Brain Under Construction

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This is the packaging my 6 year old created for his dad’s father’s day gift. His dad is a particle physicist, so there’s intentionality in this list.

This is how my 6yo rolls. J thrives on new information. Tonight, I asked what he wanted to read for a bedtime story, and he chose an elementary math dictionary, the pages on functions and algebra. We’re not pushing this on him. We’re not hothousing him. I suggested Dr. Frumble’s Bedtime Stories, (aff. link) but he wanted to talk about algebra and to do 78*2*2 in his head.

This isn’t to brag. It’s just the reality of who he is. Like other kids who can ride a bike early, are totally coordinated, musically inclined, socially aware, or have other talents. Everyone has some area in which he or she shines. Some are more recognized and celebrated by society than others.

He started reading at 3, and would sit for hours, reading books and completing worksheets. But that’s time he didn’t spend running, jumping, and socializing with other kids. So we have to make that up now, as those parts of his brain “wake up”, so to speak. It means that we’re practicing some of the same social skills that we are with my 3 year olds, like not taking things without asking. But it’s not wrong. It’s an outgrowth of how his brain works.

He’s asynchronous. Different areas of his brain are developing at rates outside what is typically expected, and because some parts are getting more attention, others have been neglected and are waking up later.

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That means that we can be discussing what kinds of metals are best for cars or staples, and the next I’m telling him not to lick his stuffed sheep. (true story)

 

Rules of Engagement 

Right after my twins were born, J, then 3, started driving me crazy. He’d ask for a certain activity. I’d manage to free myself from the other two to get him set up, help him get started, and then walk away. Almost inevitably, after a couple minutes he would lose interest and wander away, looking for something else to do.

I was confused. This kid had great focus and had never had trouble before staying on task. What was different?

After a few weeks of pulling my hair out, I realized that what he was asking for, what he was unable to verbalize at that point, is that he wanted attention. Togetherness. And he was choosing activities we’d done together in the past in the hopes that we could connect again.


Once I realized what he was doing, it broke my heart a bit, but it also gave me a glimpse into how his mind works. He tends to state needs rather than ask for help. (We’ve been working on this). He tends to speak in declarative statements rather than asking questions. 

Right now, his major interests are math & the periodic table, and I wonder – is it because that’s what he truly likes, or is it because we take the time to engage with him on those topics when he brings them up?

One of J’s favorite 3yo activities – balancing alphabet letters on his Little People quarry

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing to or even naturally tending towards certain topics. Many families bond over common interests – from sports teams to TV shows to political ideologies. But I want to be sensitive to the fact that we need to be open to encouraging interests, even if they’re not in our comfort zones.

What does that look like? Still figuring it out. 

Spontaneous Generosity – can it be taught?

Our girls are 3.5. They’re used to sharing and taking turns. They’ve had no other normal.

Recently, we’ve been going through a (perfectly normal) stage where they want to claim preference of one thing over another. This has especially been playing out with their seats – at the table and in the car.

The screams and fights at the table were getting bad enough that we considered taking away the coveted chair and instead getting 2 identical options. But we didn’t. Because avoiding the conflict doesn’t solve anything. It just pushes the issue down the road to be dealt with again, over something that might not be so easy to fix. We wanted our girls to have the opportunity to work through it now.

Instead, I made a card and hung it from the back of the chair, labeling with the first letter of each of their names, with the intent to flip it every meal so they would each have equal access.

A curious thing happened. After initial implementing the plan and a couple switches to see if I would notice, they started being generous. E went over to the card when it was her turn and flipped it “to be kind”. I was floored, and my fairness-minded 6yo tried to argue with her that it was her turn, her right. She persisted, and she gave her sister her seat – willingly.

What we’ve been noticing more and more is that when our kids feel safe, protected, that they will be treated fairly, then they are more likely to be generous. When they feel threatened, they cling to what they have. 

This also extends to sharing toys. They’re expected to share most things, but they also each have a few “special” things they don’t have to share. The kids are getting pretty good at expressing what is special and respecting each others’ stuff to the point that they are now willingly entrusting said treasured items to the others, knowing they will get it back.

The process is hard. There will be setbacks and screaming sessions and crying fits as we continue to work through this, but I, for one, am encouraged to see generous hearts. 

The Art of Pairing 

Some time in the last year, I came across the term “strewing”. It refers to strategically placing toys and educational items to be “discovered” by your children.

https://adventuresinteachingmyown.com/2016/06/24/the-art-of-strewing-an-unschooling-moms-secret-weapon/ – here’s a pretty good overview.

I was intrigued. I’ve done a certain amount of this over the years, but I never knew it had a name. 

I’d like to introduce a second “level” to the concept that I call pairing. Simply put, it means placing unrelated items next to each other to invite your children to interact with those objects in new and novel ways. This encourages flexible thinking and problem solving, and you often pick up on some fantastic science concepts along the way.

Case in point: today, I moved a balance board next to a doll house. 


It became a merry-go-round. We would spin it (motor skills) and watch the figures fly off (centripetal force, momentum), we swayed it back & forth & looked at how much of an angle it took for them to slide off (friction, objects at rest tend to stay at rest). We put things in the center and near the edges and observed the differences. 

Note – this was all child-led, and I didn’t mention one science term as we were playing. We just observed how the world works and how two objects that ordinarily don’t fit together can make something new.

A few other ideas we’ve explored:

  • A balloon & a marble
  • Light Brite pegs & Play doh
  • Rubber bands & chairs

Your turn – what objects have you or could you use for unexpected interactions? The possibilities are endless! 

Traveling with Intense Children – It Can Be Done!

We have 3 kids, two of whom have significant sensory sensitivities.

We also have family scattered across about 20,000 miles, so we end up traveling. Long distances. With multiple children.

And it works. Some days are rougher than others. International flights with nursing, stranger-anxious twin toddlers comes to mind. Being stuck in traffic going through Staten Island with an inconsolable 8 month old also comes to mind — as well as moments like when the contents of the sweet potato pouch squirted all over the stranger next to us on the plane. (Sorry!)

We’ve learned a great deal about travel with intense little ones over the years and have come up with four basic principles of travel.

1. Take Your Time

When we schedule out travel, we plan for extra time practically everywhere we go. Our ultra-sensitive kids pick up on our stress if we’re in a hurry, and they also need down time to adjust to new situations. At the airport, we make sure there’s plenty of time for airplane watching, potty breaks, or, if we’re lucky, even an airport play area. It’s so important for kids to be able to move, to get that excess energy out, and to get the sensory input they need to help regulate their emotions.

When we drive, we plan for stops that allow for sensory input as well, whether that means finding a playground, running through the field at a rest area, curb jumps, an indoor play place, or the rocking chairs in front of a Cracker Barrel Restaurant.

2. Maintain Your Rhythm (Schedule)

Some kids seem to be ultra-flexible and able to shift wake ups, naps, meal times, and bedtimes without much of a problem. Our children are not. Instead of trying to force them to be something they’re not, we work with their schedules, planning flights and car trips around when they will be happiest.  Otherwise, we end up with 2 year old A, who was *supposed* to have napped on the way to the airport, serenading all of JFK’s terminal 4 with how happy she was to be there.

In the same way, we DO NOT push our kids’ naps or bedtimes back to squeeze one more thing in. It’s not worth it. It’s better to try 3 rides at Dutch Wonderland (amusement park in PA) and still be happy than to try to squeeze in 5 and then have competing meltdowns from various children. This is a mistake I made fairly often for a while. My kids were enjoying themselves, and I was too. What’s the harm in staying a bit longer?

DON’T DO IT.

SERIOUSLY.

Otherwise, you’ll get the looks I did in Dresden last fall while pushing my double stroller over the cobblestone streets, holding one of my screaming two-year-olds down while she tried to escape, racing to catch the streetcar, in hopes of averting a total and complete meltdown.

3. Make the Unfamiliar Familiar

When we travel, we find small ways to bring home with us, especially for bedtimes. I pack their small blankies, one (small) comfort object, maybe a favorite book, trusted nighttime water bottles, night lights, and pillowcases.

I also let them help me pack their bags, starting with a packing list (downloadable, editable .docx file) that we go over together. This ensures that they will feel ownership of whatever items are in the suitcase and will be more willing to wear them. We try not to do new clothes on trips. Instead, we give them a “trial run” at home first to make sure they’re accepted.

Their grandparents also let them choose, over Skype, a stuffed animal or toy to be put on their beds when they arrive. That way, they immediately see a familiar object that helps them connect with where they’ll be sleeping.

When navigating public restrooms, we sometimes bring stickers or post-it notes to put over the automatic toilet flush. This reduces the anxiety of unexpected noises. And I make sure to have napkins or similar in my purse to avoid those scary automatic hand dryers.

We also try to help them anticipate the people and places we’ll be going. We make picture albums or slide shows of people we’re going to visit and tell stories about them to make them seem familiar. In fact, I make picture books of our trips (thanks, Shutterfly!), and we read them again before we go. We look at pictures of where we’re going. When we took our oldest to NYC for the first time, I found a picture book called Miffy Visits New York City that we read again and again. When we got there, he was so excited to identify the various landmarks. Now that he’s older, we look at maps, let him read travel brochures, or even anticipate different types of architecture he may see and get books related to that.

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4. Plan For the Trip Home

Often, the hardest part of the trip is the way home. The adrenaline is spent, nerves are wearing thin, and sleep may have been less than ideal. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to plan for the trip home. When we pack suitcases before our trip, I reserve one of the outer pockets for my “trip home” stash. I include favorite snacks, new activity books, maybe a small craft they are going to love.

We talk about the trip and what to expect, seek to support our kids along the way, and help them transition home, knowing that re-entry is often also hard. When we get home, we plan as little as possible for about two days to come down from the excitement and get back into a routine.
And, if all else fails, we ask for grace, and go with the mantras,

  • It’s only temporary.
  • We’re building memories.

Want to  know some of our favorite things to pack?  Check out the sister post here!

 

This blog post is part of Hoagie’s Gifted Blog Hop, Traveling with Gifted Kids. Want to read more great advice, encouragement, and harrowing tales? Click on over to read more!

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What to Pack for the Next Adventure

This post is a sister post to one I wrote about traveling with intense kids.

This post contains affiliate links.  Any links to resources on the Amazon website are part of the affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

When we travel, we don’t tend to have lots of extra room. Our Mazda5 has very little cargo room, and airplane trips have their own constraints. For that reason, we’ve gotten pretty creative and flexible in the types of things we pack to get the most value for our little spaces.

We love card games. They take so little room and are very flexible. While we don’t get these out in the car, they’re nice for hotels, airport waiting areas, etc. because they’re quiet(ish) and don’t typically require much room.

  • The Cat the Hat I Can Do That card game is great for 3-6 year olds, especially when needing to get those wiggles out in a hotel room.
  • We just discovered the game There’s a Moose in the House – a fun, interactive game where there can be multiple winners or ties. It says for 8 & up on the packaging, but we just played it with two 6yos this weekend, and it worked great.
  • Think Fun as a 4 pack of classic card games –  Crazy Eights, Old Maid, Hearts, and Animal Rummy that would probably also round out a good collection. We played a modified version of Crazy Eights with my 3yos, and they can handle Old Maid too.

We also pack a couple items that get kids running when they have a chance to get outside. For a car trip, a small bottle of bubbles is great (or pick one up at the local drug store along the way). We also love our Aerobie. It’s easier to throw than a Frisbee and doesn’t hurt as much if it hits you. Plus, its slimline design means that it backs so easily to take anywhere. I tend to also keep a pack of balloons in my purse or diaper bag. You blow one (or more) up and have an instant party with the the under 8 crowd! (and their parents, too!)

For books, I like to get half-sized books and flashcards. They’re easier for the kids to hold and work with in cramped quarters. Usborne has a wonderful variety of options for sticker and doodle books in their pocket books sets. Contact your local consultant, or search on their website  — or I often get their stuff used on Amazon or Ebay.

For snacks, these Rubbermaid Mini Takealongs are just the right size for prepackaging dry snacks, dried fruits, and even peas or grapes.

We’ve recently also discovered magnetic tins, which are great for the pincer grip once you’re out of the putting everything in the mouth stage.

And for car trips, the Etch-A-Sketch is still a classic, as are audio books, pipe cleaners, and plain old colored pencils and activity books.

We try to limit tablet time and video games because they cause our sensitive kids’ brains to go into overdrive, which can lead to meltdowns of various sorts.

All in all, we’ve found that we need less than we think we do. Travel in and of itself is exciting enough. The highlight of last weekend’s drive home from Pennsylvania? Eating Sargento Cheese Sticks while driving next to a big Sargento cheese truck. That thing was cool. SargentoTruck

Ditch the Advice – a better way to help other parents

Parenting isn’t easy, and as the primary caregivers for our little (or big) progeny, we often see their worst sides come out. We’re the “safe zones” where they know they can scream, melt down, and disobey, and we’ll still love them, put food on the table and clean clothes on their backs.

Because of that, it’s easy for us as parents to miss the roses for the thorns. We get so caught up in correcting the discipline issues, teaching life skills, and making sure toys are put away, instruments are practiced, and homework is done. We spend so much time being taskmasters that we sometimes miss the amazing people we’ve been given to raise.

So… if you want to encourage another parent, compliment their child. Not in a generic “she’s so smart” or “he’s so handsome” way, but in a meaningful and specific way.

  • She’s so inquisitive! I love the questions she comes up with!
  • He’s so considerate and nurturing of younger kids.word-1940813_1920
  • She is really good at making sure everyone’s included.
  • He’s determined and persistent. I notice he doesn’t give up easily.
  • Look at her arrange those animals! She has a good eye.
  • I love his sense of humor.
  • She’s made such progress in her ability to ________.

When we as parents are reminded of our children’s positive attributes, we remember that what we’re doing matters. That all our effort is paying off, and that our children are making progress. We’re also reminded of their individuality — their unique spark, that no one else has. And when other people point that out, it helps us to value and nurture that as well.

When I taught high school, I loved doing this at parent-teacher conferences or in other parent-teacher interactions – especially for the kids whose parents are used to getting discipline phone calls. I’d talk about their creative energy, social awareness, sense of humor — all things that would be helpful in the adult world, but in our structured school system tend to cause problems, especially as the students are still developing and figuring out who they are — and their impulse control is developing too. The parent’s eyes would inevitably light up – and our conversation would change, from one based on fear and dread of how he or she has messed up to how we can help little Mikey grow into who he was created to be.

We want our parents to have hope, to see the potential in their children, not to be burdened by even more expectations.

And who knows – once they realized that you truly notice their child – that you value her – they might actually ask for your opinion on something, too! 🙂