NOTE: As I enjoy my last few days with my younger son before he heads back to North Carolina, I have tried to scale back my work a bit. So today, enjoy a Tuesday/Wednesday combo blog!
We’ve talked all around this for the last few weeks about how to be prepared for the first day of school. But now that the first day is here…what are the best ways to make sure your RAD kiddos have a great first day? The first day of school for RAD children can be overwhelming. The first day of school for ANY children can be! Let’s talk about where the hurdles might be and where to run interference to ensure a great first day experience!
The night before is where you can make a huge impact on how the first day will go. Not only in preparation but in how you set the stage emotionally. As for preparation, consider these tips:
Create the “launch pad” (my favorite!) spot where everything for the next day is ready to go
Pick out that perfect outfit!
Set the alarm with your child (or two or three!)
But here are some other things you can do which can help your RAD kiddo with their fears and anxiety which may be weighing the night before.
Ask them to describe what they imagine their first day will look like.
If they have a friend who will be going to the same school, maybe a phone call or Facetime before bed.
If they are smaller, draw a picture of their first day of school.
Ask them what you can do that will help them the most.
The morning of school might seem like chaos and overwhelming for all of you. The best thing you can do no matter what else happens is to keep calm. Focus on your children, keep your cool and make it about their comfort and calm. You can have your nervous breakdown later after they have successfully gotten off for the day.
Some things to plan for that first morning:
Make sure there’s a good breakfast (protein is important for good brain function!)
Ask them what they want you to do at school. They may want you to be with them all the way to the classroom. They may be ready just to be dropped off. Be OK with their choice.
Make sure the morning is about joy. Even if it’s pouring down rain.
Make a plan to celebrate after school is over.
Here are some other fun ideas on of all things a marriage site! But don’t be afraid to let your children – even your RAD kiddo lead the way on what they need on that first day.
“Empowering your child” is a phrase that is used for all children to describe ways to help them learn to use their voice and find their individuality as they move through the world. But for children with reactive attachment disorder this may not look the same. Luckily for me, some super-smart people have thought of some excellent ways to help parents with the task of empowering their children. My job here is to take those ideas and put the RAD spin on how they will work for our special kiddos as well.
This article compiles a great list of ways to give your child the tools they will need to start school confident and strong. Following is my “RAD-ified” version of that list to help with adapting the list to include consideration of RAD behaviors.
Give your child a choice – RAD kiddos are control freaks. This is one of the hallmarks of the RAD diagnosis. But choice doesn’t mean running the show. Don’t give them the whole closet to choose from; it’s the blue dress or the red one. And it’s not the whole fridge; it’s peanut butter or ham. Your sanity gets a role here too!
Listen to your child – This was huge for me when August was young. One day he got in the car after school and he was complaining about his shoes. He was so angry! He went on and on about his shoes and some kid and just was word salad yelling for 5+ minutes and I didn’t even move the car. I just listened and let him go on and asked a question here and there. And finally I got to the root of the problem…he didn’t make the football team. After he got there and got that bit of news out he was fine and much calmer but he needed to go through that process and have that catharsis.
Teach Your Child Body Safety – If your child might have also had some sexual abuse this is huge. There is no age too young to teach about what is acceptable and what is not. Do NOT be afraid to have the tough conversations where this is concerned.
Allow Your Child to Take Risks – This is a tough one for our RAD kiddos because they do not have a great sense of boundaries. And they usually have no fear because they have experienced more in their little lives than a lot of us will ever know. But finding their confidence and learning that you will always be there when they step out of their comfort zone requires that they test the limits a little. So you have to let them.
Use Your Words Wisely – RAD kiddos are hyper-vigilant. They do not miss a beat. So what you say and do are measured constantly. I have experienced that with August many, many times. Don’t blow smoke but make sure that they know their efforts are seen and you are proud of them no matter what.
Encourage Your Child To Follow Their Interests – Want your child to follow in your football footsteps but they love art? Well, deal with it. Children will stick with those activities which feed their passions. And as much as we don’t want to waste the year’s worth of art supplies, it may not last and we need to understand that. RAD kiddos do not always have the long-term attentions that other children do. It may take them longer to find their “thing”.
Allow Your Child to Greet Other in a Way They Are Comfortable – RAD kiddos will not form the same attachments to all relatives and family friends. If they prefer waves or “knuckles” to hugs that’s fine. Also make sure teachers know this as well. While schools have stopped allowing hugging, many elementary school teachers still do it in the lowers grades. If your child doesn’t like it, make sure the teacher knows.
Discourage Gender Stereotyping – This one isn’t RAD specific but it’s pretty self-explanatory. Children should know that whatever they want to do and be is not dependent on their birth gender.
Encourage Perseverance – August had ADHD in addition to RAD and this is common in a lot of kiddos. Sometimes sticking with school projects or subjects that are harder for them are tough. August hated reading; it was really difficult for him. Keeping him working on it was a constant project.
Teach Your Child the “Pirate Stance” – I hadn’t heard this one but I think it’s a hoot! I think having your child stand like they rule the world whether they’re a RAD kiddo or not is a great way for them to feel like they have it together and can conquer anything that comes their way.
Here’s wishing all the RAD super kids great years this year as well as their super parents!
As parents of trauma-affected children, we live in a constant state of awareness. All our efforts are focused on taking care of them, their siblings, our partners, our jobs, the house and often last and least, ourselves. But what are our RAD kiddos focused on? Sometimes it seems like they have one goal and only one goal: sabotage.
I know this sounds like an evil plan hatched by a demented Dr. Frankenstein. But there were occasions when August was little where it seemed just that devious and planned out. And yes, I know it wasn’t. But when you’ve waited all day for a bath and a little quiet and that’s the time he chooses to pee all over the plastic kitchen set in his room, you just have to wonder!
So I want to talk about RAD self-care sabotage. What it might look like. What it might mean and how we can react to it when it might feel so personal to us.
Does it feel like they only need you when you’ve gotten on the phone?
Do they talk to you through the door while you’re going to the bathroom?
Do they refuse to eat what they ordered at a restaurant but your food looks awesome?
Does the one sound they know drives you nuts get louder as soon as you ask them to stop it?
Has your favorite shirt, sweater, necklace, scarf been ruined by an “accident”?
I’m by no means implying that all RAD children are lying in bed plotting and planning. However, two of the most recognizable characteristics of reactive attachment disorder are that these children are control freaks and manipulative. They want to push our buttons. They want us to react and explode and get mad. Because that reinforces their beliefs that we don’t love them and we don’t want them. And to sabotage the self-care moments that we most treasure in our chaotic lives is pushing a very big button, don’t you think?
So why do our RAD kiddos choose these moments to inject themselves into our lives? Why are they so skilled at finding the times that we need the solace and relief of our daily grind and pick that time to ramp up their behavior? Because it’s when we’ve let our guard down. Our defenses are weak. Think about it. When is it easier for you to respond to your child having spilled a gallon of milk on the floor, when you are loading the dinner dishes into the dishwasher? Or when you have sat down for the first time all day to read a book for 30 minutes?
Now again, I can’t say for sure that all the times that August did those things that made my head explode, he’d waited in the tall grass for me to relax and look the other way. But there were more than enough examples for me to think it was more than a coincidence. And I think if you look back you might find the same is true for you.
So what do we do? Self-care is vital to our well-being as well as the success of our family. So not doing it is not an option. But making sure it happens even if your children are home might mean making some changes. Here are my ideas:
Tag team with your partner. Make sure one of you is covering the kids so the other can get in the needed self-care time and then switch. This may not be an option for everyone but caring for special needs kiddos needs to be a team sport as much as possible.
Depending on the age of your children, try and help them understand your plan, your timeline. Just a warning, sometimes this can backfire. But try to phrase it like, “I’m going to relax for 30 minutes and then we’ll go to the park so what would like to do until then?” Because this way you’re giving them control over that 30 minutes (within reason). Not just go away until I’m ready for you.
Let them self-care with you. Again, this is one of those that could backfire. But maybe you and the girls could all paint your nails or do mud masks. Or you and the boys could all go for a walk. I know the real point of self-care is time away from the children but the main point is that it is stress-free time and these are activities that for the most part shouldn’t end up in arguments and yelling (I hope!)
Confront them with the truth. If they’re old enough, they may know exactly what they’re up to. They know you can’t talk to them or help them when they’re on the phone or in the bathroom. They know how little time you take for yourself. Sitting down and having an honest conversation about your needs and the benefits to the relationship between the two of you and the entire family might just clear the air and get a different attitude going forward.
So take some time to think on whether your RAD kiddo is doing some self-care sabotage in your family and think on some ways you can intercept those efforts to make sure you’re getting the quality care you need. Please feel free to share your stories and ideas. I don’t know everything and we all benefit from everyone’s input!
As a parent we are trained from day one that our children come first. We feed them, then we eat. When getting in the car we make sure they are securely buckled in before we fasten our seat belts. We make sure they are all tucked in at night (no matter how long it takes!) before we close our eyes. All our focus revolves around the needs of our little ones.
But think about the instructions before you take off on an airplane? The flight attendant is very specific to tell you that if those oxygen masks fall from the ceiling and we’re all scared out of our wits that your first job is to put on your mask and then help that child sitting next to you. Most likely going against every instinct and fiber of your being. The best course of action in this situation is to put yourself first. What do they know that we don’t?
How to put yourself first? For those of us with RAD kiddos we hardly ever see an opportunity for that. But being able to put ourselves first every now and then even for a bit is critical to sustain us for the long journey of caring for these special children.
There are lots of big and little ways to put ourselves first. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. I think the best thing to do is to remember the airplane analogy. And remember that you’re only worth something if you’re healthy enough to take care of your RAD kiddos. So here are some ideas of how to find some easy ways to put yourself first:
If you find a few minutes in the house alone, put on some music and sing loudly or dance around the house.
Take a bath (if you’re like me, when your children were little, you couldn’t remember the last time you bathed or went to the bathroom alone!)
Sit outside at night after the kids are in bed and listen to the night noises, even for five minutes
Ask for help from someone you trust. Could just be running to the grocery store.
Read a book.
Unplug-no phone, no computer, no TV.
Eat breakfast first. Have your cup of tea or your toast or whatever. The kids won’t starve and there’s a chance you’ll actually eat.
I found these couple of blog posts from other moms who’ve seen the need and written about it. Check out this one about a mom who tried it for just one week! And then this article with a video on the benefits of putting yourself first from Forbes magazine. As always, I’ll add these links to my resource page if you want to go back and review them later.
I know putting ourselves first goes against everything we believe as parents. We immediately thing we’re doing it wrong. But maybe if we put the oxygen mask on first, we will be able to spend more time doing it right.
I am writing about this because I know that anyone who’s been awake over the last year and has a RAD kiddo has been thinking the same thing I have been. What is going to be the fallout of the family separations that are taking place at the Southern Border? How will this early childhood trauma show up down the road? I am not writing this as political commentary but purely from the standpoint of the psychological aspects of what the children are going through.
It is not part of their plan for these families to be separated. The children are not aware of what is happening and why. The main difference between these children and those in an orphanage overseas is that they aren’t given up willingly. However, the separation from a primary caregiver at a crucial time of bonding without knowledge of when or if they will be reunited is the same.
I found a couple of articles which discuss the short- and long-term effects of this separation on the children. I think as you read them you’ll see astonishing similarities between how the psychologists describe the children and our own RAD kiddos. The first is this one from The Washington Post. What I find most striking is the description of the pruning of the dendrites or nerves of the brain. This is almost exactly how the psychiatrist who diagnosed August with reactive attachment disorder described what the lack of bonding with a primary caregiver did to his brain. Exactly! I couldn’t believe it. So much of the description of the symptoms is spot on.
The second one I wanted to reference is this one from The New Yorker. It’s much more recent having been written just three days ago. The psychologist in this article talks about the effects on both younger and older children and how they are different.
One of the important parts of this article is how it discussed the effects not just to the brain but to all the body systems: the immune system, the cardiovascular system and others. August is small for his age and has hung on to the bottom of the growth chart most of his life. Now we don’t know his genetics so there’s no way to know if that’s just how he is or not. But his psychiatrist told me early on about a condition called psychosocial dwarfism. It’s where children are able to actually will themselves to stay small in an effort to try and keep from having to become independent or take on more responsibility. As soon as I read that part, its immediately what I remembered!
If you Google “effects of separation on immigrant children” you can read lots of other articles on the subject. I am sure you will see your RAD kiddos in the descriptions as well. I hope there will be time for these relationships to be repaired and these children to be healed.
My house is falling apart. I don’t mean figuratively. My house is literally falling apart. It started last month with the water heater. Annoying but a typical home repair issue. But it took a month to get it fixed. The day it got done…and I mean THE DAY…one of my garage door openers stopped working. It’s still broken. Since then, the water pressure in my kitchen sink has slowed to a crawl. There’s a leak in the drain of the upstairs bathroom sink AND that faucet sprays water everywhere. The A/C condensate pump is making a loud noise (just got that replaced last year). And there’s a broken window on the back porch.
Oh and did I tell you I have 15 or so relatives coming for the July 4th weekend?
Now I didn’t explain this looking for a pity party…though if you’re hosting I like Merlots and dark chocolate! But in the world of parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, we’d call this Tuesday. It’s Spring Break right now so maybe there might be the idea that things are calmer but the morning may have started with the raging because you picked blue socks for them to wear instead of yellow. Or the plan for the day is a trip to the zoo instead of the pool. Or that camp they were begging all year to go to they now refuse to attend. Or it’s yet another battle over taking medication. It could be something very minor to you but it has become a catastrophe to them.
If you manage to handle that crisis, your day has just gotten started. Maybe you have a 9-5 job to get to. Already stressed and frazzled, you have to pretend to waltz in like you got a full night’s sleep, woke to birds singing and a calm quiet cup of coffee while you leisurely read the morning paper before you got ready and came on into work, ready to hit the ground running.
Maybe you are at home with your littles (which we all know does NOT mean you don’t work!) and you’re trying to do some housework while they play outside until you hear the screaming. Which is about five minutes in. You rush outside, mediate whatever issue has arisen and go back to your chores. Lather, rinse repeat. Every five minutes for an hour until you realize this is accomplishing nothing and you surrender and get ready to head to the zoo.
Now an outing with a RAD kiddo can be like trying to nail jello to a tree. Their impulsive nature and fearlessness will always lead them to wander off or try things that scare you. It’s hard to remember in those moments that it’s not them really; it’s how RAD has them wired. You run after them and shout cautionary demands all day until you can’t put together a coherent sentence.
Back home, you may or may not attempt a family dinner after this kind of a day. Bless your heart if you do. Because you still have bedtime to get through. and RAD kiddos are not sleepers. If you get them down without a double digit number of attempts, take the win.
So with a day like this, where yesterday looked pretty much the same and tomorrow is likely to be a repeat, what can you possibly do for self-care? How can you keep your head above water, your sanity intact, your willingness to get up tomorrow and do it all over again preserved, when every day is chaos and stress?
Well, in my case, I painted. Not pictures, I’m about as creative as a rock. But I have wanted to finish painting my stairs and upstairs hallway and landing which I started two years ago and yesterday I got on it. I don’t know how to fix an A/C unit or a garage door or a leaky sink. And I don’t have the money to do all of it at once anyway. But I had the paint and the time so I painted. And the satisfaction of seeing some progress on that project that I’d put off for so long felt so good. Seeing that one spot of my house looking complete and pretty helped me feel calm and relaxed for just a little while.
So here are my tips for self-care, not big grandiose ideas like massages and manicures (though definitely do those things every chance you get) but little ideas for self-preservation:
Do a thing, anything. Wash a dish; even one. Put away one piece of clean clothing.
Do another thing, anything. Wash a second dish. Hang up a jacket. Fold a towel.
Breathe. Inhale for four counts. Exhale for four counts. Do it as many times as you can until the screaming starts again.
If your children are old enough, go in your room and lock the door. Lie down on your bed. Laugh. Cry. Scream into a pillow. But have some kind of large loud emotional response to your day for two minutes.
Keep a joke book in your purse. Bad jokes. When things with the kids are getting tense pull it out and read some. People cannot be angry with each other when they are laughing together. DO NOT use your phone for this purpose.
At the end of the day, write down (or if you’re not a journaling-type), think about 3-5 things you are grateful for.
We deserve combat pay. I firmly believe that. We have the invisible-and some visible-scars to prove it. But we persevere because of our intense love of these also deeply scarred sweet children of ours. We cannot protect them without protecting ourselves.
It continues to feel like Spring around here so maybe last week wasn’t a fluke. I actually got some seeds started in the greenhouse yesterday. Might need to bring them inside as it might get a little too cold later this week, but I remain hopeful. Still has been too wet to get the big garden tilled, but it’s looking like the grass will need mowing soon which is a weekly chore and competition between me and my neighbors that I routinely lose. My neighbor to the East is retired and she mows twice a week which I just can’t do. My neighbor to the West has a zero-turn mower which mows twice as fast as my John Deere. In my defense I have twice as much property. But I’m also lazy.
But to this week’s Spring Cleaning topic…Appliances. Don’t worry, we’re not covering everything, just the kitchen. And the neat part is these are great chores to involve the kiddos; even the RAD kiddos. There are a lot of easy jobs and even some fun things to do which they will (might!) enjoy. And if it still happens to be raining or if you’re in the part of the country where the huge snowstorm is still blowing through and your Spring is a ways off, will keep you occupied till you can get outside again.
Clean the Interior: To remove buildup, mix two Tablespoons of baking soda with 16 ounces of water in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for a couple of minutes. Transfer to a spray bottle. Spritz the inside of the appliance, the door interior, and the rim. Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth. Dishes coming out grimy? Soak the filter (inside the dishwasher’s base) for an hour in a sinkful of hot water plus a scoop of dish powder. Scrub the mesh with a small brush and rinse.
Clear the cutlery container: Shake the basket upside down over a trash can to jostle out any debris. Okay, this tip sounded nasty to me because hopefully we all see this stuff in our cutlery containers when we empty them and deal with it then but here it is…
Flush out impurities: When the dishwasher is empty, pour 1/4 cup baking soda into the detergent dispenser and run a rinse cycle on the hottest temperature.
Remove residue: Use a vinegar-dampened cloth to clean out the detergent dispenser and wipe down the spray arms.
Disinfect: If your oven is self-cleaning, follow the manufacturer’s how-to. If it’s not, wipe the interior with a damp cloth. To soften caked on gunk, fill a casserole dish halfway with water, add the juice of 3 lemons plus the rinds, and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let cool for 15 minutes, then apply a paste of baking soda and water to all sides with a non-abrasive sponge. Wet the sponge in the lemon water, then scrub. Wipe clean with a damp paper towel.
Vacuum up debris: Pull the unit away from the wall and, using the hose attachment, remove the crumbs and dust from the floor. Push it back in. This is always a scary one!
Scrub the stove top: Apply a paste of equal parts baking soda and dish soap plus a few drops of water. (This is safe on any cooktop, electric or gas-check manufacturer’s instructions on ceramic). Let sit for 10 minutes, then wipe thoroughly with a damp cloth. Buff dry.
Refresh the racks: Place the racks and grates in a plastic garbage bag, spray generously with a degreasing cleaner (like Simple Green), and tie the bag closed. Let sit for 1 hour, then rinse each piece in a sink filled with hot soapy water.
Wash the exhaust: To degrease the overhead filter, remove it and soak it for 15 minutes in a sink filled with hot water and scoop of OxiClean. Rinse and dry. Next, clean the piece on the wall: Apply a paste of baking soda and dish soap and let sit for 10 minutes. Wipe clean with a soft sponge and buff dry.
Empty it out: Remove all items and toss any that have expired. My boys always loved finding the really nasty things in the way back of our fridge!
Sanitize the drawers: Take them out (shelves too, if detachable) and scrub every side with a sponge dipped in warm, soapy water. Sprinkle baking soda on any stubborn spots and scrub again. Rinse and pat dry. If your refrigerator has a removable drip pan, soak it for a few minutes in hot, soapy water, scrub with a sponge, then rinse.
Deoderize: Get rid of odors by wiping the inside walls with a microfiber cloth spritzed with an all-purpose cleaner. Wipe again using a paper towel dipped in a bowl of diluted vanilla extract.
Remove dust: Using the brush attachment, vacuum the coils, which may be behind the refrigerator. Wipe down the grille (typically at the base) with a dryer sheet.
Clean the gaskets: Use the soapy water from the shelf-scrubbing to wipe down the refrigerator gaskets (door seals). When they’re dry, apply a bit of petroleum jelly to prevent sticking and tearing.
Restock: Insert the clean shelves and drawers. To avoid gunking them up with anything sticky or dusty, wipe the bottom of each item with a damp towel before putting it back.
I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing more satisfying (and calming!) than seeing a clean refrigerator. But for some reason that’s not enough motivation to clean it! But I promise next Spring Cleaning Episode, I will show you a picture of my clean fridge as motivation. Feel free to send me yours!
Till next time,
When Harry Met Sally. And if you haven’t seen the whole movie, what’s wrong with you? But it’s the scene in the restaurant where Sally convinces Harry that maybe, just maybe, not all of the girls he’s been with have had actual orgasms. That maybe some of them were faking it. She proceeds to show him how they might have done that. Right there in the restaurant. Now that part of the scene is hilarious but immediately afterward, a sweet little old lady-played by the director Rob Reiner’s mother in case you didn’t know-delivers one of the best lines of the film. To give you a little Monday giggle and make sure you read the rest of today’s blog, here’s the clip.
The point of that little story is jealousy. We’ve all felt it. That little (or big) green monster has reared its ugly head probably more times than we want to confess. There’s always times when it seems a relative or a neighbor or a friend or a co-worker has it all together and you just can’t measure up. When you’re a parent with a RAD kiddo, it seems like it’s happening ALL THE TIME.
When August started having school trouble, my jealousy stayed in check pretty well. I mean, shouldn’t people feel sorry for me and my sweet injured boy who is struggling so? Then we had to hold him back a year in school and then the run-ins with the law started and somehow his sweet injured self wasn’t so cute anymore. And as much I tried to keep myself from it, I started to feel jealous of parents in church and in my neighborhood who didn’t have to worry about taking their child to his probation meetings on Saturday mornings or the alcohol diversion program at 13 years old. And fast forward to today, I have just in the last month shared with my new church family that August is in prison. I’m watching friends from high school become grandparents and announce their children’s college graduations and weddings. And here creeps that large green monster once again who robs me of being able to feel true joy for them in the midst of my grief.
Not surprisingly, today is again an attempt to provide you all with some helpful tips that just maybe by typing them I will get some help for myself in the process. Here are five ways to handle jealousy when it whacks you upside the head (which may not be what it feels like to you, but does to me!)
Be a copycat. When something wonderful happens to a friend and you are immediately jealous, use that. Follow your friend’s example. Maybe you walked into your friend’s house and she’s completely renovated her kitchen. You may not be able to do that but you can change something that will make you happy. Buy new hand towels or a new curtain. If a friend is going on a luxurious cruise, plan a fun weekend getaway. Do something similar enough to make you happy.
Practice gratitude on social media. Holy moly do NOT compare your life to someone’s life on Facebook! That is for sure a recipe for disaster! Studies have shown a direct connection between depressive symptoms and the longer time people spent on social media. So use social media, but spend some time using it to be grateful, do some “Today I’m grateful for…” posts. It might lighten your perspective and you might enjoy the responses!
Focus on your strengths. One of the things I have to keep reminding myself through everything with August is that he’s alive. And he’s healthy. Everything else feels like a hug parenting fail, yes. But now I’m trying to turn my experiences into something useful for other people and hopefully over time I’ll have more lessons to share as August and I continue to grow and heal. Spend time doing what you are good at and what makes you feel good when you don’t feel like you measure up in some other way.
Wallow-briefly-then move on. Be a good friend to yourself. A friend wouldn’t let you stay in a negative space; so follow your friend’s advice. Have a little pity party then get up off the mat and get back to thinking good positive thoughts. Thinking positive is a much better space to operate from and it will serve you much better in the long run.
Don’t hate, congratulate! There’s enough happiness on the planet for everybody. My favorite saying is, “It’s not pie.” If you stay jealous and angry you will miss all the good things waiting for you. And you will miss out on good times with those friends and your kiddos and they will miss out on the wonderful that is you. Let them have their moments and be first in line to applaud.
I’m not for one moment going to say this is last time I’ll ever be jealous now. I will say that even writing this makes me feel lighter about how I feel about my own situation so I hope it might be helpful to one or two of you. If so, let me know in the comments, that’s what they’re for!
Till next time,
Two weeks from today I will be visiting colleges with my younger son. A blessed event to be sure but also one that strikes fear into the heart of many parents. How do I pay for it? Please don’t let him like the out-of-state one!
With August, the money woes started long before that. I have told him since an early age he will never have two nickels to rub together. The concept of saving any money he ever got has never been an option. It all needed to be spent immediately. The lack of impulse control and need for immediate gratification was just too much. Trying to explain that if he waited to add his Christmas money from his NC relatives to his Christmas money from his Ohio relatives to buy something even better was like trying to explain how to build a space shuttle. And we were lucky enough to be fairly financially secure so he thought the money for whatever he wanted would just be there. If not in cash, then on one of those credit card things…no matter that those card things had to be paid for someday!
I’m not sure how he handled his affairs in the couple of years he was living on the streets before he was incarcerated. I know a little of how he made his money. Not the best choices. He tried a job once. Lasted three days. I even helped him open a bank account. He’s drained the money from the savings account we had for him as a child, where we insisted half of any birthday money go as a way to teach saving when he was little. When he wanted to get his own place his father and I ran the numbers with him multiple times on what it took to live on his own. He kept saying that wasn’t how much it really cost. Maybe as his pre-frontal cortex continues to develop that aspect of his behavior will grow. But I fear his impulsiveness will always run the show.
But for those RAD parents out there who may have that battle yet to wage, I have these tips for teaching money sense to your kiddos!
Preschoolers & Early Elementary (7 & Under)
Think about it like tying shoes…it’s one of those things that you learn at this age and you have to practice.
Communicate about money: Don’t hide your discussions about money. Don’t discuss your stress about not having enough to pay the bills but if you get a sweet deal on shoes or you’ve saved enough for a family trip to an amusement park, share the celebration as a family. And use the money terms (“save”, “share”, “choose”) and financial values (“save for a rainy day”) so they understand how you view and value money.
Involve them in your shopping: When you recognize a good deal and verbalize it, it shows your child that you see the value and are making a decision about buying it. At checkout, let the child buy something themselves, hand over the cash and all. One of the biggest problems we had with August when he was little was explaining to him that a $20 bill was better than having $18 one-dollar bills. He just wouldn’t buy it. He liked have more bills. This resulted in the purchase of a Nintendo handheld game thing one year with $150+ dollar bills and a very pissed off GameStop cashier.
Open a savings account: As I mentioned above, we set the rule of half of birthday money going into a savings account. The boys balked at first but they caught on and they became cool with it (at least in public) and got good at the math when they got money!
Play Games: Duck Duck Moose, Bringing Home the Bacon, or even playing with a calculator while you shop and adding up the price of what is bought. Seeing the total will help them realize the actual costs of things.
Older Elementary Kids & Tweens (8-12)
These children can begin earning money and developing personalities around money and you’ll learn which of your children are spenders (August) and which are savers.
Brainstorm ways to earn: They won’t care about managing your money but they will care about managing money they earn. Help them think about their passions and talents. Love animals? How about walking neighbors’ dogs or pet sitting? If they are crafty how about making something to sell? They can research and create a business plan figuring out how much to charge by looking at others doing the same thing in the market, considering costs and figuring out what they need to make a profit.
Talk about spending choices: One of the hardest things to do will be to talk about what to spend the money they earn on without criticism. The positive reinforcement of good choices is more important than the punishment of bad ones but you can begin to talk about wants versus needs. If you are out and your child wants a toy you weren’t going to buy and you say OK, make sure they know it’s their money they’re spending not yours. It will be coming out of their savings account. That’s a powerful lesson.
Be positive about your job: This may be where I lose some of you. I know there are days when going to work may be the last thing you want to do. Or you may be working because you have to or for the benefits. But kids need to feel excited about the idea of earning money and what it allows them to do so paint on that smile!
Model Philanthropic Behavior: Even if it’s a stretch to the budget, let kids see you helping those less fortunate. Remember that kids see everything and will take those behaviors into adulthood. Even if it’s some spare change into the Salvation Army bucket at the holidays. And ask them for input into your charitable giving choices. If they want to give their money too, let them be part of the conversation.
Teens & College-bound kids (13+)
Now is the time to begin to involve your kids in your family’s financial situation. This is especially true when conversations about college get closer. Talking about credit scores and applying for financial aid and scholarships should be open discussions.
Track dollars: There’s an app for that! Current is great one which has spending, saving and giving “wallets” tied to a debit card which parents can make deposits to and set up notifications for. However it is tracked, make sure there’s a conversation that follows so they can see where their money goes. As for credit cards, most experts say not until they have their own source of income and can make their own payments.
Play “What If?”: Discuss tricky money situations and how to handle them. Who pays on dates? How do you decide? What if your date’s family is super-rich? While there may be no right or wrong answer, having the conversations will help your child become more savvy about the situations.
I know this is a lot to take in but you really only need the parts that apply to your child’s age! Money has been and always will be a monster to deal with and RAD does not make it any easier. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s found tips or tricks that have worked for them in handling money with their kiddos!
Till next time,