A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The turtle part two: advice for anxious parents

My "Number One" son - my one and only son - is what we call "spirited." As a baby the only way to calm him and get him settled was to swaddle him, to contain those active limbs and give him the proprioceptive feedback of being held. He is still energetic, extroverted, and exuberant. Do you like that? Doesn't that sound better than hyperactive, loud, and volatile? This book "Raising Your Spirited Child" was my Bible and lived on my night-side table.

We developed a number of strategies to help Mitchell learn to manage his mood, energy, and intensity. When he was little he needed a swing, an exersaucer and the jolly jumper. As a toddler, he had boxes to climb on and cushions to jump on - and participation in lots of sports and activities. Once he was in school we made sure he got intense physical activity every day. That helped him sleep better and behave better.

To calm Mitchell down we started by using baby-wearing and learned baby massage, and later used water play, sand play, and playdough - even baking and drumming helped. Before the kids were even a year old, we taught them sign language so Mitchell could tell us what was frustrating him - usually something taking too long, like his food! And he had a soother til he was three. As he got older he learned that reading comics, listening to music or audio-books, or colouring or drawing (on paper or himself) all helped calm him down.

The many moods and faces of Mitchell
When Mitchell was in grade 2 we started seeing alot of anger and frustration at home, even more so than usual. So we had a psycho-educational assessment done. The psychologist said, "Mitchell is gifted in many areas. He doesn't have ADHD, but he does everything at a fast pace. He needs to learn how to slooooooow down." Hmmm where have we heard THAT before? She also recommended a book called, "The Explosive Child." I kid you not! Funniest thing was... I already had it!

We learned from that book how to use collaborative problem-solving and we had some counselling for Mitchell - and some for us. Turns out much of the anger and frustration issues that we witnessed were covering up a lot of anxiety and were really problems with his teacher and principal at school. It just about broke my heart when my little seven-year old boy said, "Mommy, I feel like they think I'm a bad kid." And his teacher said, "I've taught kids like him before."

Some of the strategies we used to help Mitchell
With only a few months left in grade 2, we moved him to a new school - immediately! To a school with a more current approach to education and discipline. After two weeks at the new school Mitchell told the psychologist, "I feel like the teachers and principal listen to me." Mission accomplished! And he blossomed.

Mitchell has done a lot of work in the last 6 years: finding ways to meet his need to move his body, learning how to control his temper, and finding ways to express his intense emotions and reactions effectively and respectfully - the majority of the time anyway. Lately Mitchell's been working on facing some fears and our job as parents is to give him lots of reassurance, but more importantly to show him that we KNOW he can handle it.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie "Finding Nemo." Nemo's nervous and over-protective father Marlin has been watching the turtle parents playing what I'm sure he considered high-risk games with their young. When a young sea turtle named Squirt gets thrown out of the EAC (East Australia Current) Marlin wants to chase after Squirt. But Crush, Squirt's surfer-talking papa turtle, stops Marlin and says, "Whoa! Kill the motor Dude. Let us see what Squirt does flying solo."
YouTube Video from Finding Nemo: Squirt gets thrown out of the EAC

When Squirt returns, saying, "That was so cool!" and excitedly (and repeatedly) asking if his dad saw him, Crush replies, "You so totally rocked Squirt! Now gimme some fin!"

At the end of the clip, Crush explains to Marlin that turtles lay eggs on the beach and the baby turtles find their way back to the "big ole blue" (surfer-speak for the ocean). Marlin asks Crush, "All by themselves?" Who just answers, "Jy'ah!" (with a surfer accent). "But Dude," says Marlin, picking up on the surfer lingo, "How do you know when they're ready?" and Crush's response is, "Well, you never really know, but when THEY know, YOU know, y'know?"

In the movie, Marlin learns to take risks and let Nemo take care of himself. As parents, my husband and I try to be like Crush and encourage our kids to take risks and try new things, but it is hard to find a balance between saying, "we won't MAKE you do anything that makes you uncomfortable" and pushing them to go outside their comfort zone. My parents did not have the skills to help me learn to regulate my emotions. My wish is for my son to be able to manage his anxiety and not have it affect him as it has affected - almost crippled - me. My promise is to continue to practice the lessons from the turtles - "slooooow down" and "fly solo" - and pass them on to my son. And I will go back to the teachings of parenting guru Barbara Coloroso from her book "Kids are Worth It!" (I think we will post this one on the fridge.)

Six Critical Life Messages

I believe in you.
I trust you.
I know you can handle it.
You are listened to.
You are cared for.
You are very important to me.
Now gimme some fin!
(OK that last line was not from Coloroso)

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