmed. We’ve always encouraged this form of self-regulation. Using it as a punishment sends the wrong message.

Frankly, the whole thing was bothering me. I just couldn’t come up with a set of punishments that made sense, were fair, and were easy to implement. I couldn’t even figure out what it would look like for myself, let alone explain it to him. But if not that, what could I do to curb these problem behaviours?

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Well, I’m happy to say that the solution presented itself today. Mr Boo had a mini-meltdown when, after finishing his homeschool work, he learned that his sister was using the big screen and he could not play on the PlayStation. By his logic, since he had interrupted his game to do homeschool work, he expected to go back on when he was done. But his sister was now using it. When I said he’d have to wait, he lost it. He went into the bedroom and, before I could go in there to help him calm down, he picked up a timer and threw it across the room, breaking it. I was angry and immediately announced that he was no longer going to get his turn on the PlayStation when his sister was done (and still, in my head, I’m thinking “is this for all day? if not then for how long? what would be a fair delay given that he is going out this afternoon?”). Well this only served to make him more angry and he tried to throw a lamp, but by then I was close enough to block him.

He calmed down fairly quickly after that (we’ve got a system that works well for us now), and began to tell me that this punishment thing was not a good idea. Inspired by the program director at the wonderful Centre he attends each week, I decided to listen to what he had to say and involve him in the discussion (she once spent a good hour doing just that with him, and managed to work a minor miracle – more in a later post perhaps). He told me that my job was to help him calm down (its a set of skills we work on together), and by telling him his punishment I was actually making it worse for him. I understood: he has told me he doesn’t like raging, that it is scary for him, and he is very grateful that I am there to help him find his way down to calmness. So if he sees me as the person – the rock – to which he can cling when raging, then how must it feel to have me making it worse by giving him even more to be angry and anxious about?

My first thought upon recognizing this was that maybe I should wait until after he calms down to tell him of his punishment , but right away that didn’t make sense either. Reward him for doing good emotional work by telling him of his fate? Naw. So instead I asked him what HE thought we should do about these behaviours. He wasn’t sure at first, but then I remembered something I read on the Aha Parenting website. Dr. Markham has written some excellent articles explaining why punishment doesn’t work, and I love the alternatives she suggests. In this article she describes empowering your kids to repair the damage they have done. Whether this is the hurt feelings of a playmate, the broken window of a neighbour, or admitting to stealing a toy, what kids really need to learn is how to make up for their mistakes, to really experience the impact of their actions, and to take ownership and responsibility for their actions. Importantly, they need to see you as someone who can help them do the right thing when they screw up, not the person who just makes them feel worse. So I decided to try her approach with Mr. Boo.

The issue was that he threw my timer (which he apologized for) and may have broken it. Together we came up with two solutions: if the timer was not broken he could make it up to me by helping with some household chore I needed to do. If it was broken, he offered to use his allowance to buy me a new one. What I loved about the process of discussing this with him was how strong our connection was during this time. I had helped him calm down and, as we usually do, I was holding him in my lap and rocking him forward and back (the rocking motion really soothes him). He was hugging and kissing me, his way of letting me know he felt bad for how he had acted. And all the while we talked about how to make up for his actions. He was not happy about having to do a chore or spend his allowance money, but he was a willing participant in this being a solution and the entire atmosphere around the discussion was one of working together and maintaining the integrity of our relationship. There was no argument about whether he should do anything to make up for it: he clearly wanted to. This is so different from the attitude of being punished, where all the focus is on being a victim, with little room for remorse.

For my kids, perhaps more than neurotypical kids, I am their rock. The world can be a scary, intimidating, and frightening place for them and they count on me to protect them, guide them, and help them deal with overwhelming emotions. Punishment changes my role entirely to one of combatant, a player on the other team, which erodes their trust in me. It also puts them on the defensive, sends their anxiety through the roof (with autistic kids, its all about reducing anxiety), and puts them in a worse place rather than a better one.

While part of me can’t believe I even considered using punishment, I’m glad I went through this thought experiment. It has reinforced to me, more than ever, that my instincts were right and that such an approach would do far more damage to my kids than it would help. I’m happy that together Mr Boo and I came up with a solution, that he was involved in the discussion, that it was done in a loving and warm atmosphere of connection, and that he took ownership of his actions and admitted that he was wrong. From now on, when he swears at us, throws something, or hurts somebody we will decide together what he can do to make up for it. It won’t always be fun for him, but we’ll still be on the same team.

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Categories: autism, parenting | 1 Comment

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