Thursday, May 17, 2018

Our Current Parenting Strategies

The central theme in the books and philosophies we have been adopting revolve around 3 simple, but powerful, core tenants:
  1. Ask Why - Ask the affected person why, the answers can surprise you
  2. Be Proactive - Solve problems before they happen, instead of reacting after
  3. Flooded people can’t learn - If a person is already in limbic response (Dr. Shanker's Red Brain) or fight/flight/freeze (Dr. Shanker's Lizard Brain), it is too late to intervene.
Our transition from a Skinner based behavioral style of parenting to a more humanistic style began when I read the book “Uniquely Human” by Dr. Barry Prizant.  After reading the book and finding it incredibly rewarding, I gifted copies to both my son's General Education and Resource teacher that year at Christmas. They stated they also greatly enjoyed the book (fair warning, it’s a bit of a dense read, these all are).  Dr. Prizant is one of the creators of the SCERTS model (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Support).  This philosophy intrigued me, however I wasn’t able to find the depth of supporting resources I believed would be needed.   

This year, several people recommended “The Explosive Child” by Dr. Ross Greene.  First, I listened to the abridged audio version of the book (only 2.5 hours long, for those in a hurry).  Then, I read the more broadly applicable "Raising Human Beings".  Finally, I began exploring the materials on Dr. Greene’s website, where I found a wealth of information and evidence-based practices that resonated strongly with us as a family.  Shortly after I began investigating Dr. Greene's Collaborative & Proactive Solutions, I also started reading "Self-Reg" by Dr. Stuart Shanker.  I am still working my way through that book, but have learned a lot about how stress affects the body and and mind, as well as managing energy flow to optimize self-regulation.  Understanding the Triune brain and determining which brain is driving the behaviors I see is a huge influence on how I handle the behaviors I see. 

The Shanker Method added yet another piece to the puzzle that was leading me further away from Skinner based behaviorism.  All of the above mentioned resources start with the same basic premise. We need to reframe how we understand behavior.    Skinner teaches us that the behavior we see is learned and ultimately manipulative in nature. That all human action is based in a strategic attempt to control the environment and its demands.  A lens shift occurred for us when this behavior was reframed. The actions of an overwhelmed human aren’t manipulative, often times they aren’t even rational. Expecting someone in a flooded state to be rational or in control ignores the biological functions that rule when a person is in this type of dysregulated state.  The blog post about Spoon Theory gives a really relatable framework for understanding how the extra work of illness or disability take a toll on the resources available for self-regulation.  

While researching the above methodologies, I came across this article on the implementation of Dr. Greene’s method within the school setting. Which lead me to the book "Lost at School" and to Dr. Greene’s CPS Walking Tour for educators, which has a fantastic introductory video that really explores the idea that behavioral success is simply a matter of motivation.  The core of Dr. Green’s methodology is based in the idea that the behaviors are actually symptoms of developmental or learning delays or disabilities, in a series of important life skills, rather than manipulative or attention seeking behaviors.  The Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) is the tool for identifying the lagging skills and for brainstorming the problems to solve. After having used the tool personally, I believe it would be beneficial for every educational team to fill out an ALSUP during the IEP process.  In addition to the Walking Tour for Educators, here are some additional easy to consume resources to get a quick idea of how this all comes together:
Finally, I want to provide links to a couple of resources that I believe really capture the beauty of acceptance within school.  This series of blog posts covers the discussion one amazingly articulate mother has with an incredible class of kids:
And, a beautiful video project that I wish would have been fully funded:

An Alternative to Motivation Based Interventions

The base assumption of behavior based intervention is that kids will do well if they want to. Our experience with our son belies that belief.  Dr. Ross Greene takes a more humanistic approach that is summarized in this quote "Challenging kids are challenging because they’re lacking the skills not to be challenging…they are delayed in the development of crucial cognitive skills, such as flexibility/ adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem-solving."  This frames the visible behaviors as symptoms of a developmental delay. We can no more expect that motivation alone will solve these issues than we’d expect motivation to lead a dyslexic child to read.

Once we accept that behaviors are a symptom of developmental delay in the aforementioned crucial skills, the lens begins to change.  No more are we questioning why a child doesn’t want to behave appropriately, instead we are looking for the barrier that is preventing something they desperately want to do.  This begs the question, how do we get over that barrier. How do we teach skills like Problem-Solving, Frustration tolerance, adaptability, and flexibility? Modeling is one of our best tools for teaching these skills. The entire Plan B process is a blueprint for how we want our children to interact with the world:
  1. When you are becoming emotionally compromised, practice self care to regain equilibrium
  2. When everyone is in a calm and centered state, ask the person what they are experiencing and really listen, for the purpose of truly understand their perspective, rather than to frame your reply
  3. Express your concerns regarding the situation, while they listen to understand your perspective in return
  4. Collaborate to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
If I can model this to the point where it is the default action for my child when they are in conflict with another human, I will consider that a major win for my parenting.  This process provides a framework for kids to learn these crucial skills.

Here is an example Plan B Conversation my son and I had after an incident in a lunchroom.  In this incident, the original assumption was that my son was upset he didn’t have chips, because his routine was to get chips every day at the end of lunch:

I started with “I heard you had trouble leaving the lunch room on Friday, what’s up?”

He replied “I wanted chips and lunch time was over”.  

I replied “You wanted chips and lunch time was over, anything else”?  

He said “She just kept ignoring me”.  

I said “She kept ignoring you, anything more to tell”?  

He said “No, it just really made me mad to be ignored”

I said, “You wanted chips when lunchtime was over, and it made you mad when she ignored you when you told her that”.  

He said “yes”.  

I said “anything else you want to tell me about that?”  

He said “No”.  

I then shifted into the adult concerns portion, I said “my concern here is that an hour long reaction to being ignored isn’t actually going to get you heard, do you think she knew she was ignoring you and the information you had to provide”?  

He said “I don’t know”.  

I asked “What do you think you could try next time you are feeling ignored”.  

He said “I can tell them to stop ignoring me”.  

I said “Let’s try that and see how it works”.  

This was one of our first Plan B conversations (I wrote it up to send to his teacher).  The biggest take-away here for me, is the base assumption upon which my son's teachers acted was fundamentally flawed.  They lectured him on alternate ways to get food from someone without yelling, but the real problem was something different.  If we don't ask the person with the problem "why" there are pretty good odds that we'll be solving the wrong problem.

At home, we support the plan when we see the problem arise. If it doesn’t work, we wait until we are calm, we talk about it some more and we modify the plan.  We’re having trouble finding footing on how to create and implement plans for school, but we are working on it.  This blog post actually originated as a 9 page document I sent to the school in order to help them help my son.  I've (hopefully) removed all the identifying characteristics and personal information.  If anyone sees something, drop me a line.

Stephen Covey wrote “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  We’re working hard to build a habit of listening to understand. It is a difficult shift to make, after the habits of a lifetime, but I think it is well worth it.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Kid Updates for February 2017

C had a cardiology appointment yesterday.  The night before we had this really nuanced and in depth conversation about his cardiac status and why his heart beat so slow and what that meant, both now and in the future.  It was nothing like what I'd expect to talk about with a 7 year old, and yet, it didn't prepare me for the reality of his concerns.  Especially with C at this time, this kind of back and forth conversation as been rare.  We stayed on topic the entire time and the questions he asked were thoughtful and showed he had an understanding of the situation of which we were previously unaware.

While we were at the appointment, he put up the usual prolonged protest to the echo, the stickers on his chest, etc.  He hates having things stuck to his skin, so some of it was expected.  The doctor agreed to forego the stickers on the echo, despite the decreased picture quality that will result.  But C continued to protest.  After about 25 minutes trying to get him to lay down he yelled "I just don't want to know if I need another open heart surgery".

We did finally get the echo.  The repair is holding.  We're doing a 24 hour Holter right now so we can find out what his heart is doing over the course of a day.  I'm still hoping it will pick up speed or heal, or do something so we can achieve stability.  If not that, I hope they can figure out a way to make those stem cells we saved at birth replace or repair the sinus node that just isn't doing the job. 

 R had the flu last month.  We all went on Tamiflu in the hopes of stopping it in its tracks, which seems to have worked.  This year's flu seems to be particularly troublesome when it comes to secondary infections.  Poor R was on tamiflu, and a steroid, and just finished some antibiotics for the pneumonia that developed in the wake of the flu.   She's also doing well, though it was somewhat disconcerting to have her tell me "The left side of my face is swollen".  She is so aware of what's going on with her body, compared to her brother's disconnect, it is quite startling. 

 Both kiddos are in school, both at the elementary school and an after school program. R goes for half days, then to a Montessori preschool for the other half.  She's enjoying everything about school, C would prefer more academic rigor, everything is too frustrating on the motor front and too boring on the intellectual front.  It's a hard balance because the two aspects are so very lop-sided.  Everyone is doing their best.  We have our next IEP meeting in a few weeks.  I am looking forward to coming up with ideas to help him next year.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Improved DIY T-Shirt Chew Necklaces

I have been refining my chew necklace technique since I first started making Chew necklaces a couple of years ago now.  I finally have a necklace I'm really happy with.  It takes me about 10 minutes to make a complete necklace (12 minutes if I need to cut t-shirt strips).  I like these necklaces a lot.  They have circumvented some of the big problems I had with the commercial chew necklaces.  The Chew Letters, Chewelry and other items quickly became choking hazards as my son would crack the beads or tubes within the first 6-8 hours.  Also, his teachers and I found that saliva would drip down onto the table as he worked because the tubes and beads were not absorbent.

I looked online for ideas for DIY chew necklaces, but I had concerns with the t-shirt necklaces I found because they didn't have a breakaway clasp.  I started with paracord clasps and braided my son's preferred material (t-shirt) around the paracord, but each necklace took 45 minutes to break and lasted 4-6 washings before they looked terrible and I wanted to replace them.  What I really wanted was something fast to create, machine washable, and cheap.

Today I have a solution I'm totally happy with.  I have found a clasp that breaks away effectively, but doesn't require that I use paracord.  Note: It isn't the one in the picture, below  (with my dog).  The clasp in that picture is from Hobby Lobby and though it is called a breakaway buckle, I tested it and I was unable to get it to pop apart. I have stopped using those clasps in favor of these, from Amazon.

I did find and purchase a super cheap Chinese version of this clasp, and I have tested them for lead, using a 3M lead test swab and they tested negative, this time, but use at your own risk.  The clasps from China look and feel exactly the same, and they are significantly cheaper, however, you run the risks of purchasing from China, where the manufacturing standards differ greatly.  Given that the clasps are reusable many times over, compared to the t-shirt strips they hold, make your best choice on which one you want to get, based on your own concerns and expectations.

For t-shirt material, I purchase XXL 100% Cotton men's t-shirts at my local thrift store, the thicker the better.  On the days where T-shirts are 99 cents each, or you can buy a bag of clothes for 5 dollars, I stock up.  I cut the t-shirts into 1 inch strips.  I also make t-shirt bags, so I generally stop about 2-4 inches below the sleeves especially if the shirt has a cool design, like the batman bag in the picture above.  I also cut off the sleeves  to make small drawstring bags that can hold things like brand new chew necklaces, or used, soggy ones.  To get more info on the creation of the t-shirt sacks, or drawstring bags, check out my previous blog post with the more intricate and time consuming chew necklaces, as well as the aforementioned bags.

In order to make the t-shirt strip creation process slightly faster, I do use a rotary cutter.  I purchased this one on Amazon.


Video Tutorial:

Step By Step Instructions:

Begin by cutting your 1 inch width t-shirt strips.  I cut 10-12 Men's XXL t-shirts up at a time, but you can cut as few as 5 strips to get started.

Stack the five loops one on top of the other, then make the end as tight and wrinkle free as you can. 

Insert the t-shirt strips into one side of the clasp. I try to have the bottom of the clasp facing me, but really, it doesn't matter all that much which way your knot folds.  Pull about 1.5-2 inches of loop through the clasp, then loop the long tail back through the small loop and pull tight.

This forms the knot that will secure the beginning of your braid to the clasp.  According to my research, this type of knot is known as a Larks head knot.  It will be used to secure both ends of the necklace to the clasp.

Once you have the knot secured, use the chip clip or whatever securing device you have and secure the clasp end so you can begin braiding.  Do your best to line the loops up so they aren't too tangled and place 1 loop each on the index, middle and ring finger of your left hand (Pictured below with tan, blue and yellow loops) and the index and middle finger of your right hand (pictured below with the black and red loops).

Then, using your ring finger on your right hand, go through the ring and middle finger loops on your left hand, then bring your right ring finger OVER the left hand index finger loop and hook the t-shirt strand.  This puts a half twist in the loop as it pulls it back, which helps make the braid.  Bring it back through the other loops on the left hand to complete the first pass in the braid.  You should now have loops on the index, middle and ring finger of your RIGHT hand and the middle and ring finger of your left hand. Bring the loops way out to the side, to tighten the braid by moving the weaving close to the clasp.

You now need to shift the loops up one finger each on your left hand, freeing the ring finger up to do the same pass from the opposite side.  Once you have the loops on your index and middle finger, use your ring finger on your left hand to go through the ring and middle finger loops on the right hand, then over the right hand index finger loop, hooking the strand and taking it back through the other loops.  Walk the two remaining strands up one finger each and you should be back where you started.  Again, bring the loops way out to the side, to tighten the braid by moving the weaving close to the clasp. Keep alternating that pattern until you have about 1.5-2 inches worth of loop left at the end.

Pull the remaining loops back through the other end of the clasp with the back of the clasp facing you.  Group the 5 loops together  and after separating the two pieces of the clasp pass the end that has already been used to create a larks head knot through the loops on the other side.  Pull them tight and you should have a second larks head knot on the other side of the clasp.  This completes your chew necklace.


My Sincere thanks to Loop Braider on YouTube whose tutorial taught me the 5 loop square braid I use in this video. For more details on the braid mechanics, or to try other braids in your necklace, check out her tutorials.