Winning Family Meal Time

August decided for about a week he was a cat. Ate all his dinners off a plate on the floor. Then one day he stopped. Never did figure out why. But every meal was three members of the family leisurely eating our meals and August plowing through his food like he hasn’t eaten in a month. Or like he may never eat again. Some days there would barely be any space between the edge of his plate and his mouth. And it never changed. And a half an hour later he’d swear he was starving. So I was in a constant search for something I could do that would mean winning family meal time.

In today’s over-scheduled world, just getting the whole family around the table at the same time is a triumph. I remember growing up that when my sister and I both became teenagers, everyone at the dinner table became more and more rare. The kitchen floor would be littered with notes from me to mom and mom to dad and my sister to dad informing each other of our whereabouts and pick up times. Remember this was pre-cell phones folks!

When the boys came along, we tried to be good about having regular family dinners. It was important for us to have that time together. We made a big deal about August eating his food and he would enjoy our attention. But very soon after getting comfortable with us, food became part of his battle for control.

I remember one night that we had some sort of meat and August didn’t want to eat it. He put a bit in his mouth but wouldn’t swallow it. That one bite of meat got bigger and bigger and it was maybe half an hour or more we did battle to get him to just swallow. I was afraid he would choke. But food was something he wanted to control. I’m sure it stemmed from lack of food in the time before he was removed from his birth home when he was barely fed and it broke my heart.

On another occasion I was getting dinner ready and August came asking for something to eat. I told him dinner was almost ready and he could wait. He threw a fit and screamed, “You never feed me!” Again my heart broke because obviously that wasn’t the case but he definitely was drawing on some old repressed memories.

So how can we go about winning family meal time? I am going to focus on dinner because with kids in school lunches are rough and mornings tend to be an all out sprint (though a big breakfast on the weekend is my favorite meal!) Here are some ideas:

  • Include the kiddos in meal planning on Sunday: Letting them be involved in what will be on the menu for the week greatly increases the chances they will be on board when it gets served later. Now of course you ultimately get veto power so it won’t be five days of pizza, but getting buy-in will help your job.
  • Include the kiddos in cooking: August loves to cook. He would sometimes ask to cook a whole meal himself when he got older. I know, sometimes it’s easier to do it yourself but they get such pride when they help and again the buy-in helps with making sure they will eat. Plus doing things together is great for bonding!
  • Make meal time technology-free: This is a big one if you have teenagers. No phones at the table, if there’s a TV within sight it gets turned off. Meal time can be a great time to engage in meaningful conversation about the days events, about the rest of the week, about the weekend. Anything that will get the whole family communicating together.
  • Have ideas to talk about: I would always ask the boys about their day at school and what was their favorite part. That would have to be quickly followed by, “And don’t say lunch or recess.” Because otherwise those would always be the answers! I know some families who ask what is one good thing and one bad thing that happened that day. There are many ways to start conversations.
  • Make sure kiddos help clean up: The boys were always responsible for their plates and cups. And they got great about automatically carrying them to the sink, rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher. That also meant I had to have the dishwasher emptied of clean dishes so it motivated me as well!

There are a lot of ways to make winning family meal time easier. There are meal delivery services and grocery delivery services to cut your time down, particularly if you have a very scheduled house. I also found these ideas from MSN and this blog which had some good thoughts as well.

The bottom line is being together, communicating and having fun is winning family meal time. And sometimes that is all that needs to happen.

Until next time,

Shannon

The Philosophy of Homework

I don’t know about you all, but homework was a problem from the first day of kindergarten. It was never smooth sailing no matter how easy or how challenging the assignment. And sometimes it was a knock-down, drag-out fight. In the end, there were no winners. My relationship with August was further strained. More often than not the homework still wasn’t done. And both of us were angry and stressed at the end of an already long day. So today I impart the philosophy of homework.

As August got older, I began to be more of an advocate for him where homework was concerned. Some nights it just wasn’t possible to do homework. His head just wasn’t in the right place. We’d added tutoring one year, and after a full day of school then tutoring there was no way I could get him to sit still for yet more schooling. We’d get home and the car would barely be in the garage before he would take off. Running away rather than do homework told me all I needed to know about his anxiety where homework was concerned.

And true, some of it was good ‘ole RAD manipulation but some of it wasn’t. And now that I’m substitute teaching fairly frequently, I’m adding to my knowledge of what’s necessary when it comes to homework. I remember long ago when I was in school and got loads of homework from every teacher I’d complain, “Do they think they’re the ONLY teacher we have?” Students today have agendas and online systems and telephone systems to keep up with assignments. And so much of what they need to do can be done on computer (This is just a little whining about how good kids have it today compared to my generation!) But it seems like it’s creating a generation of students with no executive function skills at all.

But there will always be a need for homework but also a love/hate relationship where RAD kiddos are concerned. And here is what I believe the philosophy of homework should be. Homework is not:

  • Punishment
  • Busy work
  • Filling out curriculum requirements because the teacher can’t plan

Homework is:

  • Reinforcing material already taught
  • Only if necessary (if it appears the class isn’t getting the concept)
  • Only enough work to grasp the material

Now what if getting your RAD kiddo to do homework is a cage fight like I had with August? This is where your IEP can come in handy. You do have the ability to put in writing that you can negotiate the amount of homework that your child will need to complete. And in most cases your child’s teacher will work with you even if it’s not in an IEP. But absolutely do not compromise your child’s well-being and your relationship for the sake of a few math problems. Let your child know you believe homework is important, but strike a balance that preserves the calm in the home.

As soon as I started explaining August’s anxiety where homework was concerned and he and I started coming to agreements about what amount of homework was sufficient for him to complete (many times he was able to complete it all!) life got much calmer.

For some more official commentary on the pros and cons of homework check out this article from Psychology Today. And Time published research on whether or not homework is good for kids. This was in response to teachers announcing they were not giving it out anymore. As always, the solution is that you know your child best and can be their best advocate. And in the end, you don’t want to be the one doing the homework!

Until next time,

Shannon

Defining Your Own Happiness

As soon as I wrote this title, the words came into my head from an old song by the Mamas and the Papas called, “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” I have now given you a big clue as to my age. I found a great video of Mama Cass Elliott singing it here. This is special because she was a great example at the time of someone who was defining her own happiness. So how are you defining your own happiness?

I think it’s very easy once we become parents to define our happiness by the happiness of our children. If they’re OK then we must be OK. And when you have a RAD kiddo that can be really tough. Because you are going to have days, weeks and maybe years where happiness maybe fleeting or seemingly non-existent. And it seems unnatural to search for happiness if your child is not happy. Like we are not entitled to be happy unless the rest of our family, down to the family pets are happy. How did that come to be?

This happens in families who aren’t dealing with a special needs child as well I’m sure. But living in the constant chaos and anxiety of life with a RAD kiddo means that we will be taking a backseat for a very long time. Possibly forever if our child cannot learn to live independently. So do we just sit back and wait to see if we will be able to carve out happiness for ourselves? Doing that is not healthy for ourselves, our relationships or our ability to effectively parent our RAD kiddos.

Defining your own happiness begins with not making your happiness contingent on the happiness of your partner or your children. Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work towards making them happy as well. But it does mean that you should identify what is essential to your happiness whether it involves your family or not. That’s not meant to sound harsh. Just that the more you are real about what will make you happy and content, the better able you will be to take care of your family.

So how do you go about defining your own happiness? Well, I am no expert. I spent many years caught up in the lives of my children. After August was diagnosed I was consumed with how to “fix” him. And after homeschooling, tutoring, therapy and extracurricular activities as a stay-at-home mom I got completely lost in my child. When my marriage ended and I had to go back to work and strike out on my own I had no idea what my life needed. And as the years have past and August has spiraled more away from me, my sense of self and definitions of happiness have been tossed more times than I can count.

Here are a couple of references to how to define your own happiness. This first one from Psychology Today is pretty logical and straightforward. This second one aligns much more with what it feels like to be a RAD parent. In both cases, they describe spending time soul-searching for those things which are truly yours in your search for happiness. That is what I wish for you.

Until Next Time,

Shannon

What Makes Up a Family?

Please accept my apologies for writing my Family Friday post on Sunday! I have been battling a two-day migraine. And I’ve spent big chunks of the last couple weeks teaching middle school (maybe a connection?) But interestingly, my time teaching gave me much of insight for this post and got me thinking. What makes up a family?

This is not intended to digress into a political statement about rights of minority populations or anything like that. But since you asked, I do believe that any couple who has the capacity to love a child should be allowed to parent. However, we all know that families are made of many more combinations than mothers and fathers. And this is where my time in middle school came into play. There was a student who had to stay home one day and watch her nephew. And a teacher who is co-parenting her grandchildren with her daughter. There were many students who referred to step-parents.

And it got me to thinking about how the make-up of a family affects children both positively and negatively. August spent his first year with his birth mom and grandmother. After that the grandmother moved away. The birth mom didn’t have reliable child care and routinely left him with friends or neighbors, sometimes for days at a time. At the end of the second year was when his situation caught the attention of the Russian social services and they removed him. But what if his grandmother had stayed? What if they had made that unconventional family? Would he have had a stable enough life? Hard to know.

There’s no doubt that there’s never enough people in a child’s life to love them. So making up a “family” that includes more than the nuclear family can be a wonderful thing. Particularly for a child who suffers from early trauma. But that only is the case if everyone is on the same page regarding how the treatment of that child is handled. Aunts and Uncles and grandparents have to know that consistency is key when working with a child with reactive attachment disorder. And that child will exploit any holes in the grown up “armor” no matter how small. So it requires a lot of communication and patience to be an extended family under one roof with a RAD kiddo!

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Like I said, it makes total sense to give a RAD kiddo as much love as your family has to give. And caring for your RAD kiddo can be exhausting. Having some more relief hitters would be excellent! And whether your kiddo is adopted or a birth child, family is whoever is in that child’s life who loves them.

Here is a wonderful article that really drives home the point about what makes up a family. Because while we talk about our families in the context of our RAD kiddos, families really take on so many different forms. And we need to celebrate all of them!

Hopefully there are always “family” of many types in your and your child’s lives.

Until next time,

Shannon

Does Your Child Have an IEP?

This can be a loaded question when it comes to a RAD kiddo. Because of the misunderstanding surrounding reactive attachment disorder. And because of the fact that it doesn’t (shouldn’t) have anything to do with learning ability. Many times RAD alone will not enable your child to qualify. So the question, “Does your child have an IEP?” turns into “Does your child need an IEP?”

August was diagnosed with ADHD four years before he was diagnosed with RAD. And of course being adopted from Russia, he also qualified for ESL (English as a Second Language) services. I knew there were issues with his learning. There was something wrong with his cognitive ability where reading was concerned. We had him tested every which way and he tested at the low end of average. But the ADHD qualified him for services under the OHI (Other Health Impaired) category.

Yet it took until second grade for me to get him approved for an IEP. They waited until he was two full grades behind before they would give him an IEP. And I knew what I was doing. I knew what he was eligible for. It amazed me and amazes me still how people who maybe aren’t in a position to do the research and ask the questions (I wasn’t working full-time at the time) are able to navigate the IEP quagmire.

August has only ever qualified for an IEP based on his ADHD under the OHI category. In middle school we added a behavioral health plan. But his reactive attachment disorder never factored into any of the accommodations that were made in either plan. I always spent a long time explaining RAD in IEP meetings, what it was, how it impacts his thinking, his behavior, his focus and why accommodations might be helpful. But legally he has never been entitled to anything based on that diagnosis.

Now I never tried to get him any services under Section 504. This is another option which provides equal treatment for individuals with mental or physical disabilities. Again, since there is no evidence that RAD impairs education, this is a hard sell. I would love to hear from any of you that have had success getting a Section 504 or an IEP on the basis of RAD alone. Every parent I’ve ever met has had to get their accommodations based on a second disorder or disability their child also has. Fortunately or unfortunately our children almost always have one of those!

Most of us have are already good at being an advocate where our RAD kiddos are concerned. Getting an IEP needs you to have just a strong a voice. I find that making sure you have in writing everything they are eligible for even if they don’t use it is better than assuming that they won’t need a special service. Don’t be proud. They may get great grades. Maybe they have good reading ability and don’t need to have things read to them. That’s great. Check the box that enables them to have things read to them anyway if it’s an option. You never know when they’re going to have a bad day and having a test read to them may be the thing that calms them down.

If you do not have an IEP for your child and want to learn how to get one or see if your child might be eligible, this will explain the process better than I ever could. If you’d like to check out a Section 504, here’s where to look.

For either situation, always remember, you are the expert on your child. Do not be intimidated. And also remember, everyone wants your RAD kiddo to be successful. They are on your side!

Until next time,

Shannon

Practicing Self-care on Holidays

Well this holiday is almost over so I don’t know how much help I’m going to be today. But the topic for today is practicing self-care on holidays. Holidays tend to be the days when we spend a lot of time doing for everyone else. This can make a rough situation worse if you’ve got a RAD kiddo to worry about as well. Whether you’re at your home or at friends or relatives, making sure everything is going right seems to be the norm for us super-parents. So a RAD kiddo fiasco or getting to the end of the day feeling like you’ve run a marathon shouldn’t be surprising. Let’s dive into how we can make these holidays a little easier on us and make sure we are practicing self-care on holidays too.

Say NO. I wish there was more options in WordPress to allow me to turn that word red and make it blink or light up or write it in the sky. It’s a perfectly acceptable word. And used way too little by people in our situation. Particularly if our family and friends don’t really understand what our situation truly is. So when you’re asked to bring your apple-crumble-whatever that has 27 steps and 19 ingredients and takes three days to make…say NO. Your presence with a store-bought Kroger apple pie should be welcome enough.

Manage expectations…yours, I mean. I went to a lot of family and church and school gatherings with my hopes high that this would be the one where August wouldn’t steal something. Or mouth off. Or say something embarrassing about the food or get into it with his father. And most of the time I was disappointed. And why? What kid did I think I brought? What possible reason was there to think that this time would be any better? My love for my son is boundless but my expectations have to be realistic when it comes to his abilities in certain situations. And when I learned (I’m still learning) to do that, my anxiety level doesn’t get so high. And then my frustration level isn’t so great when things go wrong.

Make sure you find some time to be alone and get quiet. My preference would be outside but whatever you find that works for you is great. Some centering time is essential on busy days like holidays when it seems like noise is coming at you from all sides. Maybe you want to do it first thing to try and steel yourself for the day ahead. Or perhaps in the middle of the day to take a much needed break from the chaos. But at night when you’ve survived and everyone is in bed and you can celebrate that you got through can work too! Whenever you choose, take in deep breaths and just be you for a few moments.

I looked for some practical self-care advice to share and this really spoke to me. It’s less practical but it also wasn’t as focused on the “big” holidays as the other articles I found. I hope you enjoy.

Until next time,

Shannon

Good Grief! Another Holiday…

Yes, Labor Day is Monday. Another holiday is upon us with all its potential pitfalls and disasters surrounding gatherings with friends and families. And while we don’t like to expect the worst, of course when you have a RAD kiddo you have to stay on alert for “which kiddo” is going to show up at any holiday function. So with that, good grief, another holiday!

Labor Day is generally the last big party of summer. The time to close down the pool, put away the patio furniture (depending on where you live) and for some children the last hurrah before school starts (if it hasn’t already). Sometimes it’s a cookout with the family. Maybe it’s a block party with the neighborhood. It could be a pool party at the country club. Whatever it is, it could be a crowd of people that may or may not be up to speed on your RAD kiddo’s behaviors.

So it’s Monday afternoon and you’re at the pool and there’s hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill and things are going fairly smoothly. All of the sudden, there’s a shriek and you see that your RAD kiddo has ripped a pool noodle away from another child and whacked them with it. And now you’re in damage control mode. You’ve got to make sure the child is OK. Then, you’ve got to apologize to the parents. You’ve got to figure out why this happened. So you talk to your RAD kiddo. And if it’s like the other times, the answer makes no sense.

Now what? Do you go home? Can you recover from this and salvage the day? Will the parents trust your child with their children now? If you punish your RAD kiddo for what they did, will they accept the consequences or will there be rage? Do you want to take the chance? And…good grief, another holiday!

There are no simple answers to these questions. If your RAD kiddo is like August, it seems like every holiday is a brand new challenge. I couldn’t look back on Independence Day to consider how he might act in this scenario as evidence. In a perfect world we could know whether our RAD kiddos could handle themselves in these situations but unfortunately that’s not our situation. We live in the world of the unpredictable, on edge and ever-changing.

What’s the answer? Ditch the Labor Day festivities in order to avoid the potential explosion? Could there be a way to run interference? Well I don’t have a definite answer. I don’t think you should ditch the party unless you can do something way better like fly to Hawaii. And I think we all know there’s no way to prevent the blow-up if it’s going to happen.

But here are a couple of ideas that might help calm the potential storm:

  • Do something with your RAD kiddo over the weekend prior (may just the two of you if possible) that they want to do and talk about the upcoming party and what you expect
  • Keep your RAD kiddo close by at the party. If you keep them engaged with you and show them what you’re expecting of their behavior, they will have less chances to forget!
  • Make sure they have their own toys, pool equipment, etc. You don’t have to go crazy but jealousy is a RAD kiddo’s kryptonite.
  • Make sure you’re praising their good behavior often during the event. The more you catch them doing good, the more likely they will continue!

After Labor Day it’s less than two months until Halloween when we start the holiday dance all over…with buckets of candy! Ack! Have a great weekend!

Until next time,

Shannon

Doing the School Lunch Shuffle

This would not be a popular lunch for August…no dessert!

I have vivid memories of wandering the grocery store aisles trying to figure out what I might be able to put in August’s lunch that he might actually eat. I was getting tired of spending time packing a healthy lunch that comes back almost completely as I sent it. Except for the dessert. And then as soon as he hit the door of the house he was famished. But by then it was too close to dinner to give him as much food as he wanted! Doing the school lunch shuffle was a constant battle of sending him to school hoping he’d eat the food with no control over whether that would actually happen.

If you’re RAD kiddo is like mine, food is a big control issue. August was a food hoarder from almost day one. He was amazing at sneaking down at night and getting food from the kitchen. Then making it back upstairs with us in the next room. I was shocked. When he got old enough to go to school, he also got diagnosed with ADHD (it seems with Reactive Attachment Disorder, our children get a package deal of other acronyms as well) so getting him to sit still for a meal was an effort. But we knew that protein was important so there was pre-cooked bacon in the morning before school and as much meat as we could get him to eat in the evening.

We didn’t want to medicate him but in conversations with his teacher it became apparent that was going to be necessary. Unfortunately, most ADHD meds have an appetite suppressant side effect. That also played a role in his lack of appetite during the day. But the reality was he just couldn’t be bothered to eat the good stuff. However he could always manage to eat the cookies or the cake!

Do you have one of these? If so, how do you help get the good food in when you send them off to school? Certainly for our RAD kiddos a big key to success is control. The more you can let them be in charge of what goes into their lunches the better results you are likely to get. Within reason, and depending on age, you can let them make choices of what they want. Apple or grapes? Ham and cheese or PB&J? Chips or Doritos? The more they feel in control of the food choices, the more likely they are to eat what they’ve picked.

Also, make it fun! Now this requires a little advanced planning which may be hard for families where everyone works out of the house. But I did some searching and found some sites that had some fun ideas. These are ones that the kiddos could help with and could be done over the weekend. So you can have the whole week’s lunches done!

This one has 100 ideas! Some are very simple and some are more involved but many can be made ahead. And these are super creative and cute and sure to make your child the winner at the lunch table!

So when you’re doing the school lunch shuffle, choice and creativity are the keys to success! Good luck on making healthy lunches your child will love all year long!

Until next time,

Shannon

Pair Care: Self-care for Couples

This is not an area I am qualified about which to write. My marriage did not survive our efforts to heal August and hold our relationship together as well. But I did learn a lot from that experience which I think I can share. Hopefully some ideas on pair care: self-care for couples will work to help maintain your team which is so essential for keeping your sanity with a RAD kiddo in the house.

I love hot tea so this one spoke to me!

There will naturally be some aspects of RAD kiddo interaction that one partner might be better at handling than another. One may have more patience with homework and one may handle bedtime better. Having some conversations with each other about what might be the best division of labor helps you each play to your own strengths. That’s the first step to making sure you each don’t get burned out doing child-care that is more taxing than it needs to be. There will of course be times when you have to do something you don’t want to but keeping it to a minimum is the goal.

When you do get some free time as a couple, make sure you take full advantage of it. And that doesn’t mean copping out with dinner and a movie. It’s important that your time together is meaningful and substantial. Try something that gets you engaged together and talking rather than just in the same place at the same time. Try some of these ideas:

  • A picnic
  • A dinner at a place where you can take your time
  • A museum
  • A hike

As you can see the idea with these choices is doing things that promote talking, engagement and togetherness. Just being in the same place at the same time doesn’t count. There are other things you can do on a daily basis that will help make sure that time doesn’t pass without taking care of the relationship. Some ideas may include:

  • Leaving each other notes of affirmation
  • Small gifts
  • Doing small things that help out (getting gas for the car, laundry)
  • Find even a few moments of quiet time together
Many of these things are essential. Not sure about fairness…sometimes you have to go beyond halfway. It always works out.

For some more ideas, check out this article. The bottom line is make sure you keep each other well through also dealing with your RAD kiddo. It will be easy to get buried in the chaos of RAD. Don’t let it happen!

Until next time,

Shannon

Friday Night Family Night

The school week and the work week are over. You’d like to do something as a family but what? Dinner and movie can set a family of four back $200 depending on where you live and choose to eat. Can’t do that every week. And with a RAD kiddo that may not be the best choice. Plus if you’re all a little on the tired side, that may be the recipe for meltdowns or fights when all you really want to do is have some fun and relax. So let’s just talk about how to do Friday night family night right at home.

The kids may not think that seems like much fun but there’s plenty of ways to make it exciting. And it may seem like a lot of work to you but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few easy and fun ideas that will involve the whole family!

  • Invent a new recipe – Let each member of the family pick an ingredient and see what it makes! You may not think marshmallow/rice/peanut butter/popcorn will be delicious but you know, keep an open mind!
  • Build a house of cards – I realized the other day that I’ve never done this with my boys. And then I had a flash of that scene from The Brady Bunch where they build a huge house of cards and one of the children or the dog knocks it down…they were having so much fun! In the age of non-stop technology some of those old fashioned game ideas are lost. But depending on the ages, they can find it really fun and interesting. 
  • Make a blanket fort and read books out loud – Now if you have all teenagers you might not be able to sell this one. But if you have younger kids you will win parenting! A parent that will not only help build the fort but will crawl inside is super cool. And you get the added benefit of getting them to read! If you turn it into a slumber party, add 30 points.
  • Game Night – The boys loved it when we would all play board games together (except Monopoly, that never ended well). And you’d be surprised how even the most sullen teenager can get excited about a game of Clue. Let each child pick a game they want (no one gets veto power unless someone is too young to play) and have a blast! Give a reward for the winner.

Of course in a pinch you can always do a movie night at home but these are some other ideas that might be a little more entertaining and engaging. For some other ideas, check out these and these

Your children will love seeing your fun side and you will love saving some money and having an easy Friday night family night at home.

Until next time,

Shannon