strategies

Nothing is Black & White

Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if everything was black and white?  I have friends for whom some things are totally black and white.  In some ways I envy them their strong convictions and their ability to feel so confident in the perceived obviousness of their beliefs.  At the same time I wonder about whether they truly believe with 100% certainty that the issue is totally black and white, or do they, deep down, struggle like I do.

I know people….many people, in fact, who would say that getting all vaccinations on exactly Alberta’s vaccine schedule is critical and anyone who feels or does any differently is completely insane, and possibly even criminal for the potential harm to the community.  I’ve heard people say parents should lose their children if they choose not to vaccinate.  I also know several people who feel that all vaccines are evil and have no place in our children’s bodies.  I always hesitate to bring up this topic in a public forum as it is SO contentious for so many people.  The vitriol spewed online from both sides of the issue is so offensive and ridiculous that I refuse to read it anymore.  At the end of the day, I don’t care if you are pro vaccine or anti vaccine, or vaccinate on a delayed schedule, or pick and choose vaccines that you feel comfortable with.  I really don’t.  It’s none of my business what you choose to do for your children. (and yes, I know that from a herd immunity perspective many feel it IS their business…that’s ok.  I don’t agree.) I am not anti-vaccine.  But I’m also not pro-vaccine.  It’s not black and white for me.  It’s so grey that I have lost sleep over it.  Numerous times.  I am suspicious of the entire vaccine issue because it is BIG BUSINESS. On both sides of the issue.  I’m a naturally suspicious person, and I have a hard time believing that Big Pharma is totally benevolent.  That said, there is definitely plenty of research that overwhelmingly supports vaccination as a public health life saver.  I have also seen plenty of literature to support that vaccines can do plenty of harm.  Given that money talks, and both sides of the issue have much to gain financially by promoting their ‘side’, I often wonder what we should be believing.  Then you see articles like this: Harvard Sugar Conspiracy and Junk Science and you wonder if ANY of the literature on either side of the issue is valid at all.  And let’s not forget that the media is held even less accountable on how they spin ‘news’ stories, so even reading the above two articles has to be taken with a considerable ‘grain of salt.’  Websites are filled with propaganda and it is IMPOSSIBLE to feel confident that anything you are reading is real.  Or at least it’s impossible for me.

Now take a kid like Berrik.  Diagnosed with ADHD a couple years ago.  The kid is definitely fidgety, and needs help staying focused.  The psychologist who diagnosed him recommended medication.  His teacher recommended medication (is that a teacher role? at the time I didn’t think so). My family doctor felt he was too young and that we should try other interventions first.  If you look online, you can find information supporting all types of medication, as well as all types of alternative methods of supporting a kid with ADHD.  I have talked to many people about it.  Some have told me their experience with medication was life changing in a positive way.  “Wish we would have done it sooner.”  Others describe horrible side effects that were also life changing on the other end of the spectrum.  Some swear by homeopathy (I can literally see my pharmacist friend cringing here), and some speak highly of essential oils.  The amount of information available is OVERWHELMING.  And to be quite frank, there is so much judgement around this that sometimes I don’t even want to mention it.  Much like vaccines, I’m not pro or anti anything when it comes to ADHD.  Well, I suppose that’s not true.  I’m pro-doing what is best for your child and your family in the context of what is going on at any given time.  And I’m anti- judgement.  I’m not perfect.  And yes, I definitely judge other people.  Anyone who says they don’t is, in my judgement (see what I did there?), lying.  But if I have learned anything about parenting from my experience with Berrik, it’s that the vast majority of us are doing the best we can with the information and tools we have, and that it does no one any good to blame parents for what is happening with their child.  We have no idea what has happened, is happening, or will happen in the future for that child and family in the context of what their life looks like.  We can only fully understand our own experience – or maybe we can’t even do that!

Breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding.  Another contentious one.  Ugh. I had a nursing student say to me one time that breastfeeding beyond 6 months is ‘not natural’.  I laughed out loud at that one.  Breastfeeding is natural.  Drinking milk from other animals, while socially acceptable, is considerably less ‘natural.’.  But I also always advised new moms when I was teaching breastfeeding, that breastfeeding is natural like learning to skateboard, not like breathing.  It’s hard.  And you may fall a lot.  And sometimes you scrape your knees and it takes a while to heal (this is a metaphor for blistered and bleeding nipples…hahaha…it’s actually not funny.  It hurts.  like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, but I digress)  And some of us really dislike skateboarding. And some of us have a skateboard that doesn’t work that well.  And some of us just need to use a different mode of transportation all together because skateboarding is not the way we choose to get around.  Perhaps breast milk vs. formula is proven to be better when comparing the two liquids from a nutrition or antibodies perspective.  Perhaps that is closer to black and white?  I put a ?, because I’m not sure if that even qualifies for black & white distinction.  However, formula unarguably also grows healthy infants into (usually obnoxious) 2 and 3 year olds just as breast milk does.  It’s not black and white.  Grey, grey, grey. And if formula works better for the family, for WHATEVER reason, then it is the better choice.  Period.  Ditto for breastfeeding.  To me, that is what is black & white.

Low carb, low fat, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, organic.  OMG.  Eat what makes you feel best.  I believe that eating real food is important.  But I know that some people feel better eating vegetarian – and others feel better with lots of protein.  If you truly pay attention to how you feel, you will be able to figure out which foods make you feel best.  I know there are people who think that I am a bit over the top with how I feed my family, and especially Berrik. But it works for us, so if you want to know more, then read on.

I’m going to tell you a little about what has worked for us, and I will ask you to remember that this is us doing what we felt/feel is best for our son and our family in the context of what was/is happening in our lives.  It may not work for you.  You may feel we are crackers. Or you may think you might want to try some of what we tried to see if it makes sense for your family.  Take what you want.  Leave the rest.

  1. Diet.  I cannot talk about this enough.  I really do believe that what we put into our bodies impacts pretty much every system.  I think most of us can anecdotally understand and agree with this.  Maybe not.  But I have seen enough evidence in my own body and the bodies of my children to feel like this is important.  For Berrik, this means a focus on whole foods.  Period.  It’s really as simple as that for him. Is the food in it’s whole form?  Then it’s probably good.  Fruit, vegetables, whole cuts of meat, nuts, seeds.  This forms the vast majority of his diet.  I make muffins with coconut flour as a treat.  He has the odd gluten free bun.  We aren’t perfect. But we strive to stick to this way of eating.  For all of us.  And we are all better for it.  Berrik is more focused, and is more able to self-regulate when he eats well and drinks lots of water.  For Berrik sugar and chemical food dyes etc., are like poison.  In his words, they make his brain feel crazy.  In my words, he becomes an unhappy, emotional, unfocused whirlwind of a boy. So we completely avoid those things.  Always.  No exceptions.  It’s what works for him, and he knows it.  When I put him on a very strict diet last January, after 2 weeks he told me his brain no longer feels crazy.  He sees other kids eating candy and he doesn’t even comment.  That’s all the evidence I need.
  2. Exercise.  This seems like a no brainer.  Of course all of us need exercise.  But Berrik functions exceptionally better when he has had time outside. Unstructured, run around, ride bikes, jump, throw balls, chase the dog, play with the neighbor boys time.  When he comes back in he is more able to focus.  He’s happier.  Aren’t we all?
  3. Supplements.  We work with our naturopath to ensure that if Berrik is lacking in any area, that we use supplements to support him until we can address it effectively through diet.  I won’t get into what he has taken, and takes now, as it is completely individual.
  4. Only recently have we started using essential oils. The more I talk about Berrik, through the blog and with other parents, the more anecdotal stories I hear about essential oils and how they have helped other children.  My daughters already use them to diffuse in their rooms (Grandma got them started with a diffuser and some oils).  I am currently trying a blend from Saje that is meant for focus.  It’s hard to tell how well it’s really working as we are always trying new things in terms of how we do school and even timing of the exercise and fresh air…  so nothing to report yet.  I have a few other oils on order based on the anecdotal feedback of several moms.  I’ll keep you posted on how this goes once they arrive.  I will say that he has been more focused at Sound Connections and school lately, but it could be a few different things contributing to that, so we shall see.
  5. Behavior modification.  I dislike this term because in my head it is harsh sounding. I don’t know why I have that perception.  But regardless, for us it means teaching Berrik appropriate ways to behave in specific situations.  It’s so interesting to me how some kids instinctively know this and how many do not.  Being home with Berrik has really helped in this regard as I find the best way to teach Berrik is ‘in the moment’ in the context of his real life.  Consistency is the key to this working well, and to be honest, we have never been really great at that.  Now that I’m home, it’s significantly better, so we are working on it as much as we can.  Berrik knows the basics – sharing, being polite, not interrupting (although he has some trouble with this one…all 3 of my kids do for some reason), playing and cooperating with other kids etc. etc.  It’s the nuances that can be challenging (and are equally challenging to teach), but we work on it through talking about how people are feeling based on what they look like, their body language or what they say.  It’s a work in progress, but we are making progress, so that’s what counts.  As an aside, I believe the unstructured time playing with other kids is the best teacher for some of these skills.  Kids are great at letting you know if you’ve said something inappropriate or aren’t following the ‘rules’ of human interaction.  And kids are more likely to express their feelings in a more obvious way, so it’s easy for Berrik to see that his action caused a specific reaction (whether positive or negative).

When I was thinking of a name for this blog, I wanted something that reflected our journey with Berrik, because that is what the blog is predominately about.  I liked the ‘gut feeling’ reference for 2 reasons.  1.  I believe that what we put into our bodies (and therefore our gut) has the most significant impact on our overall health when compared to any other thing we may do; and 2. Every decision we are making has been based mostly on instinct.  I tend to ‘go with my gut’ in most of my life decisions, but especially in parenting.  I have to give credit to Maritza for doing a bunch of research trying to find a domain name with the gut feeling reference, that wasn’t already owned by someone else.  She found it.  I bought it.  And the blog was born.

This brings me to my point.  Nothing is ever really black and white.  Do your homework.  Ask the experts.  Talk to people about what works for them.  Question everything.  And then just GO WITH YOUR GUT.

 

Overparenting, or “Oh crap, I’m totally guilty of doing this!”

Can you hear the hum of the helicopter hovering over my children?  Sigh.  I can.  And I’m driving the helicopter.

I have often waxed on about how we are overparenting our children and creating anxious, entitled, confused young adults who can barely keep themselves alive, let alone make good decisions and problem solve through bad ones.  While our society makes it challenging to avoid some of the overparenting that happens – anyone with kids likely has judged, or been judged regarding young children walking to and from school alone, or walking to the park alone or with other young friends or siblings – that is just one small part of the epidemic of overparenting that is happening all around us.  We can use that as our excuse if we are super happy with burying our heads in the sand.  But if you picture yourself with your head stuck in the sand, what body part is now most prominent?  If you can’t picture this, ask your spouse or a good friend to demonstrate it… you’ll get the point, and if you’re organized and quick about it, you’ll probably get a good photo to post on Instagram.

So, enlightened parent that I am, I was pretty sure I was doing a semi-reasonable job of NOT overparenting. <insert head in sand photo, or just a dramatic eye roll here>  But the truth is that I am overparenting with the best of them. I read this article today:  Overparenting is Doing More Harm Than Good  And as I read it, I actually said a couple bad words out loud.  Nothing like finding out that you are guilty of EVERY SINGLE item listed to describe overparenting.  Let me summarize for you:

  1. Scheduling play dates instead of letting kids just go outside and find some friends to play with.  Granted, because we are all overparenting, there aren’t always a bunch of kids running around outside to play with, but still.  I do this for Berrik, and I sadly also do this for McKenna and Avi and they are 13 & 11!!!!  Good grief.  #fail
  2. Go to every game or practice.  I have  3 kids so I don’t get to every single game or practice.  But a LOT of them.  And I wouldn’t miss a dance performance, choir performance, piano recital, karate parent night, ball game etc. unless I absolutely could not avoid it.  I thought this was me supporting my kids, and showing them how much I value them. Where is that effing parenting handbook anyways!?!  I thought this was the right thing to do!!!  Last night I was at the dance studio watching Mac dance for the first time this month… <pats herself on the back for nailing non-overparenting of one aspect of McKenna’s life for a solid 10 straight days>.
  3. Hires tutors throughout school years – not because they need tutors, but so they can improve their already excellent grades.  While I haven’t hired tutors for my girls, I did ‘homeschool’ them in math all summer even though they both have high grades in math.  My intention was to help them gain confidence and give them a head start on the school year in a subject they are least comfortable with.  Upon reflection I realize I probably sent them the message that their A wasn’t quite good enough and that I expect more from them.  Ugh. #homeschoolfail #parentingfail #selfesteemenhancingfail
  4. Want kids challenged at the highest level all the time.  Groan…  So guilty of this.  With all three kids.  One might even say I’m currently doing it full speed with Berrik and this homeschooling gig.  #wthiswrongwithme
  5. Want kids to ‘find their passion’ in middle school and/or highschool.  Just last evening at the dance studio, where I was basking in the joy of watching my daughter be challenged at the highest level in her tap class, I had a conversation with another dance teacher about Avi ‘finding her passion’ in choir. As I type this post, I am rolling my eyes at myself so frequently that I’ve given myself a headache.

I was not raised this way.  I was a farm kid who was lucky enough to live in the same farm yard as my grandparents and my cousins, and only a kilometer down the road from more cousins.  We left the house and headed off to whatever adventure we could find all the time, with no intervention from adults, and came back when it was getting dark or we were getting hungry.  We learned problem solving.  For example, on the round bales stacked two high we had to figure out what to do when youngest cousin falls (read: gets dropped) down the holes between the bales to the bottom (sorry Andrea). We discovered how much gas you need in the jerrycan strapped to the dirtbike to get to Sedalia and back. (Mom, did I ever tell you about the time we went to Sedalia?)  I had chores on the weekends and may the good Lord (or more likely Grandma) save you if you didn’t get them done before Mom got home from her shift at the hospital.  We helped with dinner and dishes (except when I just HAD to go to the washroom, and took my book in there to read to give Ryan plenty of time to get a head start on the dishes…for the record, I believe that qualifies as strategic thinking).  We had 2 channels on the TV and one was often a bit fuzzy. We didn’t watch it much.  Our first computer was a Commodore Vic 20 – the 20 is for kilobytes.  So you can imagine we weren’t doing too much on that fancy piece of technology.  We read books.  And played outside.  We put tea towels on our heads to pretend we had long hair, and ate Grandma’s cookie dough until we were sick.  We played school sports and I danced one or two nights per week, likely for 30 minutes at a time.  We went to dance festivals and to be honest I can’t really even recall if we ever won.

There are many things we did that I think we were exceptionally lucky that nothing permanently disfiguring or worse happened.  By today’s standards were were totally underparented. But I will say that when I went to college, I knew how to cook for myself, do my own laundry, and problem solve out of many a pickle… I registered myself for classes, talked to my professors if I had a concern about a grade, and even used that strategic thinking to avoid 8am classes at all costs.

The article I linked to above says this:

Have you ever stopped to question what the end result of all this involvement is? It’s a generation that can’t do anything on its own.

A generation that needs coaches, tutors, mom and dad to be at the sidelines at all times.

A generation that thinks it always needs to be number one at everything.

A generation that is never satisfied with who they are.

A generation of anxious, nervous kids.

A generation that is not hungry for anything because everything is handed to them, everything is fixed for them.

We are robbing them of the opportunity to grow up and discover themselves. To figure out who they are, what they love, what they excel at, what they want to excel at.

Let’s stop protecting them from the world and start preparing them for it, instead.

Sigh.  You know how as a parent you have those days (or more likely 15 minute increments) where you think, wow, I’m really nailing this?  Only yesterday I had one of those moments.  It was while I hovered in my helicopter watching McKenna dance and discussing how my middle schoolers had each found their passions, and mentally congratulating myself for challenging Berrik to learn a few more sight words and achieve more math problem solving skills earlier in the day.

What’s most interesting is that while I intellectually get that overparenting is not doing my kids any favors, it will take a significant mindset shift for me to break these nasty habits.  It’s all about balance, and I’m going to make a concerted effort to try to scale back where I can.  Baby steps.  Head is officially out of the sand, but it’s going to take some time to land this helicopter and park it for good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#learningbydoing

This is a hashtag that is trending in our house these days.  I have been doing so much reading about multisensory learning, and in particular have been focusing a lot of kinesthetic and visual learning with Berrik as those two styles of learning seem to be most effective for him (and conversely, are considerably more fun than sitting at a desk and listening to someone speak).  It’s certainly not rocket science in my mind.  In the real world, everything we experience impacts more than one of our senses at the same time.  Seems logical that we might be better at applying our learning if we learn things using more than one sense…  Literature supports this, by the way.  It’s not just me thinking this.  🙂

Sound Connections, the phenomenal Language & Literacy program that we are doing with Berrik, is multisensory at all times.  We ‘use our whole team’ (eyes, mouth, hands/body) for every activity.  Animals jump across lily pads while we learn syllables or we bounce balls, every letter sound has a physical gesture to go with it, as well as a story and a character to which the physical gesture is associated. When we are printing we describe what we are doing and say out loud the sounds we are printing. Sounding out words using ‘onset rime’ is a mini sticks hockey game.  It’s fun.  It’s engaging.  And most importantly, Berrik is learning and is happy doing it.

In my reading, I came across this article called 10 Essential Strategies for Teaching Boys Effectively.  Very useful strategies, many of which I use with Berrik all the time.  But the strategies weren’t what really struck me.  It was the stat that 70% of learning-disabled students nationwide are boys.  Is it just me, or does that stat beg the questions: Are boys actually learning disabled? Or do they just learn differently and our school systems are not set up for the ways in that they learn?  <insert dramatic sigh here>

Frequently, as I reflect on where we have been with Berrik and where we are going, I get emotional about how lucky I am that I have the opportunity to be home with Berrik, to teach him the way he learns, to watch him gain confidence and feel ‘smart,’ and at the same time spend more time with my girls, who need me at least as much as Berrik does, but just in different ways.

I am learning how to incorporate learning into everything we are doing.  We spend very little time sitting at the table doing ‘work’ (although we have to do it from time to time), and a lot of time playing ‘games’ or just noticing the world around us.  We are a busy family and Berrik needs to hear, see and do things more than once, in different contexts, to really internalize the learning, so we don’t waste much time. I am slowly getting better at being creative with incorporating lessons into everything.  Berrik has noticed this and recently said to me in a very serious, grave voice: “Mom, you make everything about learning.  I need to be more vigilant.”  I wouldn’t trade this time with him for anything.  He is a laugh a minute.

 

There are times when I feel frustrated by the negative comments that people make in reference to Berrik (or ‘kids like Berrik’).  Often it’s not even really intended to be negative… but yet it feels offensive.  (I know, I know, I have a bit of mama bear syndrome, and I may be somewhat hypersensitive – having your child assume they are bad or stupid because of what others have said or how others have reacted to them can do that to a mom!)  Berrik sometimes struggles in social situations.  It’s common in kids with attention issues and learning disabilities.  He can be immature for his age at times.  We have friends  who I can ‘feel’ judging him.  If I can feel it, so can he.  That’s hard to manage.   Luckily we have many, many friends who see Berrik for the sensitive, sweet, funny little boy that he is.  We continue to surround ourselves with those people, so that Berrik can see his own gifts reflected in the support and love of those who know how great he is.  The world is a tough place.  I know this.  I know he will need to learn how to manage negativity.  But he’s seven, and darn it, I’m going to do what I can to make sure he grows up confident with a positive self-image.

This brings me to another resource I came across that I love.  As a family, and with the support and encouragement of our family doctor, we have chosen not to use medication to control symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity in Berrik.  He has improved tremendously with other interventions such as diet, supplements, and changing the way we look at learning.  I’m not anti-medication.  But like any parent, we are doing what we feel is best for our son at this moment.  It’s working fine.  Is it easy?  Nope.  But is any parenting?  And would medication be easier?  Nope.  It’s all hard.  I feel like ADHD medication is like vaccines and breastfeeding. So many strong and judgmental opinions on both sides of the issues.  I support parental choice in these matters.  And I super duper do NOT care if you agree with me.  🙂  But I digress….  The resource I mentioned at the beginning of this rather long-winded paragraph is a chapter excerpt called  Strategies to Empower, Not Control, Kids Labelled ADD/ADHD.  This is similar to my feeling that we need not make kids fit the ‘system’ but rather should allow the system to fit the kids.  If kids can’t learn how we teach, then we should teach how they learn.  Etcetera.

 

Language & Literacy

When I decided to take time off work, I knew I needed some kind of plan…some way to figure out how to help Berrik learn to read, improve his language skills, figure out what type of learning works best for him, and on and on….  It was a tall order and I wasn’t really clear on how to go about it.  There are so many ‘programs’ and theories about how best to teach a kid with learning disabilities, but since the strengths and weaknesses of every child are so unique, I found myself going in circles trying to figure out what to do or where to start.   I researched obsessively, I attended some info sessions – and as an aside, I was shocked by some programs that made incredible claims of success, but required HUGE payments up front…like thousands of dollars – and at the end of the day, it all came down to a somewhat random conversation with a friend who I consider to be the most disciplined, and thorough person I know. I don’t see her often and I was telling her about what was going on with Berrik and my plans to take some time off work.  She mentioned, in an offhand way, that her children attended a program called Sound Connections, and were experiencing incredible success.  Like goosebumps on your arms, life-altering successes.  Little did I know that one conversation would lead us down the path we are now on!

I looked up the website for  Sound Connections and thought it sounded good.  The website was less impressive looking than some of the other program websites I had seen, (which is maybe very telling – not so much money and time spent on website and over the top marketing and more time on actually helping kids?) I trust that friend of mine implicitly so I gave Sound Connections a call.  Annette Rogers, the creator of the program, called me back and we spoke for the better part of an hour.  It was a very ‘eureka’ hour for me, as Annette clearly knew about what I was experiencing with Berrik, and said some key things that really resonated.  Things like, labels don’t matter – she was not concerned with IQ, attention issues, dyslexia…etc.  She said that her program will work for any kid… for all kids…regardless.  She didn’t say, Berrik will learn to read in 3 months and will never have issues again…but she did say, that he will be literate, and it may happen quickly and it may happen slowly, but over time he will be literate.  Realistic.  But confident.  For a natural cynic, it was interesting how quickly I trusted Annette.  Added bonus, she is a speech and language pathologist, and Berrik has had expressive and receptive language delays since he was a young toddler…  Annette understood what that means, how it impacts literacy and performance in school, and her program helps with that too.  SIGN US UP.

We started Sound Connections in early June – literally the Monday after I finished work.  We now attend 3 days per week for 45 minute sessions, one on one, and do the rest of the work at home.  In another post I will describe what these sessions are like, and what it’s like to implement it at home…and I’ll tell you about how Berrik is doing!

Foreshadowing here….  I’m discovering that teaching Berrik at home, throughout the day, integrated into our day to day lives, in a way that works for him, is so much more effective and efficient than a classroom environment….  Stay tuned for more information about that!

In the mean time, if you have a kid who is struggling with language and literacy, call Sound Connections.  Don’t wait for your kid to lose all confidence or fall years behind.  And if you’re already there, years behind, frustrated, and feeling overwhelmed, then DEFINITELY call Sound Connections.  I cannot say enough about this program.  You pay as you go (a month ahead), and it is WORTH EVERY PENNY.