About AngelaLTodd

I am queen of the helicopter parents. But there are enough of us that we are becoming a social problem. Here’s my story. Thing 1 was coming, they couldn’t stop him, it was only 24 weeks and 3 days. Someone asked: should we try to save him? Well, yes. Yes! Ten days later, a team of doctors closed the door behind us to explain brain bleeds, sepsis, meningitis. Shall we pull the plug? Well, no. No! Babydaddy laid hands on him every day, massaged him when he was ready. For the three months he was in intensive care, and the three weeks at an intermediate hospital, I would get up in the night and pump breast milk, thinking about my baby across town. Babydaddy delivered it every morning, earning the name “milkman.” It was funny. We had every therapy going for as long as possible: early intervention, the intermediate unit, private therapies. Terms multiplied: sensory processing dysfunction, sensory integration problems, orally defensive, auditory sensitivities, comprehensive developmental delay, cognitive function impairment, retinopathy of prematurity. He did occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, play therapy; we consulted with a neurologist, school psychologist, wraparound service provider, developmental specialist. He worked with an occupational therapist for a year and a half to tolerate teeth and hair brushing. Not surprisingly, parenting didn’t feel natural. I learned to read to my baby watching Phyllis, our physical therapist. Voices, commentary, labeling colors, counting… she was very good! Merging professional research skills with my genetic propensity for silliness (mom was class clown, dad’s distantly related to Lucille Ball), my mothering style came together. Eventually. But I still channel Phyllis on occasion. Thing 2 was full term. They are complete opposites; she is a sensory seeker with a wild sense of adventure and an inventive sense of fashion. Keeping them both busy and happy is an exasperating and sweet challenge. I still believe that every day can be fun and educational while reinforcing kids' boundaries. I’m on a mission to save us helicopter parents from ourselves. No more bubble wrapped kids and guilty parents. Let’s teach them coping skills. Let’s get fun.

My dad’s handwriting, and his laugh: why interviewing family matters.

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My dad’s upper-and-lower-case handwriting takes me back to long summers in Maine every time I see it.

Do your parents text you? They do? Then I was jealous of you: I imagine little notes, daily check-ins, a joke, sending them cute pictures of the kids all of the time…. Plus, no long calls, squeezing that flat cel phone between your shoulder and ear, getting your brain irradiated to greater or lesser degrees… My 14-year-old son joked that it’s like sending telegrams, morse code — or even smoke signals!

Anyway, neither of my parents have smart phones, and we don’t do any of that. I used to be jealous of you.

Then, I took a good look at this: my name, in my dad’s handwriting. Very distinctive. Every time I look at it, I remember: living with my Dad all summer — shopping lists on the fridge, notes to remind us what time the yellow school bus left for swimming lessons at the lake, things to do at work the next day (he was town manager of our wee Maine town), notes to himself about house projects he always had going — or about the businesses in development or currently underway.

I went everywhere with him: the dump, grocery store, (he taught me to jump up and click my heels in the air by practicing on a grocery cart!).  We went to the hardware store with wooden floors and to the Red Barn antique shop, where we would stock up on puzzles to get through the winter.  In winter we’d assemble puzzles and play cribbage, as he did growing up in northern Maine farm country.

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Pa’s boots.

And every summer when I visit, we spend at least ONE night sitting at the kitchen table remembering together and reminding each other: when we had a concession stand at the local stock car racing track, when we got pulled over TWICE in a borrowed Cadillac on the way to my grandmother’s house.  That time my car broke down in the Shaker Village (luckily they had a phone!); that time my car broke down and the store-owner wouldn’t let me make a toll call; that time when my car spun into a snowbank and I was closing my eyes to calm my nerves and didn’t see the skiers coming to bail me out — so when they knocked on my window we all screamed and scared each other to death!

Pa has a distinctive laugh, a low throaty chortle. Even if I felt confident that I could remember all the stories, I would only remember my side — not that he’d left a party HE was hosting to pick me up in that broken down car. Or that he’d had words with the shopkeeper. Or that he’d overheard skiers telling friends about stopping to help and getting scared out of their ski pants… And then there’s his laugh.

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Big Nanny

Recording is the answer.

My mother has a recording of HER mother from the early 1980s, and hearing Big Nanny’s voice, her tisk-tisk sound, her laugh… it’s soothing and exciting.  I’m a cultural historian, and her voice is as important to me as hearing her words, hearing about her early childhood, and how far we’ve come as a family — and a nation — that nobody lives within FEET of the railroad tracks any more.  The sound of her voice says as much as her words.

A preservation technology firm will preserve and make available my grandmother’s voice.  And I suggest that we get to work on capturing YOUR Family Oral History while you can.  I will walk you through the whole process, researching and sculpting the perfect interview questions, conducting the online meeting/s with up to four attendees from anywhere with online access, and ensuring that you have multiple, accessible copies of your results.  You’ll know more about your family and yourself, and you’ll have another tool in your parenting toolbox, too!  Read more about it here.  Reach out to have a conversation about Capturing Oral Family History: Angela@AngelaLTodd.com

And to get started passing your family history to your own kids, I have a handy guide to get you started.  Dinnertime Family History gives you five prompts to talk your way through the school week about your generation and your parents’.  Get your free guide OVER HERE and start tonight!

And follow along on Facebook, where I’ll be posting a family history prompt every #ThrowbackThursday !

xoxox

Angela

 

 

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What will you do with your white privilege?

Wrinkly finger, toes.  We are on vacation in Maine, spending our afternoons on the pond and our evenings playing cards.  It is idyllic.

But Charlottesville has erupted with white nationalists.  I do NOT want to talk about it; I don’t even want it to be true.  But we must.  We three gather on the sandbar and take a break from Marco Polo. “Do you know what white nationalists are?”

No.

I try to explain what is happening..pond…who they are, what they are doing, who their targets are. I try to explain hate.

“Are you scared or worried?”

No.

“That’s good, but that is also white privilege.”

We’ve talked before about sticking with your black friends when the authorities show up. Let’s talk about that again.  It’s more urgent than ever. Your Puerto Rican friend, your black and biracial friends, Jewish kids, historically, Nazis hated Catholics too …almost everyone.

They see me cry a lot during these discussions, and they grow more somber.  White privilege isn’t something to deny, feel guilty about, or ashamed of, I’m learning — in my 50s.  Rather, let’s acknowledge it, talk about it, and use it for good.  Stick with your friends, and stick up for your friends.  What are you going to do with your white privilege to make the world better?

They are 10 and 14… They are wide-eyed. They shrug.

You’re going to stick with your friends. You’re going to look people in the eye and smile as you pass.  You’ll greet and laugh and make small talk at the bus stop.  You’ll stick with them, stick up for them — even in a kid-only situation.

I’m sure there’s  more and we’ll cover it as I figure it out.  If you don’t know where to start to talk to your kids, I recommend starting with books, and I have a short list HERE.  With love, Angela.

 

On Moving Away… and Yearning

I think it happens to everyone born oceanside after they move “away.”

The yearning.  For a return, for the big expanse of perpetual motion that puts everything in perspective, for salt in the air and water.  We cannot forget the ocean.  We yearn to go back to it.

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I mean, look at that.  As a family and as a species, we come from that.  How could I not miss it?

The first time I called a plumber to my house, I stuck close to his side.  I tried to watch and learn and understand what was going on.  At the end of our visit, he laughed and said, “you know, every time I meet someone from Maine, the first thing they do is tell me where they are from.  Every single time!”

It’s a pride, an apology, an explanation.

My friends laugh these days when I squeal, “I’m from New England” and pretend to be shocked by something.  They don’t buy it any more; I’m reaching the crone years, after all.  But there was a time when I needed that phrase! I swear I did, haha.  It was a kind of shorthand.

Some may identify strongly with their ethnic or religious identity; I identify with my geographic region.

Scarborough Beach9But with that constant yearning came its companion, constant fantasy about moving.  I moved many times as a kid; I moved many times as an adult.  We’ve moved several times as a family.  And here’s the thing.

Moving with kids is overwhelming! My kids are anxious in opposite ways, so though I feel committed to holding space for them, and I ain’t afraid of calling in the pros, coralling all the belongings and emotions is not to be entered into lightly.

Our last move was particularly painful.  A week prior to closing, our buyer’s financing fell through.  We’d quit our jobs, we were packed, the kids were following along on the calendar, we had property in Maine picked out.  It was rough!  And then, about a month later, it happened again.  Our second buyer backed out.  But it was earlier in the process, so we weren’t all packed up and saying goodbye to our friends — again. Further complicating our process was the end of summer, and my promise to my kids that we wouldn’t make them move in the middle of the school year.  So…

We abandoned the plan.

Hence the yearning.  I’m working on minimizing that feeling with some distance learning from Buddhist psychologist Tara Brach.  Yearning is a waste of the present.  But the ocean is so strong!  Who can conquer the ocean?  And when the opportunity presents itself, I am ready.

I’m a recovering academic, so I have it all documented and organized. Even though my kids have had a few “dress rehearsals,” it’s still upheaval. Sensory kids need their upheaval managed and upheaval turns us all towards our sensory meltdown potential. I walk you through Breaking the News, getting them to help by signing their own Listing Agreement, Calendaring It Out with The Children so they know what to expect, and talking through the changes. If you’re planning a move, I’ve got your back!  Check out the description of my Moving and Changing Schools Kit.

Phone Pictures 433Kids who find out they have to move think first about their friends and their school and start to stress. I have a free guide that helps parents think through their schooling options.  Armed with this 3-page guide, you’ll feel more equipped to take charge of the project and support them through their concerns.  I would  be glad for you to have it for free. Click here to have Finding A School That Fits delivered to your email inbox.

Everything goes more smoothly with a plan and support. I created this program to support you as you support them.   See what I’m up to on my web site: AngelaLTodd.com

 

 

Our Kids Will Always Need Therapy. And It’s Okay.

My stern great-grandmother came from Copenhagen around 1890 and married a stern Welsh potato farmer in Northern Maine.  Katinka assimilated totally; they spoke no Danish, celebrated no Danish holidays, ate no Danish foods.  Children were to be seen and not heard.  My potato farmer grandfather Percival (her son), was equally stern.

He mostly repeated the family pattern, and almost finished his job doing so before big cultural changes came.  His children were born at the end of World War II and were young adults in the 60s.  The peaceniks and free love revolution didn’t quite infiltrate rural Northern Maine.  Percy’s kids (my dad and uncles) had farm exemptions from service in Viet Nam; they worked HARD.  They planted, tended, and picked potatoes. They may not have worn beads and protested, but they played HARD. They rigged their cars’ windshield washers to dispense moonshine into their glove boxes and started families earlier than planned.  Ahem.

They really failed at being seen and not heard. Gloriously.  Their kids, my cousins and I, were not expected to be seen and not heard.  We went on family camping trips and had big raucous Thanksgivings.  But still, we were not invited to speak. I’ve had to learn, as a person, to speak up — and unlearn, as a parent, speaki17105275_10156068423693916_1637972395_nng for or over my kids.

Big cultural changes happen quickly now, generation after generation.  Baby boomers, peaceniks, yuppies, gen Xers, generation Y, millenials — technology, gender roles, economic opportunities, the changing shape of the family.

What we learned about parenting, from our parents, is dated.  Historical trends in parenting have changed quickly, and in the last decades they have multiplied, too.  There’s not just Doctor Spock followed by Dr. Sears.  There’s permissive, free range, attachment, mindful, and authoritarian parenting.  And there’s more: religious (conservative or reform?), Adlerian, gender-neutral, tiger moms, geek dads… you see.

Best practices seem to change with the release of each new study.  New digital technologies mean we fly by the seats of our pants.  There’s no way a parent can stay ahead of it all.

But one thing remains steady — when kids, teens, and young adults misbehave, parents are first in the line of blame — l17101738_10156067620438916_1980051568_n.jpgike we operate in a vacuum.  The stakes feel high, and they are. Parents, kids, schools, and the culture at large see parents as responsible for their children’s behavior.

We simply cannot do it “right.” With high stakes, shifting criteria, changing terrain (new technologies, family shape), how could we?  How can we do those “best practices” about to be announced?  I always joked that my kids will need therapy because the standards of parenting change every decade.

But it’s true.

So when we need to course-correct in the funnerfamily, we get an outside contractor  —  a professional to survey the situation, advise, and help make new supports.   Honestly, sometimes we are late to the game.  Like we should have called in a pro six months ago!  haha.  But better late than never.

Often when I tell someone we are seeing a therapist, they respond with pity or sadness or some version of “this too shall pass.”  I think that’s the wrong attitude, frankly.  “The family” and its day to day decision making, traditions, and comforts, just doesn’t move at the same speed, or with the same agenda, as “the culture” with its press toward novelty and innovation.  Bridging the gap requires outside resources!  Haha…

My kids need an orthodontist, I’m not going to even think about doing THAT myself.  I don’t want to be in charge of EVERYTHING!  Our kids need experts.  I’d like to see our kids  invited to speak, and I for one need someone to paint some lines on the road so that I can stay in between “seen and not heard” and “the kids are in charge.”  We will always need professionals — they help me invite my kids to speak.  Our kids will always need therapy… and it’s okay.

I would love to hear about something you wish you had learned earlier, or could unlearn.  Or that your parents had unlearned.  Comment here, and let’s move forward together.  ❤

Holding space for our kids in anxious times.

I’ve written here before about the onus of healthy eating falling to moms.  About moms feeling guilty.  As things shift in larger culture, moms are telling me that they feel more “on the hook” than ever, and I feel it too.

Our grown up anxieties are spilling over onto our kids, and these days I don’t know how we’d ever completely exempt them from adult worries.  Instead:  twitter-128 I urge us to get our coping skills in place; feeling the feelings and making space for our kids to do the same.

I was on Facebook live recently, talking about holding space for our kids and I’d love you to check it out here.

Please don’t get distracted by the water I splashed on my shirt.  Snort.  #LetMomOffTheHook

 

My background is in cultural studies and women’s studies, and I have spent a lifetime tending to women’s changing roles in culture.  Join me as I focus in on helping moms, particularly us moms of sensory kids. Come on over to AngelaLTodd on Facebook and follow along.

What is my child worth?

This came.16326755_10155948391843916_1073580291_o

If I don’t open it,

will it still count as a pre-existing condition?

Do costs counting toward the lifetime insurance cap kick in as soon as I break the seal?  Upon diagnosis?  First therapy?

And how much is my child worth in insurance money?

We have CHIP, which is set for the chopping block, so these are not hypothetical questions.

If we cannot get outside medical/therapeutic intervention, will our public school be able to help us?  We need a diagnosis for school intervention.  See the catch-22?

If my kid cannot successfully be educated, how will s/he ever be able to get a job, take care of themselves, and pay taxes?  For want of early care, my child will end up in the system, on welfare, disability, maybe even jail.  That seems like poor investment logic.

And my other kid, the former preemie?  Has he hit his lifetime insurance cap already, at 13?

Where will our kids be in 10 years?  In 20 years?  Will they be able to take care of themselves?  Work?  Pay taxes?  Because it’s not just my kids — it’s thousands of kids, it’s  our kids, it’s the shape of America.

FOOD in CULTURE: Let mom off the hook.

US food culture may be on a long slow turn toward healthy eating.  Nevertheless, moms are still responsible for food quality, quantity, intake, and its long-term effects.  And, twitter-128 culture is not set up to help moms with their responsibility.  Taking the bus through Manhattan, marveling at all the food options on the street, in the bus station, on the corners, it struck me.  Nobody’s helping mama!

I’ve been talking and writing about this for several years, and am convinced: the proof is in the profit.

12985477_1156442274369052_7577300471009573850_n.jpgTelevised competitive cooking and baking

Celebration and reward foods

Vending machines

“Foodie” culture

School lunch

Street food

Fast food

Food goals are fairly unified: profit.

Moms’ goals, however, are health.  And statistically the onus is all on mom.  But a recent sociological study showed that moms don’t always feel it’s worth fighting for.  I’ve blogged about that here.

Special needs moms’ goals are often even more urgent and specific if they have underweight kids, picky eaters, food allergies, immune compromised kids, or if they administer food as a  therapeutic intervention (brain balance programs, supplements, feeding therapies, countering absorption issues, boosting immune systems, etc) .

Pediatricians, mom culture, even the government all advocate for healthy eating and diet diversity. But food production is insistent on unhealthy shortcuts and additives in their drive for profit.  Seeing this structural problem is the first step toward fixing it.

I want to help.  I want to let mom off the hook.  Two of my best tips for getting picky eaters to eat have been published here.

And I have a great new tip: figure out two go-to healthy snacks to always have on hand.  Ours are fresh strawberries and a healthy frozen french fry.  Close behind them are frozen blueberries and frozen peas.  My kids don’t always choose those options, but we have them.  Our local affordable grocery store is not nearby, and stocking a few healthy favorites eases the pain of that long distance between my kitchen cabinet and the good grocery store!

I would love to come talk to your group about this structural problem and answers to it.  And if you have any questions around this issue, reach out to me.  Follow along on Facebook or email me at Angela (at) AngelaLTodd.com.

Lets work together to #LetMomOffTheHook.

What they don’t tell you about being a NICU mom

twitter-128“He was in NICU for months; now he’s perfect.” I have told that story, and I shouldn’t have. Click to tweet.

I recently served on a hospital committee tasked with  building a tool for how to discuss pulling the plug, withholding life support, redirecting care. Whatever they are calling it these days.  I was with doctors, nurses, social workers, parents — and shocked to learn that getting parents to understand something is really WRONG is actually their biggest struggle. And I can see why.

Being a NICU mom is literally dreadful, always stabilizing for the next stage, and that NICU experience never leaves you. I see four stages:

1. Early delivery: fear, anger, powerlessness, followed by the daily grind of staying in the hospital, driving across town, driving hours for a visit, or staying in a Ronald McDonald House, hotel, or abandoned wing of the hospital until it is renovated (as my friend did).firstfamilyphoto

I have published survival strategies for this stage elsewhere.  Help someone you know by reading or sharing my article Surviving the NICU: Finding the Strength.

2. Going home.  It feels heroic!  It is a huge success!  But it’s not over; you now have in-home therapies, followups, specialists, and the long slow process of infancy, which is much longer if you’ve spent 3 months in NICU just to make it to your babe’s due date, and go home with significant delays.  Then come toddler years and elementary school.  The whole time, you are seeing how far and how hard you can push and yet how completely and miraculously you can nurture. Therapies, teams in and out of school, hopes, dreams, disappointments, prayers, successes, frustrations, yelling matches even!  Everyone is working very hard.

3. Feelings.  It was years before a professional explained that I had PTSD. That helped explain the helicoptering, worry, sadness, telling strangers all about it, euphoria, obsession with choosing a school, integration, coping — you can’t have #2 without #3.  I advocate talking it out and getting some regularized self-care — not a task for you to do, but some scheduled or outsourced service such as massage, cleaning lady — read more about how to make it effortless on a previous blog post here.

4. Landing.  Getting a handle on where you’ve landed as a family and considering independence — long term planning for exiting school, work possibilities, post-secondary school, or job training.  Long term post-parent planning (estate, safety net, housing, disability, etc). As our NICU superhero has become a teen, we are entering this phase now.

Those hard parts though, #2 and #3, are left out of preemie stories in the media.  Our superhero was born 3 days after multiples that continue to make the morning news.  I remember waiting for the lucky parents to finish chatting with  Matt Lauer before the rest of us were allowed in to visit our own fragile babies. “It was scary but they are starting to go home,” the smiling parents said.  “Heartwarming,” Lauer probably said. On their birthdays those kids are on the news, lined up in high chairs, crawling, sitting in a row at the feet of their smiling mom.  My friend who stayed in that abandoned hospital wing laughs with me — if only it were that easy, one milestone after another. That story sells, fundraises, and reassures. But it’s only partial.

If you’re struggling with your post-NICU path or are still in the hospital with your babe, I want to help.  Let’s set up a free 20-minute chat and see if we can chart a path together.

I’d also be happy to speak to your group of parents, medical, or educational staff.

Email me at funnermother [at] yahoo.com for more information.

 

 

Keep the Peace: phrases to protect your sensory kid

Have you ever done a ballet or tap recital? Synchronized swimming or skiing? Line dance? Waltz? You learn, train, practice, rehearse, perform: building muscle memory. Families are just like that!

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You might have moved away and changed your dance, maybe you took up modern jazz — but when you come home, the old gang is still doing the funky chicken. The old dance. Your muscle memory kicks in and you flap your elbows, shake your booty to the floor, and your hands “cluck” like you never stopped. But stick with me, and you don’t have to dance that old dance. Nor do you have to pull the rug out from under the other dancers.

Let’s rehearse some ways it could work for you, your kids, and your extended family. Then work your plan both ways – you are the hinge between your parents and your kids. Work your plan with both of them. Scripts are great for this.

twitter-128Scripts help us decide what’s important & how to speak up about it — respect our parents & protect our kids. <= Click To Tweet

Scripts help us keep relationships with our extended family.

Plan with or speak with your nuclear family, your partner, kids, lodgers, and pet-sitters about the holiday plan. It has taken me some time — and embarrassing momfits — to see that sometimes I should not try for the democratic process. Either I really have a plan or I don’t, but sometimes I (or Dad and I) need to be in charge of how we play it by ear with our families, or maybe I just don’t have the energy for the kids saying, “I vote we just stay home.” Sometimes they don’t get a vote.  And that’s ok.

Lately Thing 1 has been exemplary at checking in with himself and explaining how he feels – he doesn’t like to be surprised by my last-minute planning. Sigh. Teaching self-help skills means having to deal with it when the kids use those skills.

Think in advance – be prepared to compromise. Think about your top three foodie areas where you do NOT want to compromise around your kids’ food. Write them down. I’m a big fan of sleeping on it – go back to your top 3 list later, and then decide if they fit with your desires and travel plans – are you willing to do the work during a 3-day drive to ensure that the family eats leafy greens at every meal? Keep it realistic, reasonable, perhaps even easy.  Are you going to be mad at the extra work, or mad at missing your greens? Weigh that out.

snowman If you are having guests coming, ask if you need a backup food for their fussy or sensory kid, and withhold your judgment … they may show up doing a waltz, but you can still show off your jazz hands.

Your kids. It’s tempting to just buy chicken nuggets or prepared mac and cheese, and while that is one strategy that I use on occasion, I want to propose some ideas that taught our family to be better guests.

  1. Tell social stories about the trip – why you’re going, what to expect, how it might go, another way it might go, how they might feel and it’s okay to feel our feelings. Give them some scripts, too: “Mom, it’s too loud in here, can I sit in the car?” “Mom, I don’t think I can wait until dinner. I’m hangry. Can I have a healthy snack?”
  1. Strategize about where a kid can get some peace and quiet. In the car, bathroom, a big cardboard box, grandma’s porch, even under the bedcovers. Tell them how to excuse themselves, where to go, and what to do when they are overwhelmed — even if it’s at the dinner table.
  1. Teach them how to decline politely. Don’t hurt the cook’s feelings and don’t “yuk on someone else’s yum.”
  1. Discuss in advance that your family “new food” rules always apply (if they do. If they do not, clarify what the traveling rules will be), then expect them to stick to your one-bite rule, or smell or lick, or a bite for each year old they are. Tell them this before you go.
  1. Tell your kids that they can come to you if someone says something that makes them feel sad, mad or bad so that you can handle the situation for them — or if they are being pressured to eat something or to clean their plate or whatever else happens. Be sure they know that they can, and how to do so with respect, perhaps out of earshot or even by text message.
  1. Show your kid(s) three recipes and have them choose a healthy one that they will eat to make and bring – even if it’s not a potluck. Veggies-n-dip, fruit-n-yogurt, a side of snap peas, or a healthy yeast or sweet bread, all make great hostess gifts. Or consider a bowl of melon, pomegranate seeds, or berries.  Older kids might be trusted to peruse the cookbook, but set some parameters – a slice-and-bring dish? High fiber? Crockpot warmable? Bring a side, a vegetarian or gluten-free or allergy-free dish, offer to bring a side and bring 2, and even something just for your kid.
  1. 15349645_1354173004595977_3822187472669593966_n-1Involving them in making the dish is a great way to teach executive function. Have them decide, list the ingredients, shop for what you need, make the recipe, clean up, store the dish, and make a plan for warming and serving it when you get there. “Math it” out loud if you are doubling or halving the recipe. If you can include granny when you get there, all the better.
  1. Look away if you can. If the food is not a dangerous allergen, let them flounder just a little … if they’re hungry, they may stretch a little or a lot. Also, looking away changes the food dance. Your stepmom, mom, or dad become the food bearers, which changes the dynamic.
  1. At the same time, set them up for success. My pickiest eater would cross a line and just not be hungry any more – especially when he was smaller. So before grown-up dinners, parties, plane rides, and the like, we would snack him or full-on feed him. As he got bigger, around 5th grade, I started looking away more. He is usually well-mannered enough to at least try. Be sure to teach them the manners that they need to take care of themselves without offending.

Your parents.  You are the hinge between these two generations. You don’t want their judgment, but don’t give them yours either. A friend says “apathy is your personal savior.” And that’s a good phrase to remember when bringing toddlers to grandma’s house. Explain to them, “We’ll be out of our schedule, we’ll be on the road three days, no, this is not the way we live all the time, but I’m going to let them stay up late or eat junk (or or whatever it is) so I don’t spend our time together punishing them.

Everyone has someone who needs to be “always right.” I have those people; families are full of them! Haha. But you can protect yourself by actively believing that they just want to help, or make themselves feel better, or be loved – no need to bristle at them. I am not above taking All. The. Blame.   Then we can get on with dinner or building a fire or skiing or whatever it is we are doing.  I’m willing to do that.

  1. Some people have no skills for respecting boundaries, being kind, or self-regulation and many of those people have kids – you might even be a kid of someone like that. If you’re here reading this, chances are pretty good!  We’ve solved some of these issues by staying in a hotel in town, staying in a camper in the yard, scheduling a couple of short trips instead of a longer one – we may break up a week with grandma by spending a few nights with Pa, or Auntie, or with my old high school friends. When you are in their house, they may ask you to abide by their rules, and if that’s a conflict, offsite housing or offsite visits might work best if you’re not willing to go toe to toe on why junior does not have to clean his plate, even if s/he is at grandpa’s house.15673533_10155788423513916_1458279869_n
  1. In advance, tell your parents social stories about the trip – what they can expect, how it might go, or another way it might go. You can say something like “It’s just impossible to stay on schedule while traveling, so we’re going to just go with the flow in terms of planning the week, or sticking to time limits on the ipad or eating leafy greens at every meal.” And then repeat that in person when your kid throws a fit, or when you don’t bring down the hammer on some infraction – even if you would at home. My dad is a merciless tease, and before one trip I just came out and said “he wants to grow his hair and I just don’t care – it seems like harmless self expression. But he’s very sensitive to being teased, and I just don’t want you to hurt his feelings.” He might have rolled his eyes over the phone, but he did not tease my kid about his hair. Or his disdain for chewy meat!
  1. When they make suggestions about how to solve a parenting problem, nod, give a thoughtful look (this is usually called active listening – or just acting haha) and say something like:

Huh, I’ll have to do some research on that.

Oooh, I’ll look into it.

I’ll ask the pediatrician about that (or physical therapist, feeding consultant, teacher, school psychologist, occupational therapist…. defer to a higher authority than either you or your parents).

  1. Or you might shrug, give an apologetic look (even if you feel annoyed) and say something like: **We’ve consulted with the pediatrician and we are just going with this for now.

 

I love my elders, but they do drive me nuts. These tactics have helped me keep my relationships with them, keep them in relationship with my kids, and teach my kids both how to be respectful to their elders and also how I want to be treated when they are adults.

Good luck and happy holidays!

If you have a sticky situation or shocking success, drop it in the comments and I’ll chime in or cheer you on!

Winter Holiday Sensory Tips for Kids

Is your kid easily overwhelmed?  You don’t need a formal diagnosis to notice sensory preferences, and if you see a trend in meltdowns and over-stimulation, chances are you’ll see more of those over the winter holidays.  I’ve got some guidelines for preventing those meltdowns, and they might be applicable to adults in the family, too.  Ahem. (That bell ringing over the kettle for donations makes me do a u-turn right out of the parking lot, muttering under my breath!)

First, manage expectations: yours and theirs.  Parents with sensitive or sensory kids may review what they think “typical” families do: is that an achievable expectation for your family without getting tied up into knots?  As the family planners, consider i15349645_1354173004595977_3822187472669593966_n-1.jpgf you might need to give up on your vision or modify it. Kids’ expectations can wreck an otherwise great event, and getting a handle on those expectations will help the season go smoothly. A great  way to do that is to talk!  Before you go out, as you plan the holiday meal, schedule events, or invite folks over, find age-appropriate ways to check in with the kids and tell them who is involved and how long you think it will be: 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days?    Will there be food?  Other kids? Will they be expected to sit quietly, sing songs, play tag outside?

Kids’ expectations aren’t always clear to THEM: all the presents, all the sweet treats, read from the Torah, do the reading, not do the reading, light the candles, decorate the tree, travel, crowds, manners, strangers…  take the time to check in before and during events, and be open to offering descriptive language to younger kids and getting more information from them as it dawns on them.

Second, have a plan: Coach your kids on a way to indicate that they are overwhelmed or have had enough.  We agree to two fingers on the arm while I’m talking.  When I reach a break in the conversation, I’ll tend to the kid.  When the fingers push harder, I know it’s a bathroom emergency (or some other “emergency” and we are refining what counts as an emergency haha).  Have an exit strategy — or two.   If you’ve gone over how long you think the event will go, have a strategy in place for if the meltdown comes…. it might even be yours!  Haha.  Everybody gets their own coats and meets at the front door?  Designated parent takes melting down kid to the car?   And waits for a cool-down so they can return, or waits for the family to leave the event (does the rest of the family finish touring the conservatory of leave right away)? A quick review of the family plans can extend how long everyone can stay — just knowing there is a meltdown plan can increase everyone’s endurance.

Third, bring supplies.  Discuss the event, air the kids’ concerns in advance, and take this opportunity to prepare for the overwhelm: bring sunglasses or a hat with a visor for light displays, bonfires, or even crowds.  Bring earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, or even an iPod.  Consider a snack and drink, a comfort toy, quiet entertainment, extra binkies.  A couple of times we even brought a friend!

Kids’ engagement and endurance aren’t 100% predictable.  Even at 13, my son may grit his teeth through an entire event, or he may find his niche and really enjoy it.  His enjoyment may be due to talking to other adults, finding a kid with similar interests, or just finding a place to zone out with a book or tv.  He does always expect to grit his teeth through social events, so having a review of what we think will happen, supplies, and an exit plan help us get there in the first place.  And in case you experience unexpected delays, check out my list of games and bonding activities HERE.

Other things to consider:

Lights: displays, on the house, at events.  Twinkling, flashing, and color-changing lights can be overwhelming to sensory kids.  For kids with seizure disorders, they can even inspire a seizure.

Sound: Malls, adult parties, kids parties, THAT BELL!

Gift expectations: getting less than you hoped for, getting an overwhelming amount, presents that don’t come with batteries, don’t work, or fail in their advertised promises.

Eating schedules: Stealthily sliding your kid a granola bar when you realize that food is delayed, or snacking before leaving home to avoid HANGRY meltdowns, can really save the day!

If you’d like some support around any of these issues, or want to sit down and map out strategies that work for your family, just hit reply to this email.  We can schedule a free 30-minute chat, and if you’d like to set up more time after that, we can!

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