The Dark Side

When my daughter was younger I could’ve sworn she was Darth Vader’s child. I’ve never slept with Darth Vader. I promise. Yet somehow I found myself wondering if she really could be related to him in some strange, star-crossed way. She never wore a Lycra body suit, donned a black cape, or stalked across the room in time to those ominous duh-duh-duhs. But her voice was awfully deep, her breathing sounded more like rattled honking than actual air exchange, and for some reason she always seemed to be trying to kill me.

I was Luke Freaking Skywalker for God’s sake. Didn’t she see I was trying to do good things? I was trying to help her? Why didn’t she understand that when I said it was time for bed I was only trying to get her to rest? Why didn’t she get that holding my hand near the street meant keeping her safe? Couldn’t she see that when I stopped her from eating all that candy I was really helping her learn self control? And when I stopped her from spinning around a thousand times in a row didn’t she understand I was really preventing her from experiencing that heinous overly dizzy feeling? You know, the one where it seems like you’re being sucked into an endless black hole of death where you’ll surely drown in your own vomit and tears?

It didn’t matter if I tried to reason with her. She never listened. In fact it seemed as though she did the exact opposite of what I suggested just to spite me. Sweet mother she seemed so menacing, always waiting in the wings to turn my well-planned expectations into festering turds of disappointment and self-doubt. If I said stop she said go. If I said down she went even higher. If I said “no” she said “yes.” And if I tried to trick her by saying “yes” when I actually meant “no” she was always one step ahead of me, ready to throw the coercion back my way. Didn’t she see how sick and tired I was of feeling one step behind? Good God, mini-Darth Vader, give me a break! Why did it seem she was the only child who pushed so hard? Went so fast? Yelled so loud? Never stopped asking, prodding, breaking?

Maybe I really was broken because I couldn’t get it, no matter how desperately I tried. Then, one day the force field lifted and I figured it out. I was setting myself up to misunderstand her. I was pushing against her pull. Dragging her through the mud. It seemed like she was just a strong-willed kid raging against the mommy machine, when really I was the one making the fight. I was creating the opposition. The moment struck me like a well-timed hack from a light saber. Only it wasn’t my arm that fell to the floor. It was my heart.

Oh my sweet ever loving God…I was Darth Vader. I was the mother effing Dark Side.

I clearly remember the very moment when it all clicked into place. We’d just moved into a new house and she was having a rough time adjusting, which meant I was also having a rough time adjusting, and for all intents and purposes it meant that the entire family and basically anyone within screaming earshot of our house was also having a rough time adjusting.

She was laying in her new bedroom and I was laying next to her, trying to help her fall asleep. She was kicking the wall and yelling, “I hate this place,” on repeat. My first reaction was to stop her from kicking and then to argue my point. You know, start listing all the cool things about our new house. It was bigger. More outdoor space. More kids to play with. Basically start harping on her for acting like a dick. Only I didn’t do that. Instead I felt her pain. Let it seep into my own bones. I didn’t say it was okay or even that it was eventually going to be okay. The only thing I said was, “I know.”

I hate this place.” Kick. Kick. Kick.

I know.

I don’t want to be here.” Kick. Kick. Kick.

I know.”

I hate this place.” Kick. Kick. Kick.

I let her kick. I let her cry. I surrendered.

You see, most of our lives we try to fight back against something outside of ourselves not even realizing we are the ones creating the fight. Either we forget or we never take the time to learn that sometimes it’s perfectly reasonable, if not preferable to surrender. It doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t mean you’re giving up. It just means you’re letting go of the fight.

That night it took over an hour, but eventually she fell asleep breathing her raspy breath into my neck. In those precious moments I learned that I don’t get to decide who she is or what she does. It might seem like as her parent I have that control, but no matter how hard I fight she will become who she wants to be. That fierce little girl is never going to let anyone else define her. Even if I keep pushing my agenda she’ll still be herself. I just won’t get to see her because she’ll learn to hide from me.

People wear masks to protect themselves, forgetting that it works two ways. Battle shields don’t just keep us hidden inside. They also keep everyone else out. On that night in the new house she helped me take off my mask. Unlike Darth Vader I didn’t look any different, but I sure saw her differently. After that I started looking for opportunities to surrender the fight whenever possible. Instead of asking her why she wanted to do something I started asking myself why not. If the answer didn’t involve harm or didn’t infringe on someone else then it was the perfect opportunity to let her be and just surrender my own expectations around her actions and choices.

She wanted to sit on the table. Okay. She wanted to draw on her walls. Okay. She wanted to cut her doll’s hair. Okay. She wanted to draw tattoos on her skin. Okay. Clear boundaries were set of course, but allowing her to be the person she created was what finally set us both free. Along with the freedom another amazing thing happened too. I finally let myself see her. I’d known her for almost four years but I’d never truly seen the person she was. She lives in the moment, sucking up the joy like a high powered Dyson. She pushes boundaries, identifying arbitrary bullshit like a trailblazer. She sees things other people miss, like wild strawberries and clouds shaped like dragons (or turds shaped like dragons). She is incredible and once I really saw her I realized I really liked her. I enjoyed being around her. I started appreciating her as a person instead of just loving her because I was bound to by genetics.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still days where we both look at each other like, “Are you fighting for The Dark Side?” but when that happens I use it as a way to renew what I already figured out. The Dark Side doesn’t really exist. At least not in the way I’ve been taught. It isn’t some evil external force trying to squash all the goodness and love from my soul. In fact it isn’t external at all. The Dark Side exists inside of me. Unfortunately life can make it seem like I need to unleash the fight at every turn, which creates more problems than it solves. We stop learning about ourselves to avoid the fight or we rage against it until it finally weakens our spirit. Neither of those outcomes are particularly uplifting and in the end nobody really wins. In fact, everyone loses.

Thankfully this life gives us countless chances to surrender.We just have to be strong enough to let go. I want to thank my daughter (and Darth Vader) for helping me understand that one of life’s biggest questions isn’t, Which side am I fighting for? but instead, Why am I fighting at all?

Killing the Fun

I’m all about solid research studies. I love empirical data. I used to hoard out-dated issues of Scientific American because I couldn’t bear to put them in the recycling bin. I swear, nothing gets me going like a randomized, controlled, double-blind study.

Research is endlessly beneficial. It explains incredible things like the color spectrum wavelength, demystifies the reason bird poop turns white, and determines which bad habits are most likely to result in death. It even re-explains things we think we’ve already nailed down. Like happiness for instance.

Wait a minute. I already know what makes me happy. Family. Friends. Coffee. Book sales. YouTube videos of baby laughter. I’m stopping here because even though I’m close to the mark I’m still wrong, and despite my love of data the research on happiness isn’t any better at finding an answer.

There are studies that tell us what happiness looks like, how to get it, and most importantly how to keep it. A recent study out of the Netherlands says long-lasting happiness comes from having a strong religious faith. That might be true to some extent but it can’t be the entire story. If it was then atheists would be miserable and those Islamic extremists wouldn’t go around chopping off heads and burning people alive.

For me, the key to happiness can’t be found in current research, probably because it’s too simple. It’s not about religion. It’s about fun. Unfortunately we’re taught from birth that fun is something reserved for weekends, summer vacation, and retirement. If I have to wait thirty more years to start living it up I might as well chop off my own head.

Why is fun something we have to wait for? Why do we cram fun into limited hobbies, shove it into little windows of time, and then feel guilty about having it? Why are we frowning and grumbling and cursing each other out? Why are we popping antidepressants like PEZ? Why are we slaving and sweating and priding those with a “good work ethic” and thinking the only way people become successful is when they give up on fun?

I don’t want my life to be work. I want it to be joyful. I want to stop killing the fun, and more importantly I don’t want my kids to start doing it in the first place. But this killing the fun thing is so ingrained in our culture it’s easy to ignore, and it’s even easy to miss when the same culture slams it our faces.

There’s an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball called “The Joy.” It’s basically about a how a wild and untreatable strain of joy hits the school and giddy happiness spreads all around while the teacher tries to prevent herself from contracting it. It’s so funny and so sad because it’s so true. We don’t even realize it’s happening, but adults are constantly telling children to avoid getting “The Joy.” Maybe we don’t understand that kids are born with it and we do everything in our power to squash it out of them.

Exchanging fun for seriousness is so rampant, not only do we miss when we’re doing it, we even judge other adults who keep their joy. I was at the playground with Gwen and Kira and there was another dad there with his kids. Our kids were running around and whooping it up and the two of us were sitting there like lumps on a bench. He was checking something vitally important on his iPhone. I was staring into space and occasionally peeking out of the haze to make sure Kira wasn’t falling to her death.

Another guy brought his kids over but he didn’t sit down. He played. He seriously climbed and slid and even went down the fireman’s pole. Then he started singing. Out loud. In public. My first thought? He must be clinically insane. I mean, who does that? Then I looked closer and saw it. He was filled to bursting with “The Joy.” He was showing his kids how to have fun. I took a look at myself and iPhone Guy and realized we were showing them how to kill it.

It’s not just our actions that teach killing the fun. Our words do it too. Kids are constantly hearing, “Get down! Stop running! Put your shoes on! You can’t throw mulch! Don’t write on yourself! Get out of that mud! This isn’t a joke. Do you think this is funny? You might get hurt! You might! You might! You might!”

Adults are hearing it too, only it’s the perpetually ingrained parental voice inside our own heads. “There’s no time for fun! Take out the trash! Mow the yard! Keep that job you hate! Quit smiling! You need Botox! You’re too clumsy to dance! Do you really think you can do that? You might look stupid! You might! You might! You might!”

There are so many mights in life, and when we live in fear of them we aren’t really living. Yes, you might get hurt. Yes, you might look stupid. But yes, you might honestly have fun doing it. Oh the horror.

In order to live happily we have to come to terms with the fact that life doesn’t have to be so serious. One of my favorite quotes is from Van Wilder. Remember that movie about the drunken lush of a college-kid who ruled the school by having fun? I’m pretty sure the quote was stolen from author Elbert Hubbard, but it sounded much better in the voice of Ryan Reynolds. Anyway, the quote goes, “Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out alive.”

You won’t. I won’t. Nobody will. Maybe this is where the religion part sneaks in. If we realize our time on this earth is severely limited we’ll finally stop killing the fun.

When I realized what was going on I decided to reverse all that joy-squashing and just embrace it. I took the girls to Target. I grabbed their hands and skipped through the parking lot. Every step was like a dagger through my heart. I was tearing off layers of suckitude and it was painful. I’d killed the fun for so long it was on life support, but each jazzy step was like zapping my lifeless remnant of fun with an AED. By the time we reached the door I realized something. I had “The Joy” and I didn’t want a cure. I wanted to spread it around.

We went straight to the toy aisle instead of cramming it into the last five minutes. We bounced balls. We chased each other with dinosaurs. We rode the bikes without helmets. We pushed every button and turned every crank. I’d never seen my girls so happy. I’m sure I got some “she’s insane” looks, but I didn’t even notice because I was giddy with happiness too.

The weird thing about rediscovering fun is that it hurts at first. We’ve covered ourselves over with layers of blah. Maybe to protect ourselves, or to get ahead at work, or to seem more mature. Whatever the reason I’m telling you it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to kill the fun or cram into places where it fits all tight and convenient. You just have to embrace it.

Start by asking yourself one question: What do you love to do? If you need to think about it, even a little, it means you are figuratively covered in sucky blah-blah. It’s sticky. It doesn’t want to come off. But the more you practice having “The Joy” the easier it gets.

I keep reminding myself to practice. It’s easy when the kids are with me because I’m obviously doing it for them. But what about doing it for myself? I’m waiting for the day when I’ll skip back into Target all by my lonesome. I’ll stop in the middle of the aisle and smile because I brought “The Joy” with me. I’ll grab myself a lollipop, and slurp my way around the store while humming the chords of “Let it Go.” Maybe I’ll even belt out the chorus with my lollipop microphone while trying on those hot pink cowboy boots I’ll never buy.

Will this joyful day ever come? Maybe the bigger question is, will it come for you? You can do it. Go forth. Skip around the parking lot. Eat the candy. Slide down the fireman’s pole. Stop killing the fun and start spreading the joy, and if you see a grown-ass woman cartwheeling down the aisles at Target it’s probably just me embracing the fun too.

**Disclaimer for the science aficionados: I’m highly aware of the lack of empirical evidence for my findings, but when it comes to happiness my own case study will have to suffice.

The Day I Got Ousted

Yesterday I was asked to leave a social-media support group for spirited children. Uh-huh. This spirited adult was booted from a spirited child support group. The reason is both funny-ha-ha and funny-ironic. I got ousted for being closed-minded. Let that sink in a bit.

The original poster vented about her spirited child and asked for ideas. Everything the parent tried for behavior management was not working and every time her daughter was angry she acted like it was the apocalypse.

Here’s where it got a bit messy. One of the parents posted instructions for how to use a car seat to strap her child down so she couldn’t get out of time-out. (Using a car seat for imprisonment! Genius!) Another poster discovered what really “got to her kid” was locking herself away from him when he was upset. (There you go. Make him feel even worse. Win!) Another mentioned how her son cried longer when she was with him so she placed him in his room alone and that made him calm down faster. (That’s it! Teach him to stuff down those feelings! Score!)

Sarcasm aside, I posted a different way of looking at the situation. It IS the apocalypse for the child. She isn’t being overly dramatic or manipulative. She is trying to cope with overwhelming feelings. The world might be ending for her in that moment, so love her through it instead of punishing her for feeling something. Because that’s really all that’s happening. She’s just feeling.

I expected some backlash. Someone said I was teaching my kids that violence is okay by letting them flip out. Another said this would only work for me and no one else. Most just thumbed-up the ludicrous punishments. But one parent asked how it was possible to love a child through a fit, and if I made one person think differently the whole debate was worth it.

I explained how it took me a long way to get here and I’m still learning, but now I make myself available to my kids when they are upset. Every time. There are times when I need to step into the other room to collect myself. Sometimes I need to blast music in my headphones when they are screaming too loud. But I’m still there for them if they need me because the tough moments call for unconditional love the most.

Here’s where it got really messy. I posted my opinion. It is cruel to strap your children down when they are upset. It is cruel to lock yourself in another room because it gets them to pipe down. And sure, placing your children in forced isolation might teach them to calm down faster, but it’s only because it teaches them that being upset is unacceptable. In this case when they’re hurting the only option is “Act how I tell you to act. Feel how I tell you to feel.” That isn’t teaching. That isn’t progress. It’s dominating and cruel.

Shit meet fan. How dare you say someone is cruel? You are so closed-minded. This is a parent support group. We need to stand together. This obviously isn’t the group for you. Please leave. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.

Is it cruel to call another person cruel? Maybe. So I left without hesitation and without further comment. Listen, I am not going to support a cruel action. Even if it’s my own. Of course there are times I do cruel things. Everyone does, and anyone who claims not to is lying.

Once we were in a parking lot and Gwen ran ahead of me. I called out to her and she stopped but she was standing in the driving lane. I couldn’t get to her fast enough so I screamed for her to move back onto the sidewalk because a car was driving up the lane. She stayed put in the street and said, “I am.” I ran over to her and yanked her out of the street and yelled something about listening to me. Cruel action? Yes. Cruel person? Probably not.

My action came out of a place of caring, but also out of a place of anxiety. When we talked about it later I discovered she thought she was standing on the sidewalk because the cement was the same color as the road. We discussed what we could do next time to make a similar situation easier for all of us and I explored my feelings to find actions that truly matched my intentions.

Actions do not make anyone a cruel person. I have no doubt that all of the parents posting on that page have the deepest love for their children. It’s the actions that are cruel, not necessarily the people. Still, if we take a bad situation and make it worse by disconnecting from those around us we aren’t really helping anyone. Definitely not our children, and least of all ourselves.

I got ousted for being closed-minded. I’m laughing as I type this of course, but if I do something that’s closed-minded does that make me a closed-minded person indefinitely? Maybe if I’m a repeat offender, but maybe not even then.

I used to work with a little boy for social language therapy. One day he looked over his shoulder at another student’s work and his teacher called him out as a cheater. He told me the story and said, “Yep. I’m a cheater now.” BAM! Self-image modified! Simple as that.

It took a bit of creative story-telling to get him to understand the meaning of cheating. That cheating happens when you intend to copy someone’s original work and simply glancing at another person’s paper doesn’t make you a cheater. Furthermore, the act of cheating doesn’t make you a permanent cheater any more than saying prayers makes you a permanent saint. In fact, you are only a cheater in the moment you are cheating, and in that same instant you can also be honest, or brave, or any other plethora of characteristics.

We are never just one thing, no matter how much other people want to box us in. We are also not defined by our actions. In fact, we get into trouble when we allow our actions to pigeon-hole us. When we let our egos (or someone else’s) get the better of us we are no longer capable of change, nor are we able to move forward or transcend what we currently are. So I got ousted for being “closed-minded.” Irony aside, my mind is open too.

Stories of Minute

“Hello Old Man,” the vet whispered into Minute’s furry little ear. Then he leaned down and listened to his furry little heart.
“How old is he?” he asked.
“He’ll be thirteen in October,” I said.
“Oh. Yeah. You’re getting old little fella. You got a heart murmur now.”
I picked Minute up off the table and cuddled him. No sweat. Just another story to add to the seemingly infinite list. You see, the thing about Minute is, there are lots of things about Minute.
I adopted him from a sweet lady who couldn’t take him to her apartment so she was going to take him to the shelter. I wasn’t worried about a dog like Minute surviving in lock up. Sure he was little, but he’d survived worse. He only had one working eye and one or two working teeth, wounds he earned from a scrapping fight in puppy-hood. If another dog came sniffing around Minute wasn’t shy about trying to bite off his nose. Plus he always smelled like a mixture of stale cigarettes and Doritos, an appealing scent for any jailhouse mutt. I knew he could cut it in the shelter. I just didn’t want him to have to cut it in the shelter.
So I brought him home, carried him inside, and sat all nine pounds of him down on the kitchen floor.
“What is that?” Brian asked.
“That’s Minute.”
“We aren’t keeping him are we?”
The thing is, I was constantly bringing home something and finding a home for it somewhere. I’m sure I could’ve found someone to take him. But I wanted to be the someone to take him. So he stayed.
Mostly he lazed around, drank water, nibbled food, and peed out giant truckloads of urine, unleashing a whole-day’s stream on a single unsuspecting shrub. Then he sauntered back inside and laid down again. He didn’t bark. He didn’t jump. He didn’t do much of anything.
We figured he needed more action, so we took him to a dog beach. I carried him into the water and then carried him back out. His head flopped awkwardly over my arm and his tongue hung out.
“That doggy is dead,” a little girl pointed and shrieked.
I decided he needed some exercise, so I tricked him into taking a daily walk around the block, bribing him with a chunk of ham every so many steps. About half way around he refused to go any further, regardless of the ham dangling in mid-air. He plopped down on the side walk and the only way he went home was in my arms.
Then one day he jumped. He was sitting there at my feet and all of a sudden he took a flying leap and landed on the couch beside me.
“Holy crap. Did he just jump?” Brian asked.
We both stared at him while he gave us a smirk that seemed to say, “Suck it.”
That day Minute came to life. Sure he still laid around most of the time, but that jump was his way of telling us to take notice. Over the next few years he found the best ways to remind us we needed to pay attention.
Like the time I walked into my closet and sniffed the faint scent of fresh crap. I inspected the carpet but couldn’t find anything. That is until a few months later when hot weather hit. I pulled out my summery shoes and strategically placed in my favorite pair of heels was Minute’s petrified turd.
He came with us to visit a friend in Key West. We were staying on a houseboat and Minute, not wanting to be left behind when we left for dinner, decided to make a break for the front door. Unfortunately he landed in the Gulf with a giant splash. Fortunately our friend with quick reflexes rescued him as soon as he kurplunked off the deck.
Storm season in Florida can get pretty tough and the thunder and wind caused Minute severe anxiety. I came home from work after a particularly nasty storm and heard faint barking. When I figured out he closed himself in the bathroom I opened the door and there he was. Sitting in the toilet. He was doused in the electric blue of 2000 Flushes and it took months before he turned back to his typical shade of brown.
Minute’s fear of storms also meant when it stormed at night he slept with us. A better description would be he paced around on our bed, shook violently and panted his face off, belting us with hot stanky breath for the duration of the storm. He also tried to climb to safety, which usually meant he crept up my pillow and laid on my head.
One nasty stormy night I must have managed to fall asleep in spite of the panting, shaking, and breath-stinking nightmare, but was rudely awoken by Minute cramming his furry little paw right down my throat in a desperate attempt to find higher ground. I can still remember choking and sputtering and then laughing myself into hysterics when I figured out the cause.
Minute’s stories flashed through my mind while I held him in the veterinarian’s office and I started thinking about the day when he won’t be around to get our attention anymore. There will be a day when all of those memories are all that will be left of his life. So go ahead old man. Step in my mouth. Crap in my shoe. I promise I won’t mind in the slightest.

Saying No! Why Little Kids are such Giant Jerk Faces

“No” is a natural part of language development and children use “no” to practice negation and discover their own opinions.  Blah, Blah, effing Blah. None of this matters when you’ve heard the word for the thousandth time in a two-hour period.

Go ahead. Vent a little. Let’s talk about that time your kid refused to get in the elevator, so you had to carry his heavy butt up eight flights of stairs because the bastard wouldn’t walk either. Or that time your kid crawled under the table and refused to blow out her damned Minnie Mouse birthday candle. You know, the one you went to five different stores to find. Or the week that your kid wouldn’t use the toilet even though she’d already been potty trained for a year, and you spent full afternoons unloading giant turds from her Barbie underpants and then dealing with the fits that ensued when you chucked the unsalvageable ones into the trash can. Then there’s the food thing. Just eat the effing broccoli already you little jerk face.

Okay. Now let’s go back to that child-development thought. I’ve used this rational many times when referring to kids saying “no” on repeat: They are supposed to refuse. It’s normal. Part of this is total truth, but there’s more underneath. There’s always more underneath.

Language development only explains part of why little kids are such oppositional lunatics. The rest lies in a desire for control. Picture this for a second: You live in a world ruled by giants who have regulations and boundaries around your every move. They tell you when, where, and how to do even the most basic things, like eat, sleep, and take a pee.

You might feel a bit constrained. You might refuse to do what they tell you. You might even gather a group of fellow non-giants and revolt. Not because it’s developmentally appropriate, and not because you are practicing negation, but because you want to be free to make your own choices. The “No!” really means, “Give me freedom.”

If your child is refusing constantly to the point where you want to scream, you may find relief in letting go of the reins. Unfortunately our natural inclination is to do the exact opposite by cracking down, pushing harder, and giving punishments. This rarely works. In fact, cracking down just increases the behaviors that drive us the nuttiest and causes our children the most stress.

When children feel a severe lack of control they will often refuse to do the things they know other people can’t force them to do, like sleep, eat, and crap. Children will have more potty accidents, refuse to use the toilet, or avoid potty training. They will limit the foods they eat and drink, and they may even alter their sleeping patterns, all in an attempt to gain control.

You can make things easier on yourself and your children by allowing them to make choices across daily activities. This simple act provides children with an element of control and helps them to feel like they are taking the lead in their own lives. Examples include allowing them to pick their own clothing (even if it doesn’t match), making the decision to brush their teeth before or after getting dressed, or letting them help plan the dinner menu.

If the refusals have already crept into the realm of basic needs you can also provide choices here too. A child can decide which bathroom she uses, if she puts one or two carrots on her plate at dinner time, and whether she sleeps with the door open or closed or with the nightlight on or off.

You’ll need to provide some boundaries around the choices at first so you don’t end up in an argument about why you aren’t making an ice cream sundae for breakfast, but eventually kids learn to build their own boundaries and you can leave their choices more open-ended.

Giving children choices will not only help them feel more in control, it will also demonstrate that their opinions matter to you and your family. You will help them build communication, negotiation, and problem solving skills as well as give them a sense of autonomy in a scary and often stifling world.

Dealing with Sensory Processing Disorder: Weaving Deep Pressure Work into Daily Activities

Massage. Crushing hugs. Joint compressions. Brushing. All those things are great for your kids. The proprioceptive (deep pressure)  input calms them down and helps them get through the day. There’s one glaring problem though; you’ve got to find a way to make time for them in a day that’s already packed to bursting.

Here are some ways you can incorporate deep pressure work into your child’s daily routine:

Waking Up

Jump and crash into the mattress. Repeat.

Put weights in the drawers. Your kid will have to pull harder to open them, giving some great pressure through the upper body.

Bear or crab walk to the bathroom or breakfast table.

Morning Bathroom Routine

Squeeze the toothpaste tube or shake the mouthwash bottle (lids on tight) while brushing.

Use a power face washer. Sure they’re for wrinkle prevention, but they feel cool to kids too.

Sit on a yoga ball while brushing teeth.

Meal time

Put some chewy/crunchy foods on the plate. Gummies, raw fruits and vegetables, granola.

Slurp thick drinks like smoothies through straws.

Tie Theraband (stretchy exercise band) around chair legs for kicking legs against.

Shopping

Park further from the store ask your child to “help” carry your heavy bag for part of the walk, or hop halfway to the door.

Hand heavy items to you or put them in the cart (or carry some lighter items in their own basket).

Help fill the belt with all the purchases.

Carry one bag to the car.

Car ride

Hold a heavier stuffed animal or doll while riding.

Kick a duct taped pillow or bean bag (fastened to the seat in front of your child).

Bathtime/Bedtime

Bathe in a full tub.

Wash with hand towels instead of washcloths. They are bigger and heavier when wet.

Wrap in two towels to dry.

Pretend your child is play-doh when rubbing on lotion or put on a “space suit” (insert child-favorite pretend outfit) when putting on lotion and give deep pressure in slow steady movements.

Use a homemade quilt (or two) or a specially made weighted blanket.

Hold a stack of heavier story books in lap while reading.

You’ll probably come up with your own ways for pressure work to easily fit into your day. By providing calming activities in regular intervals it will help to keep everyone more relaxed.

Calm Kindness. What the @#$% is that?

I know what it’s like when your kid starts wailing about some trivial little thing. She hates the red cup. Her mitten feels weird. She can’t put on her own socks. Fits, tantrums, meltdowns, whatever you want to call them, they suck for everyone involved. Yes, I know a tantrum is different from a meltdown, but they all feel the same when you’re dealing with them day after day.

If you are a parent of a child who has special needs you probably understand exponentially. I get it as a speech-language therapist, but even more as a parent. I know how many times you’ve been late because your kid couldn’t pull it together to get out the door. I know how many times you’ve carried your screaming child out of places that were too much for her to handle. I know how many times you’ve wanted to climb under the covers and never come out, because then you wouldn’t have to deal with the crap any more.

I’m not boo-hooing. I’m applauding you for forging on. It isn’t THAT bad, but when it’s bad, it’s BAD. Yet, you keep on chugging like the Little Engine that Could. You might be applauding me right now for validating your struggles, but here comes the part where you might start booing.

I find that most people, even inherently wonderful, saintly people, respond to anger with anger. It’s natural. It’s the “fight” in “fight or flight.” We’ve all been there. Some more than others. Now, here’s where we get to the booing part. Instead of responding to your child’s anger with anger, yelling, demanding, doling out punishments in an attempt to get control, I urge you to try a different path. Stay calm and show some genuine kindness.

Now, you are probably rolling your eyes. You think this is bullshit. You think kids need stricter parents and swift kicks in the ass. Or maybe you agree, you just think what I’m suggesting is impossible. I’m telling you it isn’t. It isn’t bullshit, it isn’t impossible, and it will win you more fights than strictness and beatings. It will win you more than fights too, because you’ll finally be working together.

First there’s the stay calm part. I’m not saying NEVER yell. That’s insane. I’m just saying don’t yell when your kid is yelling, because nothing good can come out of simultaneous raging fits. Save the yelling for the important stuff. Like all the times she’s being idiotic about safety, or when she flushes random items (Ipod, jewelry, crayons, etc.) down the toilet to “see what will happen.”

Unfortunately, a calm demeanor and tone aren’t the only things you need, though. I made this mistake for far too long, thinking if I only stayed calm and didn’t yell back, everything would be fine. But she could see the frazzle lurking underneath the façade of caring. She could tell I was just playing at kindness.

That’s the next part. Kindness. Anger NEVER works the way kindness does. Kindness diffuses anger. If you want to see your kid melt, and in a good way when she’s angry, go ahead and show her some calm kindness, and see what happens. I’m not saying give in. Hold your ground, for sure. Just do it kindly.

Now, if I haven’t lost you yet, you are probably saying, how on earth do I do that? Or what does that even look like?

Here’s how you do it:

  • Drop your body. Get down on your child’s level. This erases the “big parent versus little child” feeling.
  • Watch your tone. If you sound snide, your kid won’t listen.
  • Lower your volume. She’ll listen to a whisper over a yell any day.
  • Show you understand by telling what happened and why she’s mad. This shows you care.
  • Ask what will help. If she doesn’t know, give some suggestions. This shows you care enough to help her.
  • Wait. And just be there.

Here’s what it looks like:

I’m in the bathroom helping my 3 year old go potty. Yes. I said potty. My one year old is toddling around the bathroom, too. The three-year-old had an accident and we are changing her clothes. She goes to put her shoes back on and can’t get them to cooperate. She throws herself on the floor, throws her shoes at me, and screams for me to put them on.

I drop right down onto the bathroom floor with her. I take a couple of deep breaths (of disgusting bathroom air, of course). I clear my head with a hokey, yet effective pop-psychology thought adapted from Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, and I play it on repeat: she’s not being difficult, she’s having difficulty. Then I say, in a kind, low voice, “What will help?” She just grunts and rolls around, so I say, “It sucks to have a potty accident, and now your shoes are making you mad. You want my help.”

She growls, “Put my shoes on!”

I say, “I’ll help, if you just ask nicely.”

She rolls around (on the gross bathroom floor), grunts, stiffens out, and screams, “I can’t ask nicely!” And in that moment, she really can’t.

I say, “I’ll wait.” And I do. A minute or so passes (even though it feels like ten years).

She says, “Help me, please.” So I do. Then I hug her. We take some more disgusting breaths so she can calm down.

I say, “I want to get out of here. So does your sister. It’s hot. And it smells weird.” She laughs, then she picks up her coat and we leave.

There’s a win for both of us. She feels supported and not hated, while learning what to say and do by watching how I handled a stressful situation. I get out of that bathroom in five minutes instead of twenty, and I don’t have to carry two children (one screaming) to the parking lot. Okay, so there’s a triple win for me because my children are also learning how to be calm and kind adults.

My main point here, is that we learn by example and we emulate the behaviors that are shown to us. Do you want to teach your child to jump head first into every anger outburst by demanding that their way is the only way? Or, do you want to teach your child to respond to anger with patience and understanding? I’m just saying, whichever you choose, she will learn to use the exact method that is shown to her.

After reading this, most people have some comments and questions, such as:

My kid isn’t that strong-willed and I can make him behave. I don’t need to be calm and kind.

Sure, you can force him to behave, but is that what you want? A child who has to be coerced into appropriate behaviors? Even if your kid responds well to demands and force, you are teaching him to act the same pushy way when others are hurting, and that doesn’t help anyone.

Doesn’t this calm kindness thing just teach her that she gets what she wants?

No. I’m not giving in. I explain the boundaries and let her decide when she is ready to stay within them.

But doesn’t it show her that she can act however she wants?

Yes. It does. Because, like all of us, she was born with a tiny little brain of her own. She is a person, not a perfect-child robot. I can’t make her do anything, and I shouldn’t. There are consequences that fit every inappropriate behavior and she’ll have to deal with those.

So then, what are the consequences for flipping out about a shoe, etc.?

Well, first of all, it’s never just about a shoe. Or a cup. Or a sock. She might be embarrassed about crapping her pants in front of her friends. She might be hot in that hellfire of a bathroom. There are so many things that contribute to anger. In fact, anger always starts with fear, anxiety, or frustration. Later, I explain those things to her and what she can do when she first gets frustrated rather than leaping into anger and throwing herself down into a massive meltdown.

Maybe next time she will act more appropriately, or maybe she won’t. Either way, dealing with emotions is a learning process that takes a lifetime for most people, so why should I expect my daughter to have it under control at age three? Besides, does there always need to be an additional consequence dished out by the ‘wronged’ parental figure? Maybe the consequence occurred when I didn’t give in and she had to ask politely for what she needed. Part of me thinks that rolling on the bathroom floor may have been a consequence in itself.

Sensory Processing Disorder: Now What?

My daughter is exactly like other kids, she just gets a bit more geeked-out by sensory stimuli. She isn’t damaged or a burden. She isn’t troubled or behavioral. She is just Gwen. Smart, beautiful, kind, loud, helpful, and occasionally dangerous.

When I tell people she has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) everyone always asks, “What is that?” Even after I explain SPD in basic terms most people still have no freaking clue what I am talking about, so I am going to try to elaborate in a way that will hopefully bring this vague disorder more clarity. There are three important points I’d like to make.

Important Point # 1: Sensory processing happens in everybody, and every person seeks and avoids sensory input.

Everyone has heard of the five senses: vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell…but there are more.  Proprioception is the feeling of deep pressure through the joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles that gives us a feeling of connectivity to the Earth. The vestibular sense gives us the feeling of balance and motion.  Self regulation manages things like sleep-wake states and our emotions.

This plethora of information travels through nerves that move from the body to a center in the brain that makes sense of the information we are taking in, sort of like a computer downloading a bunch of files and organizing them to do important work. Our brain is the computer, the files are sensory information, and the important work is functioning in everyday life.

Sensory information NEVER stops downloading as long as we are still alive, and so every living person is constantly seeking or avoiding sensations; even those who have typical sensory processing. We turn off the radio in the car when we need to focus.  We put on sunglasses when the sun is too bright.  We go for a walk to calm down. We jump into the pool when we are sick of the hot sun.  We dry off after a shower because we need to put on clothes.

Everyone processes sensory information a bit differently, and a typical brain makes sense of that information in functional ways. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) happens when the brain cannot process sensory stimuli correctly in order for a person to function.  Either the person’s brain is overly seeking sensory input or overly avoiding sensory input, and often waffling between those two extremes.  The radio can never be turned on in the car.  Sunglasses are worn permanently. Walking is never enough to calm down. Jumping into a pool feels like razors. Towel drying feels so fantastic that stopping is impossible. These are just examples, but you get the point.

Important Point # 2: SPD symptoms often look like misbehavior.

Most adults with SPD eventually learn to cope with their sensory issues, but are usually left with a certain level of manageable anxiety because their sensory needs are rarely met entirely.  Children don’t have these coping skills yet, so the seeking or avoiding shows up in odd and annoying behaviors. The sensory system is often inconsistent in kids with SPD, which adds to the notion that the child is manipulating everyone. If the bath didn’t bother her yesterday why is she freaking out in the tub today?

On top of strange behaviors children with SPD usually develop oppositional traits and rigid routines because this helps them establish control and predictability while living in a body that often makes them feel powerless.  Imagine what it would feel like if sometimes the light in your bedroom was just a normal light, but other times it seemed so bright it was searing your eyeballs like a steak on the grill.  Chances are you would eventually insist on darkness. What if every time you lifted a glass its weight felt different? Sometimes it felt too light and your efforts ended up drenching you with liquid and other times it felt so heavy that you couldn’t lift the thing at all.  Chances are you would insist on a straw and refuse to lift the cup.  What if the playground swing made you feel like your body was finally grounded instead of floating randomly in space?  Chances are you would refuse to stop swinging. Children with SPD aren’t being difficult on purpose; they are just trying to navigate the world with a broken compass.

Important Point # 3: The only way past it is through it.

In order to help our children progress we have to help them cope.  Most kids are telling us what they need.  We just have to listen by observing. We need to figure out which behaviors are sensory based, and then find an alternative activity that gives the same result in a more natural and acceptable way. The following chart lists behaviors that Gwen exhibits regularly and also includes our replacement behaviors. Hopefully in sharing our experiences we can help others who are dealing with the same difficulties.

If you suspect your child may have SPD please consult with your doctor and an occupational therapist. You can also message me on Facebook or the contact page at www.onlynowiknow.com for more information.

Behavior

Seeking or Avoiding Sensory Systems Involved

Replacement Behaviors

Throwing  and Chasing Seeking Proprioception (pressure)

Vestibular (balance and movement)

Throwing pushes and pulls the arm joints, giving a sense of pressure.  Running gives movement input and joint pressure.

  • Throw soft items or balls into a laundry basket
  • Joint compressions (alternately pushing the joints in the body together and pulling them apart gently and repeatedly)
  • Play catch with a weighted or spiky ball
  • Throw toys for the dogs
Spinning Seeking Vestibular (movement and balance)

Visual (if eyes are open)

  • Play Ring Around the Rosy or Motor Boat
  • Twist in a swing
  • Spin in a swiveling chair
Jumping Seeking Proprioception (pressure)

Jumping throws jolts of pressure through the entire body.

  • Joint compressions
  • Jumping and crashing body onto couch cushions, beanbags, pillows, or a mattress
Climbing Seeking Proprioception (pressure)

Climbing puts pressure through the entire body.

  • Joint compressions
  • Set up an area to climb safely at home
  • Playground climbing toys
Toe Walking Seeking Proprioception (pressure)

Toe walking puts extra pressure through the hips, knees, and bones of the ankles and feet.

  • Jumping, skipping, or hopping
  • Joint compressions
  • Swimming or playing in a full bathtub
  • Pulling or kicking a Theraband
  • Burying feet in play-doh
Rocking Seeking Vestibular (movement and balance)

Proprioception (pressure)

Rocking puts pressure through the hips and gives calming repetitive motion to the body.

  • Rock in an actual rocking chair or glider
  • Roll on an exercise ball
  • Use a sit disk (cushy seat that gives movement)
  • Kicking a Theraband wrapped around chair legs
  • Walk or run
  • Joint compressions and massage
  • Swing
Being Clumsy (falling, bumping into things, breaking suff) Seeking Proprioception (pressure)

Vestibular (movement and balance)

Being clumsy is caused by a lack of feeling grounded by gravity, and a lack of feeling sensory pressure through the body that gives us proper feedback about our movements.

Any activity that moves the body at a steady pace and gives full body joint pressure:

  • Swinging
  • Jumping and crashing
  • Massage
  • Rolling up in a heavy blanket
  • Playing “squash the bug” with a big bean bag or heavy cushion and take turns being the bug
  • Rolling a ball over the body
  • Frog jumping, crab walking, wheel barrow walking
  • Wall push ups
  • Yoga
Talking Singing Seeking Proprioception (pressure)

Auditory (hearing)

Vocal vibrations give pressure in the throat, chest, and head.

If talking or singing isn’t appropriate to the current time and place use:

  • Joint compressions and massage, especially head and shoulders
  • Deep breathing
Chewing or Sucking Seeking Proprioception (pressure)

Tactile (touch)

  • Offer appropriate items to chew or suck such as balloons, straws, gum, candy
  • Electric toothbrush
  • Facial massage
  • Joint compressions
Refusing  Clothing Avoiding Tactile (touch)
  • Let child chose her own clothing
  • If certain clothes must be worn use joint compressions, massage and brushing prior to putting on the clothes
Refusing Foods or Overeating Seeking and Avoiding Food provides lots of input:

Crunchy – seeking auditory and proprioception (pressure)

Chewy – seeking proprioception (pressure)

Cold – seeking tactile (temperature change)

Overeating usually happens with foods that give needed input such as chewy, sweet, spicy, crunchy or salty. Avoided foods are often difficult to manage orally or are giving too much or too little sensory input.

Avoiding:

  • Look at what your child eats and what those food items have in common and then offer new foods that are similar in the same ways (crunchy, bland, chewy, sweet, etc.)

Seeking

  • Offer non-food oral toys such as whistles, straws, gum, etc.

Gwen’s Way: Dealing With Sensory Processing Disorder and Getting a Diagnosis

I feel like a nut job taking my baby to a psychologist, but I finally break down and do so when she is a year and a half old. She is always on the edge of a meltdown and when she finally slips over the edge her rages last so long that she sometimes has to nap afterward. Almost anything will throw her into a fit.  Telling her no.  Correcting her.  Making her wait.  Changing activities. Changing clothes. Changing anything. Getting in the car seat. Getting out of the car seat. Giving her the wrong cup.  Giving her the right cup after giving her the wrong cup.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

The pediatric psychologist gives her a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder at 18 months old.  Talk about a parental guilt trip inducing slap to the face.  I ask myself what I’m doing wrong every couple of minutes.  The psychologist refers me to Harvey Karp and The Happiest Toddler on the Block. The book title makes me want to barf all over myself. I don’t want the happiest toddler, but I don’t want the nastiest one either.  At this point I just want The Slightly Less Disgruntled Toddler on the Block, so I read the book and even watch a video and it really helps.  I get down below her eye level and start “mirroring” her emotions by stating what I think she feels and why she feels that way.  I also talk her up and talk myself down by saying things like, “Give me five!” letting her smack my hand and then pretending it hurts like the dickens.  I praise her every good deed and then I pretend to trip and fall and make tons of mistakes.  She thinks this is a hoot and as Martian as these behaviors seem they start to make her feel better because, to borrow a phrase from Charlie Sheen, she feels like she is “winning.”

I have to admit taking her perspective also helps me to understand.  It must really feel despicable to always feel out of control of your own body, and to always feel like you are losing. Unfortunately for us these techniques only work for a couple of months and then she is on to me.  I am the one who has a fit on the day this stops working.  Like usual she starts freaking out and I say “You are SO MAD!  You want to go outside NOW!” She looks at me and screams “NO TALK TO ME!” then starts swinging at me repeatedly.  I think… “Oh schnikes.  She’s figured it out.” But really it was probably just the old SPD sneaking up on us again.

I finally break down and do something I swore I would never do…I start using my costly education on my own daughter.  I use emotion coaching and picture schedules to let her know what will happen and…gasp…it actually works.  Her wonderful daycare provider uses the same techniques with her and we all notice a huge change for the positive, but compared to other kids her age she still struggles like a worm on sandpaper. Maybe that’s how she actually feels.

Taking her out of the house is always a nightmare.  She is going to throw at least one massive tantrum for every outing, and on a particularly lousy day she will throw down two or three. Her fits still resemble a demonic overgrown baby doll similar to Chucky, only minus the overalls and knife wielding skills.

Right around this time I find out I am pregnant with Kira and have my own panic attack.  How am I going to deal with two of them?  What if she is just like Gwen?  I will surely die.  Thankfully, Gwen has finally stopped hitting and kicking me when she melts down. Instead of beating on others she now just sort of throws herself into the ground repeatedly.  I worry about her breaking a bone, but I finally stop worrying about what other people think when she melts down in public because I tell myself if they had to do this for a week they would finally understand what I am going through. And probably run out the door screaming. I walk around with hiked up shoulders, barely breathing because I am always waiting for her to flip the heck out.

To add to my perpetually anxious state we move across the country for the second time when she is around two years old…and at the same time beautiful Kira joins our disordered world.  Gwen does much better than we expect in handling all the changes, but I am sure this is only because we do everything humanly possible to prepare her.  We talk about what will happen.  We write and illustrate stories. We enlist the help of grandparents. We knock her out with whiskey.  Just kidding on that last one….I promise.

Then winter happens.  Most kids with SPD need to be outside running around almost as much as they need air.  This winter just happens to be below zero almost every day, causing all of us to stay in the house and go stir crazy.  Okay, what I really want to say is that Gwen’s SPD makes us all even stir crazier.  We just don’t know what we are dealing with yet.

The day we hang a swing in the basement Gwen says, “This is the best day of my life…!” and it really is a great moment…for both of us.  This is when I start to suspect the sensory issues and talk to people who can help us.  Of course there are still people who say she doesn’t have any problems and that I am crazy.  Well, everyone knows I am crazy, but my kid sure the heck has problems and I am more than okay with admitting it.  If anyone wants to question it just come and hang out with us for a week.  I guarantee everyone present will finally say, “Now I get it.”

I call her doctor to get a referral for an occupational therapy evaluation and I am expecting to have to beg and plead because Gwen is always the epitome of cool, calm, and collected in the doctor’s office.  I speak with the nurse and she asks a few questions about what we are noticing and gives the go ahead with absolutely no problems.  I am blown away and yet grateful that we have a doctor who believes in the SPD diagnosis, because some still don’t. We get her into occupational therapy and the OT comes out after the evaluation and says… “Well, she sure is a sensory kid.”  I let out a breath I was probably holding in for three plus years.

The occupational therapist also diagnoses her with dyspraxia (motor coordination disorder) which often goes along with sensory processing issues. In terms of SPD Gwen struggles with the following senses: proprioceptive (pressure), vestibular (movement), tactile (touch), self regulation, oltfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), visual (sight), and auditory (hearing). These are individual senses that work together to help us navigate the world. No wonder she was a sinking ship for so long. So now I look at her with different eyes. Instead of seeing her as a naughty little child who is trying to ruin my life I see her for the mostly sweet yet struggling child she has always been.

Of course sometimes I know she is just being a pain in the butt, but I am starting to see the difference between sensory issues and typical annoying kid issues.  Gwen is getting stronger and she is starting to understand herself and the things that soothe her.  Just the other day we were planning on going out to two stores.  We made it through one and she said, “Can we just go home instead. I can’t do anudder store.”  Some parents would be annoyed by this. Some parents would just make her go along and hope she didn’t flip out. I was overwhelmed by her ability to understand herself and communicate her needs in a way that most adults can’t. So we went home.

I plan on writing future posts that delve into each of the sensory areas that Gwen struggles with and what we have found that works to help her. I am sharing our story to help bring awareness to SPD and this unique and often vague struggle. Maybe one parent of one child will read this and be comforted and helped. If you have any questions or comments please do so using the contact page at www.onlynowiknow.com

Please see the following posts for more information:

Gwen’s Way: Dealing With Sensory Processing Disorder Birth to Six Months

Gwen’s Way: Dealing With Sensory Processing Disorder Six Months to 1.5 Years

Gwen’s Way: Dealing With Sensory Processing Disorder 6 months to 1.5 years

We have made it to six months, though some days it feels like sixty years.  Things have gotten better in some ways and worse in others.  On the side of better Gwen can ride in a car seat without screaming the entire time.  Now she only screams when we stop.  Needless to say I’ve driven through my share of yellow lights and sorry to any law enforcement, but also my fair share of reds.

She can also ride in the stroller, but only if we are running or walking very fast. Some would call it “trotting.” Once she can sit up and crawl on her own the crying subsides even more, but she replaces the crying with climbing.  She can climb onto the kitchen table at nine months old.  She also climbs onto the couch and throws herself off in dramatic belly smackers reminiscent of nest-tea plunges.  She starts walk/running at nine months too. So now instead of holding her and running we just run along behind her.  Some people might think this is helicopter parenting…and alright it is, but if we don’t follow her she is going to get into something dangerous because she refuses to play with actual toys and only wants things like forks, hairdryers, razors, etc.  Even though we have baby proofed our house to the extreme she still finds things that she shouldn’t .

Horrible to admit but I’ve called poison control four times already.  “For what!?!” you ask incredulously, as most of you have probably NEVER called them (just sod off already).  Well, the running list is as follows: deodorant, a tube of titanium sunscreen, calcium tablets, and a whole mess of whitening toothpaste.  They record your name and phone number (you would know this if you were a horrible parent like me) so by the fourth time I call the guy answers and says, “Hello Mrs. Swartfager, what has Gwen ingested today?”

Aside from eating everything in sight that would normally be inedible Gwen is somewhat saved by her binky as it limits her from ingesting more items that would likely require me to call poison control yet again.  It also helps that she learns to talk at ten months old, and she can do so while holding her binky out the side of her mouth like a small plastic stogy and still speak with amazing clarity.  By a year old she signs and says nearly 70 words (yes I made a list). Most people assume this is because she is a speech-therapist’s child…no…she is just a child who knows what she wants.

Improved communication helps in certain ways, but also makes her more frustrated because she knows we understand her and now when we refuse or try to redirect her she is not having it.  When she is almost a year old I redirect her from trying to play with a wall outlet (with safety covers of course) and she keeps going back to it…67 times (yes I counted).  Each time she screams and runs back to the darned thing, no matter what I do, including taking her out of the room and onto another floor of the house.

Sleeping is slightly better, and she naps for a bit of time in her crib.  We have transitioned her to be soothed in the rocking chair by weaning her off the previously used yoga-ball- bouncing-to-sleep nightmare (see previous sensory blog) in a manner of starting out on the ball and then when she is starting to nod off flinging our bodies into the chair and rocking like a hobby horse on crack.

In order to get her to sleep through the night we have to sleep train her.  I feel like a Nazi extremist putting her down in her crib and walking out the door as she wails like a banshee.  She cries for an hour straight as I sit outside the door weeping.  It takes a couple nights of this and then she is finally sleeping all night in her own room but we must re-experience the night-waking horrors every time her schedule is even slightly disrupted. Keeping her on a schedule helps since she knows what to predict.

Her biggest issue now is emotional regulation, which seems odd to say because all one-year-olds struggle with this, but unlike most other one-year-olds if you see Gwen in a meltdown you might assume she is fully possessed by the devil.  She pounds, kicks, growls, and occasionally foams at the mouth.  She throws the best fits of any child I have ever seen, but unfortunately this isn’t a skill you want your child to develop.  At one point she dislocates my knee while I try to contain her in one of her classic fits of rage.  Another time she lands a mean cross that dislocates my jaw.  Yes.  A one-year-old child dislocates my jaw and I walk around with a jaw that won’t close on one side, afraid to go back to the ER because they will probably assume my husband is beating me.

We have reached a point in time where we still don’t know she has sensory integration problems. Instead we have resigned ourselves to the fact that our child is simply put, a pain in the ass.  I start to resent her.  I start to think I made her this way.  Logically I know this isn’t true but there is no logic left in my head since all of my energy and efforts go to dealing with her crap and dealing with my job.

I attend a parent support meeting where all of the other babies sit on their parents’ laps or play with toys in the middle of the room while I dance around the outskirts with mine.  A group leader comes over to me and says, “It’s not your fault.  She is a spirited child.”  Then she gives me the name of the book The Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

I am appalled, but also grateful because reading it truly helps.  I stop resenting her and learn some strategies to deal with Gwen’s personality type.  Unfortunately I am still missing the bigger picture.  Not every spirited child has SPD.  But mine does, and it is doubly unfortunate that it will take another year and half for me to acknowledge what I should already know.

If you have or know of a child who is struggling with similar issues, please consider that Sensory Processing Disorder maybe the underlying reason.  Consulting with a pediatric occupational therapist who is well versed in diagnosing and treating SPD will not only give you peace of mind, but tools to help your child and your family. Feel free to message me on the contact page at onlynowiknow.com for more information.