Organizational Ideas for RAD Children

NOTE: This didn’t get done on Friday as I enjoyed my last few days with my youngest. He left yesterday (ugly crying!) so I am back to work! Thank you for your patience while I rearranged the schedule a bit!

One of the biggest issues that children with reactive attachment disorder have is with what is officially termed “executive function”. This encompasses everything that has to do with organizational skills. And for our RAD kiddos this is an area they have a real problem with.

I know for years August and I struggled to find ways to make it easier for him to keep school papers together and keep track of assignments. It seemed like we tried every combination of folder, notebook, agenda and calendar system we could find both for school and home. With mixed successes because of both his lack of executive function and unfortunately his lack of interest in school. With a dash of ADHD thrown in for good measure!

This can be a great source of stress and tension with you and your RAD kiddo. Because it’s a never ending game of “the dog ate my homework” when you are constantly trying to find assignments and papers. When schoolwork in many cases is already enough of a struggle, just finding the paper shouldn’t add to the anxiety.

So how to make the whole organization process work? There are several things you can do at home. But it really needs to be a school/home partnership to make it truly successful. 

  • Establish A Relationship with the Teacher – Of course you’re going to go to Back to School night or Meet the Teacher night or whatever it’s called where you live. But you’re going to need a method of communicating that probably goes beyond the norm. When August started school I debated about volunteering in his classroom just to be another set of ears. But I decided that it would create too much anxiety for him. But not being in the classroom means you have to have a relationship with the teachers that lets them know you’re involved. You aren’t going to let your child slide but you can communicate their issues and problem-solve together. Sometimes I would tell teachers that their homework assignments were too much for him. It just was. You know your child best. Help them help your child be successful.
  • Write it down – When August was in middle school they issued each child an agenda. They were school year-based calendars customized for their school. They were to be used to keep track of homework and projects. Teachers had the students write their homework in the agendas for that class for that day. Well that works fine if your child knows what day it is and isn’t distracted by well…everything. And fails to write it down. Nowadays I know much more information is available online but that is only if the teacher chooses to use that tool. You can make it a part of your child’s IEP (and if you don’t have an IEP, GET ONE) that their homework notes are signed off on by the teacher. That way they bring home an accurate accounting of what they need to do.
  • Try Different Timelines – When August was in kindergarten, his teacher would give them a packet of homework at the beginning of each month. That way they could work at their own pace. If they had a bad day, then they could take the day off. This is also an excellent plan for our RAD kiddos. Depending on the age, a whole month of homework may not be feasible. But maybe you could talk to the teacher about a week at a time. That way, if there was a day in the week that your RAD kiddo just isn’t in a good place, you have time to recover and move on.
  • Let them be part of the process – When setting up a homework station, let your RAD kiddo help with the location (within reason), design, colors, pens, pencils, papers, etc. RAD is very much about control and the more they feel like they have made the choices, the more likely it is they will use the space. The same will go for other aspects of organization: picking out a backpack, an agenda, folder colors and on and on.

These are some ideas that have worked for me in the past. Here are some other tips for both school and home. And this article helps to teach organizational skills outside of the school environment. Please share your tips and tricks that have worked for you. We all get better when we work together!

Until next time,

Shannon

What Happens to You When School Starts

It may seem like parents get released from summer prison when school starts. No more trying to entertain bored children who don’t seem to want to do anything you suggest. No more endless family vacations inevitably wrecked by meltdowns or horrible weather or fights or any of a million other possibilities. And school couldn’t start soon enough. But somehow it seems you’ve just jumped off the teacups and onto the roller coaster! Now there’s carpool and homework and after school activities and lunches and summer already seems light years away. So what happens to you when school starts?

It can be very easy to go on “automatic pilot” at the beginning of the school year. We get that schedule humming and feel like we’re hitting on all cylinders because we’ve not left anyone sitting on the curb at school after soccer practice (yet). And there haven’t been any calls from the dean’s office (yet). So far none of your kiddos has had a sick day (yet). But in all of your amazing planning and scheduling you’ve left out the most important person in the equation – YOU.

If you manage to keep this schedule running like clockwork you’ll be dead by Thanksgiving. There’s no way to go full steam ahead all day every day with RAD kiddos plus siblings in tow through a busy school year and not take intentional time to decompress. And I can almost guarantee on that master schedule on the kitchen wall is no “ME time” anywhere. Go look. I’ll wait.

When school starts back up and the whole world is depending on you it is the absolute best time to double down on your efforts at self-care. Especially if you find yourself with some kid-free hours during the day. If you work an additional job on top of the parenting, then those hours may be taken, but we will figure out a time to get in some quality self-care, I promise.

First let’s look at what might have gotten lost in the shuffle. I’m going to guess reading for pleasure, sleep, exercise, healthy eating, quiet time or meditation. Losing any or all of those can start to weigh on you mentally and physically after just a few days not to mention weeks if you are deprived of them.

But you may feel guilty about trying to spend that much time when the schedule is so overloaded with the chaos of school. So we will have to move into “wild” self-care; finding time for yourself in the maybe the more unlikely of times and spaces!

  • Reading in the carpool lane – I always kept a book in the car. Even if I was reading something else in the house. I kept something in the car to read while I was waiting to pick whoever up from whatever. Now not everyone may be able to read multiple books at once but if you can, this is a treasure. You’re alone, it’s quiet, bring a cup of tea, leave earlier than you need to be there (you get my drift…) When both boys were in school every once in a while I would be too tired to read and my youngest would read to me (if the book was appropriate). I’d close my eyes and he’d read to me. It was heaven. That’s how he got hooked on The Hunger Games at eight years old!
  • Getting Exercise – getting to the gym may not be anywhere on the schedule but it doesn’t mean you can’t get in some cardio around the kiddos’ activities. Soccer practice? Walk the track while you wait. Is school close? Walk there with the kiddos when the weather is still nice out. Or stay after school with them one day and bring a basketball and shoot hoops. Make a game out of math homework with hopscotch for the little ones. Particularly with RAD kiddos, exercise and homework seem to be a good pairing I have found.
  • Healthy Eating – The temptation to make yet another run through “insert fast food restaurant name here” is great when school is in. I know. When you have two hours between the end of play practice and the beginning of choir practice to get the kiddos home, fed and homework done, those golden arches can be your best friend. And those little body metabolisms may not take much of a hit, but boy you know you will! So what’s the answer? Make the instant pot and crock pot your friends. Throw something in there in the morning and let it cook all day and then serve it up the minute you get home. You’d be amazed and what those things can create! Also meal prepping on the weekends and freezing things that can go in a crock pot or quickly in a skillet. My kids love meatloaf. I’d make them in muffin tins and freeze them. I took them out of the tins and put them in big ziploc bags. Take out how many you need and put them on a baking sheet, bake (takes less time because they’re smaller) and throw together a salad and you’re good to go!

These are just some ideas of how to reclaim your self-care in the chaos of the school year. If you need something to put next to that master schedule, here’s a great checklist! I’d love to hear your ideas of how you keep YOU in mind when school starts! 

Until next time,

Shannon

Getting Out the Door!

If you are like me, one of the constant challenges with your RAD kiddos is getting out the door in the morning. And whether you have one, two or twelve children, the chaos and stress seems to be the same. Someone isn’t dressed. Another hasn’t finished eating. One might not even be awake yet. And don’t get me started on missing homework, projects, permission slips, pens, pencils, phones and other necessities of school life!

I liken trying to get our kiddos out the door to this sweet little one. Her mom took this picture of her before her first day of preschool. Which I call our dream of what our children would look like heading out the door:

Then she took a picture of her at the end of that same first day of preschool as she was coming home. Which I imagine is more the reality of how many of our kiddos look on their way to school:

Certainly it’s not for a lack of trying. If you’re like me, you’ve woken up early, and tried tons of tricks and bribery to get your children moving earlier and faster to get the day started with less stress and…let’s admit it, screaming. But more often than not, no one is speaking to each other by the time you hit the car. And there’s a lot of door slamming with no one hearing the sarcastic, “I love you” that you yell as they leave for the day and you breathe a sigh of relief. It’s OK to admit it. 

But we never want it to be that way. Children are little for such a short time and we would love to have these precious morning times. OK we’d at least love for them to be less tumultuous! I have found some ideas from the experts but here are my suggestions of things I think are sure-fire things to make mornings go smoother. If not at first, maybe in the long run.

  1. The Launch Pad: I have mentioned this before but it is the essential element of the busy family. And as I have aged it is also the essential element of the middle-aged mind! It is the one place in the house that everything that needs to leave the house must go. Maybe each of you has a basket by the door. Maybe that’s too chaotic a space and you find baskets elsewhere. But keys, phones, backpacks, school papers, lunchboxes, EVERYTHING that has to do with coming and going gets put here.

    Which means if your son hands you a permission slip to fill out and you don’t put it back in the launch pad? That’s on you, not them. If they come home and drop their phone on the couch and it gets lost in the cushions and can’t be found when it’s time to leave the next morning? That’s on them. When it’s time to head out, everything that needs to be had should be ready to go on the launch pad. Including your stuff.
  2. Picking out clothes the night before: I watched a friend argue with her daughter for 40 minutes over a dress for church. They were visiting and it was the only dress she’d brought. Her daughter was tall for her age and my friend was 6 months pregnant so it wasn’t very fun for either of them. Clothes can be a harsh battleground for some kids and not a hill to die on at 6:30am. Picking out clothes the night before can eliminate one potential morning battle. Even narrowing the choices to two can get you closer to the promised land. 
  3. Sleeping medicating: I talked about doing this with August. We used to give him his ADHD meds while he was basically still asleep. He’d take them then sleep for another 1/2 hour while they kicked in. It was, if I must say, a brilliant move on our part because the child that woke up was calm, engaged and willing to follow directions. Unlike the unmedicated child who would be difficult and aggravated by everything. I highly recommend it.
  4. Natural consequences: This is a biggie. Would it kill your teenager to have to go to school in PJs? Nope. They might think so. Would it kill your straight A student to go to school without that homework that they can’t find? Nope. But they are much less likely to make those mistakes again. And it doesn’t make you a monster parent. Some natural consequences aren’t worth it. But every now and then you can find those that teach the valuable lessons your RAD kiddos need to learn. They can learn while still knowing you always are there to back them up. Send an email to the teacher about why the homework isn’t coming that day with a picture that it was indeed finished. Bring clothes to school for later. 

Here are some other ideas which I thought were thoughtful (not just because they have the same first idea I did!) I think the key is to try your best to stay calm. One way or another you’ll get out the door. You don’t have to compare your kiddos or your parenting to anyone else. Success is what you decide. And remember, breathing that sigh of relief is OK!

Until next time,

Shannon

 

Marking the End of Summer

I know the official end of summer won’t come for a few weeks yet but school started here today so it feels like the end for at least anyone under five feet tall! But as kids go back to school and the gardens wind down it is good to mark the end of summer with some sort of activity. Time moves so quickly it seems like before we know we’ll be ringing in the New Year so I wanted to help us stop and enjoy the passage a little more slowly.

I’m as bad as anyone about always looking at the next day on the calendar or the next month! I’ve never been a “stop and smell the roses” type. Either I thought I’d miss something or opportunities would pass me by or most likely I’d forget something! But now that I’m on the farm, I’ve gotten much better about letting the world get in the way. When the deer come in at dusk or early in the morning when the hummingbirds come to the feeders outside the back door. We were coming home from a movie the other night and as we pulled up my rather long driveway a opossum was making a stroll between my yard and the neighbor’s. We stopped the car and watched it stroll along and then it stopped and watched us watch it for a moment before sauntering on. I spent about 20 minutes last summer watching a cicada shed it’s skin. It was marvelous.

But I digress. This is about how to mark the end of summer. I guess there are some very traditional ways:

  • beach trips
  • camp outs
  • bonfires
  • Amusement parks

I am talking about more introspective ways to mark the end of summer. More thought-provoking, more reflective. So I have come up with some ideas on how to move into autumn and say good-bye to summer.

  1. Write a letter – Did you have a great experience? Did something about summer  leave you wanting? Write about it. Sometimes that is hard to do so my suggestion is to write a letter. It doesn’t have to be to anyone you know. Or it could be to your celebrity crush! But it is easier if you’re not a great writer to have a person in mind when you write. Talk about what went right and what went wrong. Talk about what you wish had happened. Leave it all on the paper. Then use that bonfire to let it go to the universe.
  2. Take a walk – I don’t mean a hike as part of a camping trip. Taking a walk to say good-bye to the summer means spending some time by yourself outdoors to reflect on the summer and how you think and feel about the past three months. Also a time to “walk toward” or “walk away” from those things over this time that have or haven’t served you.
  3. Make a top 10 list with your children – Sit down with your family and make a list of the top 10 things that you loved about the summer. Sharing memories and stories about the good times you had always makes the less good memories fade away. Its a good way to close out the summer as a family.

These are just a few ideas to get your juices flowing. Hopefully you’ll think of some others that will help you send off summer in the best possible way. The point is that with school starting we rush into Fall and forget to honor the ease and bliss that is summer. Make sure that you take some time to do that and then hit the ground running!

Until next time,

Shannon

Changing Routines with your RAD

One of the things that it is hardest to make happen with any child is changing routines. But now that the start of a new school year is looming, big changes are about to come. If you’ve taken it easy this summer on bedtimes and wake-up times, on mealtimes and studying, then getting back in the groove will be challenging. But changing routines with your RAD kiddo will be even harder. Why is this? Because these children don’t like change and they LOVE control. They want to be in charge because it makes them feel better since they do not trust the adults around them.

So how you deal with changing routines with your RAD? If you’ve dealt with this for a while, you’ve probably got a long list of things that DON’T work:

  • Reward charts
  • Time outs
  • Negative reinforcement (traditional punishment)

So what will work for changing the routines so that school starts with ease for both your children and you? Here are some tips that I used when August was younger as well as some ideas I’ve gotten from friends and social media.

  • Start getting bedtimes moved to school times – I always start getting bedtime and wake up times moved to school times about a week before school starts. This was particularly painful when we lived in Oregon where it stayed light until 10:30pm! It seemed to stay light out forever after I put the boys to bed and did I hear about it! But sleeping was always hard for August. He took medication to help him sleep so getting him on the right schedule was important.
  • Practice morning routines – There is a lot more that happens on a school morning than a summer morning. Getting up and dressed, eating breakfast and getting out the door. Maybe you just head to the library or to run errands but it gives you all a chance to “remember” what getting out in the morning is like!
  • Get the kiddos involved in planning – Pick your “launch pad”. This is the place in the house where everything goes: backpacks, homework, keys, purses, lunches, permission slips, projects, ANYTHING that has to go to school. 
  • Try sleepy medicating – We did this with August and it was one of the best discoveries ever. In addition to RAD he has ADHD. We found that waking him up a half-hour before he had to get up and getting his ADHD meds in him and letting him go back to sleep while they kicked in made a huge difference. When he woke up he was calm and responsive. If he just woke up and started spinning, mornings were so much harder!
  • Make a short list of “Don’t come down here until…” – Depending on the age of your children, if they are old enough to dress themselves and brush their own teeth and hair, make a poster or a list for the top of the stairs that lists the things that have to be done before they come down. It may just be 3-4 things like: dressed, shoes, teeth, hair, make bed. Sometimes that’s all it takes to give them a little reminder of what needs to happen.

Here is a blog post from NetNanny on some other ideas for morning and after school routines to help diffuse the chaos!

As we get into the school year, making the routine simple and easy will go a long way toward making the learning go well. I wish you all good luck as the new school year gets underway!

Until next time,

Shannon

RAD Self-care Sabotage

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!

Until next time,

Shannon

Outside Isn’t Punishment!

When did “getting” to go outside turn into “having” to go outside? When I was young we couldn’t wait to get outside. Now growing up in Ohio it seemed like winter lasted forever when I was young and sometimes bundling up to go out just wasn’t worth it. But doesn’t it seem like kids these days see going outside like going to the dentist? How do we change that? How do we help them see that outside isn’t punishment?

August loves the outdoors. It was a calming place for him. He’d spend hours outside just hanging out. Playing with sticks or rocks or bugs. I think that might have had something to do with not experiencing it much as a toddler. Or growing up 125 miles north of the Arctic circle! In any case,it wasn’t much of problem to get him to go out. Coming in was another story. That was until video games came long.

But there are ideas that can get your kids interested in the outdoors without coaxing or bribery. And maybe you all can have some fun times with these last few weeks of summer.

Bubbles
I know right? How on earth could bubbles draw a kid away from Minecraft? Well have you seen some of the ways you can make bubbles? It’s amazing what you can do! One of my favorite memories with August is with him in the bathtub with my grandmother. She would get her hands all soapy and blow big bubbles through her thumbs out the backs of her hands. Just with her hands. She said that’s how they did it in the olden days. And she said if you sat on a wool blanket the bubbles would come down and rest. They wouldn’t pop. Ah, such simple times.

But I cut out the middle of paper plates to make big bubble blowers, use string loops and put the blowers in front of fans to make tons of bubbles. You don’t have to spend a ton of money and get all the fancy motorized gizmos that wear out after one summer (or less!) For some bubble mix recipes and ideas, check this out. And try the wool blanket thing.

Outdoor Movies
Okay this might be cheating just a bit. But it’s still technically outside so it counts. I have a friend who regularly does a “Drive-way Drive-In”. He sets up a movie every weekend at his house and invites his neighbors over. A sheet on the garage door and a projector hooked to his computer and he’s in business. The projectors used to cost a fortune but now they’re very reasonable. You might even be able to borrow one from work! The grown-ups get some social time and it’s a kid-friendly movie so it works kind of like a neighborhood babysitter.

But you can make it much more active. Get out the sidewalk chalk and make a hopscotch board for before the movie starts. Let the kids run around and play flashlight tag during an “intermission”. There’s bound to be some wiggling and running around no matter what! If you’re an overachiever, checkout this amazing setup for movie night here.

Service Project
It’s possible there’s a senior citizen in your neighborhood that needs help with some yard work that’s more then they can manage. Maybe it’s weeding flower beds or raking leaves. Maybe it’s some painting or spreading mulch. Depending on the ages of your children and their abilities, you might be able to provide some help to a neighbor and spend the day outside. I found that August had absolutely no interest in helping out at our house but was incredibly generous and helpful at other people’s houses. When I was homeschooling him our church did a painting project at an elderly woman’s house and I took him. He worked like a trooper and never once complained.

I think the sooner and the more you can convince your kids that outside isn’t punishment, the more they will seek out opportunities to explore all that the outdoors has to offer. It’s a great big world and children should see as much of it as possible!

Until next time,

Shannon

How to Put Yourself First.

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.
  • Say no.
  • 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.

Until next time,

Shannon

Early Childhood Trauma in the News

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.

Until next time,

Shannon

Back to School Already?

Classes start here where I live on August 6th! And back in North Carolina the year round schools started the new year this week! Seems like we were just talking about how to survive the summer and it’s over. But it’s back to school already. And for many RAD kiddos it’s a cluster of anxiety-producing thoughts. It represents change and the unknown and new stressors which can all be triggers.

What can we as parents do to try and minimize the potential problems and make the new school year start as low stress as possible for both our RAD kiddos AND us? Here are some ideas based on my past experience with getting August back to school. I’ve also done some research to find some best practices out there to draw on which I think might help as well.

Meeting the Teacher – This isn’t the regular “meet the teacher/back to school night” that the whole school goes to. I will be talking about this in depth next week. But we figured out by third grade that for August, the right teacher personality made a HUGE difference in his success. So that by the move from fourth to fifth grade I was sitting down with the principal to discuss who August’s teacher would be and creating an avatar for his transition to middle school of the type of teacher that would be ideal for him. Not every teacher will “get” your child. It’s worth the extra effort to put in some pre-work to make sure the teacher is the right fit.

Start the Conversation Early – If you live here in the Midwest it’s already too late to be early! but if you’re an area that starts school after Labor Day, make that transition as slow and steady as possible. Let them get their heads around the idea that school is coming. They already know it and it may seem like the best move is not to invite the anxiety until it’s necessary. You know your child best; maybe it is. But the sooner they can start taking control of those feelings the better in my opinion.

And you can make it fun! Get out the calendar and start crossing off the dates! Plan special days for back-to-school shopping and make a bucket list of things to do before the big day! It will help with easing the tension and make back to school something to be excited about and not to dread.

Put as many decisions in your child’s hands as you can – Remember that our RAD kiddos are control freaks. And not much in their young lives are going to feel as out-of-control as the first day of school. So let them make decisions. What’s for lunch the first day? What to wear? What notebook colors to buy? What’s for dinner the night before? Bus or carpool? Anything that will make them feel they are in control of their environment will go a long way toward lessening the anxiety. 

Here are some more tips from the American Association of Pediatrics which may freak you out but will help you think through all possible scenarios. Take a deep break; it’s a long list. Remember it’s designed to help!

I know with a lot of us, we don’t know how the day is going to go until the day gets here. One of the fun parts of reactive attachment disorder…the surprises! But hopefully these tips might help keep the surprises to a minimum. 

Here’s to a fabulous start to the school year for you and your RAD kiddos!

Until Next Time,

Shannon