Since my latest posts have been a little heavy, I decided to post on a lighter subject and share one of my favorite parenting books–a book that’s helped me immensely to stay connected to my kiddo. I also share my PDF printable notes on the book below, so enjoy!
If you’re parent and you’ve done a little sleuthing, you’ve probably heard of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. It has, and deserves, a reputation as the modern parenting bible. If you haven’t checked it out—whether you find it difficult to manage your kid(s) or not—I highly recommend that you do.
This is the best parenting book I’ve ever read for a very simple reason; it clearly and effectively lays out an actionable parenting strategy. This strategy involves maintaining boundaries without being a tyrant, being authoritative without being authoritarian, and connecting to your kid on their level, in a way they can understand.
It uses simple, straightforward language and comic strip examples to make everything super clear, relatable, and actionable.
The Proverbial Parenting Manual
It literally helped me wrap my head around parenting for the first time. Before that, I was pretty much at a loss. Not to mention, it made it fun. It gave me the tools to turn daily struggles into games, and meltdowns into heart-to-hearts. Obviously, this isn’t the case every time, because that’s life, but it was after reading this book that my experience of parenting did a complete one-eighty.
After I read it, I was so eager for more that I went straight to the authors’ other work, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, and then even further to that of their mentor, Dr. Haim Ganott’s Between Parent and Child. The first is something like a Q&A after the first book, with real life stories of parents putting the skills they learned into practice.
The latter of the two lays out more of the theory behind the practical strategies of the first book, along with child development concepts and the beautiful premise that when children are treated with humanity, they become authentic, compassionate humans.
I loved HTTSKWL (as I call it) so much that I made myself a detailed outline and posted it on my bulletin board so I can refer back to it frequently, which I do. I also implemented it in my classroom when I taught preschool, and had wonderful results (of course, the techniques work A LOT better when it’s not your own kid. That’s just the parenting curse).
Get Your Printable!
Whenever I notice things are starting to spin a little at home, I revisit these simple strategies and it nearly always gets things back on track.
My favorite thing about them is that they make my kiddo feel heard. They teach how to validate, how to just listen, how to not immediately jump into trying to solve every problem for your kid, but instead simply hearing them and what they are experiencing.
They also teach how to allow natural consequences to undesirable behaviors arise on their own, without blaming, shaming, or labeling. It’s the furthest thing from the ‘be seen and not heard’ philosophy you can get.
The Faber Mazlish website offers lots of resources, including workshops all over the world where parents can gather, work on the techniques together, and build community.
If you live in the San Francisco bay area or France and are interested in attending a workshop, please be in touch!
It is likely that you don’t understand the ramifications of your comment. It is likely that you didn’t put much stock in it, either at the moment you said it, or at any point afterward. It is very possible that the incident never crossed your mind again.
The scene that inspired it was simple; you saw my son run up to the counter and ask for stickers. I stopped him and asked him to repeat himself, but this time to ask while making eye contact with the woman at the register. He paused, connected, thanked her, and ran off to create his sticker masterpiece.
That’s when you said it.
It is likely that you didn’t know I had spent many hours and numerous occasions working on this social skill with my son. It is likely that you didn’t realize this is one of the indicators that led his doctor to diagnose him with autism.
Even if you had simply been praising a mother for encouraging her child to make eye contact with the counter attendant, that would have been enough to deserve this letter. It made it just that much for meaningful to me.
Our Parent-Shaming Culture
It’s all too rare that parents hear praise from strangers, and yet that simple act was a powerful one, so powerful that I’ve remembered it for months and finally decided to write about it.
Parenting is often described as a thankless job, but in my
experience the most thankless element is not that our kids don’t yet get the gravity of what we do for them. It’s that everyone else doesn’t.
People who watch us on the street as our kids have meltdowns, utter curse words, run out in front of cars, or roll their eyes at our well-meaning affections–in other words, act like kids–often write us off as negligent, irresponsible, poor disciplinarians, or worse.
Judging parents is so automatic that there is often no lag time between the offending action and the judgment, no moment of pause that might otherwise be an opportunity for compassion, understanding, or simply neutral curiosity about the context that parent and child might be living in.
The fact is, most environments in the modern world are designed for adults, have adult rules, and tacitly expect adult behavior. This makes bringing kids almost anywhere a challenge. There is a secret, unspoken class divide between the parent and the non-parent.
For a moment, you bridged this gap.
I was on my way home from work waiting for a train when a little boy who looked to be between the ages of four and six bounced up the stairs to the platform with his parents, humming and singing and hopping around like a ball of sheer delight.
A nearby elderly woman made a snide remark to her husband about moving away from the “nuisance” and getting on a different car. “If I had a son,” she said, “he would never act like that”.
For some reason, overhearing that judgmental comment lit me on fire, and I even considered shooting one back. Obviously, that wouldn’t have done much good.
Luckily, the parents and their son were out of earshot and continued on blissful and oblivious. There is justice in the world.
Where Have All The Children Gone?
The thing that struck me most about this woman was how entitled she felt to have a certain kind of experience even in this very public place, an experience that was patently un-childlike.
It also struck me how simple and natural this little boy’s behavior was, and how even the most basic understanding of child development would support that conclusion.
My unposed question to this woman is, what if this attitude were taken to its logical extreme? What if we, as a society, were to sequester “childish” behavior even further than we already have?
What would it actually take for that bouncy, cheerful little boy to suppress his natural behaviors and “act like an adult” at the train station? I shudder to think.
Kids are already relegated to parks and plastic play places, or expensive indoor museums and experiences that aren’t accessible to every income bracket. We’ve already compartmentalized family life so much that, in a way, it’s becoming fringe.
What does it mean that we, as a culture, are developing such an aversion to kids? Why are we trying to expunge the spontaneous and causeless joy that an energetic, playful little boy expresses at a train station? Does it remind us of something lost in ourselves that is too uncomfortable to see?
And even if we aren’t going so far, there is a growing number of people who identify as “not a kid person”. There was a time when I counted myself as part of their ranks. Interestingly, it wasn’t motherhood that changed it for me, but inadvertently teaching preschool.
After a long stint in academia, being around these little humans who were completely logic-and-rhetoric-free bundles of feelings, impulses, and reactions had a profound effect on me. It did something to my heart, and I no longer identified as being a person who isn’t into kids.
In fact, I imagine that the way I began to see those little kids is the way that God might see us; completely irrational, dramatic, exhausting, inconsistent, and maybe even a little insane.
But say what you will; those little kids running around, screaming, jumping on each other, wetting their pants, and falling asleep on our shoulders are nothing if not love embodied. And if we let them, they can elicit in us the most unadulterated kind of love there is.
Finding Joy In Kids And The Kids In Ourselves
From an evolutionary perspective, disliking the young of our own species is pathological. It’s kind of that simple.
Certainly, animals in the wild abandon their young for various reasons, but we are basically programmed to be nurturing and affectionate to not only our own progeny but those of other species, as well.
In some cases we’re even favoring the latter; after all, “fur babies” don’t talk back, they don’t have teenage angst, and they don’t usually force us to confront things about ourselves we might not like to see.
It took me a while to recognize that my general avoidance of kids said much more about me and what I was avoiding in myself than it said about kid behavior in general. I’m grateful every day that falling into the preschool-teaching profession shook me up and taught me to reflect, and more than anything, to open my heart.
After all, that is the quality in you,
the anonymous man at In-N-Out, which led you to spontaneously thank a mom–a total stranger–for encouraging her son to make eye contact. Your open heart touched mine and opened it further.
I’ve noticed that the more my heart opens, the more I become a better mother. Heck, a better friend, sister, daughter, coworker, neighbor, customer, even fellow driver, too (none of us are immune to road rage).
Parents deserve to get a little lift to their
hearts, because theirs is some of the greatest emotional work that there is to do as a human being. Parents are raising the future, the workforce, the culture-makers, the inventors, the creators, and the stewards of the earth. Thank you, if only for an instant, for recognizing that.
Parent or not, love and compassion is our greatest emotional labor, and it doesn’t always come easily. Somehow, in that moment at In-N-Out, you nailed it.
You have my deepest gratitude for your seemingly inconsequenctial act of kindness and respect that has already rippled this far. May I do it justice and allow it to ripple even further.
At my son’s most recent educational support meeting, I went in armed with research on our rights, the legislation that entitles him to certain accommodations due to his Autism diagnosis, and literature explaining the obligations of the school district. I was ready to do battle.
Initially, I met with expected resistance from both teacher and principal, so I asked them why point-blank. After a little digging, it seemed that the issue was that there was simply no infrastructure for the IEP to actually make a difference. Even if my son received an IEP, they explained, all he would get was a few extra classes a week, in which he’d be pulled out of his current class and tutored.
Because he shows no academic roadblocks, this would essentially be pointless. It reminded me of my time spent in G.A.T.E. classrooms as a kid, which I viewed as simply a way to get the “Gifted and Talented” kids out of the mainstream classroom where they had already done their work and were becoming bored and disruptive.
I shrugged and conceded that, no, I didn’t see much of a point in pushing forward if that was all that was available to him. It sounded like the district just didn’t have the infrastructure in place to give my son what he needed, and I had two options; go to war and trailblaze that infrastructure, or find it elsewhere.
A part of me wants to do the trailblazing, to open up avenues for other mothers who might find themselves in that school district with kids who need some kind of undefinable support that can’t be measured by test scores and report cards.
Maybe I’ve become jaded, or maybe I’ve just learned that I have to choose my battles, but that is not a road I want to go down right now.
Right now, both I and my son deserve the path of least resistance. We deserve readily available support. So that’s not the path I’m choosing.
What Real Empathy Feels Like
At the end of the absurdly short meeting (20 minutes for a biannual assessment of my son’s needs), the teacher and principal are hurried to return to their other obligations. Everything is always going too fast to be solved, to be properly dealt with, to be considered deeply and with care.
It’s on the to the next test, next school event, next funding benchmark.
But the school counselor was willing to stay behind and answer a few of my questions. I asked her what more there is I can possibly do to support my son.
I explained that he’s seeing three therapists multiple times a week, all out of pocket, and I’m still getting reports sent home almost every week about his behavior, along with getting punitive phone calls that fluster me while I’m at the office.
Was there something I was missing?
She asked, “Are you sure that you are getting enough support?”
Surprised, I reflected for a moment. And my answer was that, now that I thought about it, no. I wasn’t.
“It’s really hard to live with something with autism,” she continued. It felt like someone had given me permission to breath for the first time in a year.
“Yes, it really, really is,” I replied.
I love my son deeply, but it is exhausting to be around him every single day. He can have a very rigid way of doing things and can have meltdowns–or more recently, swearing fits–if things aren’t as expected. Although this is mostly because of a cognitive difference, sometimes it feels like living with a little tyrant.
The school counselor’s comment made me realize how guilty I had been feeling for feeling this way about my little boy. And her empathy made me feel like I was a million times lighter than before.
Feeling Bad for Feeling Bad
I went home giving myself permission to recognize that living with an autistic child can be hard. It is emotionally taxing.
Suddenly it seemed okay that I always feel tired and reluctant to play at the end of my work day and
long commute, that I get nervous that I might break a “rule” imposed in what might otherwise be a fun, relaxing game and cause a meltdown. It made sense. There wasn’t something wrong with me, and I wasn’t being a lazy or checked out parent.
I realized that feeling
badly for being a bit reluctant to pour my energy into my son’s high needs doesn’t make me a bad parent. It also occurred to me that while negative feelings are totally natural, that feeling bad for feeling bad is suffering.
I accept that sometimes I wish my son was more chill, more calm, more laissez-faire. I also accept that sometimes I feel completely blessed that my son is so witty, so insightful, so over the top passionate, and so unique.
Taking the good with the bad is a part of life, especially when your life involves parenting with unconditional love. Loving my son unconditionally doesn’t mean I have to feel good about it every second. It simply means I accept him for who he is, respect my own boundaries and energy levels, and let us both be.
My kiddo is now of the age where superheroes and comic books reign supreme. As a highly visual person, he loves to see the progression of events laid out graphically every step of the way.
Nevertheless, his love of comics worked to our advantage when I brought home our first Superflex book. This series of comics is actually a social learning curriculum developed by Michelle Garcia Winner that was recommended to me by an occupational therapist from CARE. It’s absolutely one of the best tools I’ve ever purchased for helping my son with his behavioral challenges.
I recently attended a conference on the Social Thinking curriculum and had the opportunity to see Michelle Garcia Winner speak. Her down-to-earth, often humorous approach was not only very accessible, but inspiring. She showed clips of her techniques with clients to help drive home how to implement the Social Thinking strategies in the real world.
The one major theme that ran through all of Michelle’s stories was that of compassion. She deals with a lot of different kinds of kids, but no matter how difficult, she strives to see the world from their perspective. Often, children with behavior difficulties have no one in their lives to do this.
By far my favorite thing about the Superflex series is how much it engages my little guy in managing his own behavior. The ingenious concept is that a young boy protagonist who typically has troubles being a “flexible thinker” is transformed into his favorite superhero, Superflex, and is thereby able to become a “social thinker”.
In his capacity as a socially thinking superhero, he protects the people of Social Town from a series of “brain invaders”. Our personal favorites (because they are most relevant to us) are Rock Brain, who makes the citizens of social town get stuck on their ideas, Glass Man, who shatters at the slightest change in his emotional state, and One-Sided Sid, who only wants to talk about himself and what he’s interested in.
My son asks to read the book frequently before bed, and we discuss which characters are infected by which brain invader. He invariably gets it right. We also especially love the card game that offers several different ways to play (he’s a real board game aficionado). Despite his clear comprehension of the material, he is a bit reluctant to apply the concepts to himself, insisting that “they’re not really real, mom”.
I remedied this by applying the brain invaders to myself and my own behavior, because, yeah, I can be a little dramatic and distractible myself. My son of course gets a huge kick out of this strategy, and is quick to tell me which brain invaders might’ve infected my brain that day. This way, he gets to learn the concepts without a sense of shame or blame.
I found that once I humbled myself—i.e. showed my son that I’m a human being who doesn’t behave or react to situations perfectly all the time—it gave him permission to do the same. He became a lot more open to, at least tentatively, applying the concepts in the book to himself. He has a seriously difficult time admitting fault and taking responsibility, to the extent that he’ll often turn and yell at me when he’s stubbed his toe and I’m ten feet away. No exaggeration. It’s that “mom is the all-giving everything” phase, which means mom is also at fault for everything. Really fun.
Anyway, the fact that he’s even poking around the vicinity of honestly looking at his own behavior is a revelation. Nothing could be more exciting to me as a mom than instilling the muscle for this kind of self-reflection at such an early age.
Responsibility vs. Blame
Of course, I want to tread carefully and ensure that my son’s reflection doesn’t become self-criticism, as I already suspect that he takes after mom in the realm of perfectionism and high expectations of himself. I model compassion for myself when I reflect on which brain invaders I’ve been inadvertently affected by that day, reminding him that it’s okay to make a mistake and that I’ll do better next time.
This gives him a framework for working through his own process of identifying the behavior, taking responsibility for it, and then dropping it. No holding, no self-blame, and no long lectures about how to do better next time (those never, ever work for us, by the way). I trust that this process is deepening his capacity to eventually reflect in the moment and catch himself during an undesirable behavior, and even further down the line to have the pause to choose to avoid the behavior altogether.
Until then, patience, both for him and for me. I always remind him that he can change, that he can improve, that he has a choice and is not beholden to any labels or preconceptions, and especially to the past. I remind him that change takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, just like the warrior characters in one of our favorite TV shows who are dedicated to lives of discipline and practice. This analogy always puts the wind in his sails. He is my little warrior, and he deserves to see himself that way.
My kiddo and I have a living room that basically looks like a gym. We’ve got our mini trampoline in one corner, an inflatable punching toy in another, and a huge crash pad for jumping from the couch to the ground and back again.
While it might look a little surprising to guests when they first walk on, this sensory space is crucial for both of us. My son just can’t be cooped up inside; he’s far too active for it. He has to jump around, get his jiggles out, and feel the impact of his body against firm surfaces.
To this end, we have several rituals we go through (on a daily basis when I’m really good) to keep him integrated and regulated in his own body.
1. The Inside Obstacle Course
Creating an obstacle course inside the house is a lot of fun for both of us. I get to be creative and play coach while my son gets to “win” races with himself–he loves winning.
I’ll set up something like the following;
jump from couch to cushion on floor
jump from cushion onto soft chair
jump from chair and roll-land on crash pad
10 jumps on crash pad
grab full laundry basket, carry it down the hall
army crawl back down the hall and repeat
A couple of rounds of this and my kiddo is beat. It helps him to get not only the exercise he needs, but to do the heavy work that helps him regulate his senses.
2. Making A Burrito
My kiddo really enjoys pressure, so I often roll him up into a “burrito” with our blanket and do a bit of joint compression and massage. He insists on keeping his arms out, because while he enjoys pressure he hates being restrained.
I start by rolling him up, then “tenderizing the meat” with gentle, firm fists. Next, I “chop the lettuce” with a karate chop massage up and down his body. Next comes “mixing in the lettuce”, in which I use my whole hand to grab and squeeze as if I’m kneading dough. Finally, I “sprinkle on the cheese” with little fingertip tickles.
We usually have a blast doing this, plus he is getting a lot of different types of pressure and stimulation. We also add variations, like shrimp tacos or extra sour cream and salsa; whatever the moment calls for.
I add in the joint compression at the end by gently pressing in his wrists and ankles.
3. Suit Monster
My son and I love to play a game called “suit monster”. This game involves us taking turns chasing each other around using our sensory sock.
We run back and forth playing tag or hide and seek, and usually we end up in the sock together and rolling around on the floor. The resistance of the sock gives him some proprioceptive input. By the end of it, we’re usually both sweaty.
4. Acro Yoga
This one is getting harder as my kiddo gets older, but it’s still lots of fun to whip out our acro moves. It builds a sense of trust between us, gets me a legit workout, and helps my son understand how to use his core and balance his body better.
We typically learn our moves from videos on YouTube, and you can also make up your own.
These activities go a long way toward getting my little guy the action and stimulation he needs to self-regulate. He’s often calmer, less reactive, and more cooperative after one of these sessions.
Try them out and share how it goes, or share your favorite sensory diet activities in the comments.
Many of us have fond memories from our childhood of Saturday morning cartoons and wholesome TV shows like Mr. Rogers. It was a simpler time in the days of TV programming when shows weren’t available on demand, and there wasn’t such a sheer and overwhelming volume of choices.
As a parent, there is virtually no way to monitor all the selections a child might make, and shows tend to be far more entertainment-focused than education. Not only that, but a lot of kids shows these days are just downright intolerable for a self-respecting adult to watch (the new Care Bears rehash comes to mind).
It’s not only an issue of kids’ shows being boring or hokey for adults; it’s that they essentially ignore the basics of child development.
Firstly, young children imitate; they do not learn lessons from complex storylines. As heart-warming as a story might be, your child is not learning and growing along with the main character; they are copying the behaviors they see, the good and the bad.
Take a show like Thomas the Tank Engine, which has been wildly popularly ever since its inception, with members of The Beatles providing voiceovers.
This show was created by Reverend A.W. Awdry, who likely had very good intentions to teach children lessons about pride, poor work ethic, selfishness, and what have you.
The problem is he uses characters who are fairly awful to get his moral truisms across. These are characters you don’t want your kid imitating, even the beloved protagonist, Thomas.
Luckily, more and more great shows are coming out to actually model the behavior we’d like to see in our kids.
Below are my favorites:
1. Puffin Rock
This sweet, beautifully animated series features a young Puffin and his family. They go through what a typical day might be like for a family of puffins, which is both wholesome and adorable. There are a lot of nature themes present, as well as simple lessons that kids can relate to, like how to include the younger sibling.
The characters speak calmly and respectfully to each other, show care and concern, and demonstrate selflessness at time. All good things for kids to pick up on. Incidentally, this show is illustrated by the same artists who did one of my all-time favorite children’s movies, Song of the Sea. Oh, and everyone has an Irish accent!
Another benefit is that these are relaxed storylines; they aren’t the drama and flashing lights of a lot of kids programming. You feel calmer at the end of watching this show, and the soft music throughout helps, too.
As a fan of travel that really opens you up to new cultures and ways of living, I’m especially fond of Mouk. It follows two best friends as they bicycle their way around the world, meeting new characters in each destination they find. It includes authentic factoids about each place they visit and a window into other cultures.
Of course, being a kids show, it can be a bit simplistic, but it still gives a snapshot of what the rest of the world is like. I particularly like that the two main characters have opposite personalities; one is very cheerful and ready to take on new adventures, the other a bit curmudgeonly. It opens up a lot of opportunities for dialogues about being positive, open-minded, trying new things, and choosing to have a good experience even when things don’t go your way.
3. Peppa Pig
These days most everyone with a kiddo has heard of Peppa Pig. This show isn’t my absolute favorite, but for a popular option it gets a pretty good grade in my book. The storylines are simple and sweet, there are cute little ditties that the kids will enjoy singing, and it’s just quirky enough that it can elicit a laugh from an adult from time to time.
Peppa Pig’s multigenerational family is mostly cooperative and empathetic toward each other. They also spend a lot of time in the garden, in the country, at the seaside, and generally out of doors.
4. Odd Squad
A show for kids who are a bit older, the Odd Squad has a much more Hollywood feel to it. It’s a live action show that features a troupe of secret agent-esque kids who go around solving “oddities” that have to do with math concepts, like fractions, prime numbers, counting by tens, and more.
The kids of this show are really talented, and it has a bit of a slapstick quality script that isn’t snarky or rude. I actually really enjoy the punny writing, and I’m happy for my kiddo to imitate it. This show is great for kids who are into theater.
5. The Magic School Bus
I was thrilled when I saw the original show from my childhood come out on Netflix, and my little science-minded guy was immediately into it. I’m assuming that because of the popularity of the first, Netflix decided to do a reboot featuring Ms. Frizzle’s sister as the new teacher in town.
This show has all the charm and magic of the first, although the kids are a little more modern in their speech and don’t always behave exactly how you’d want your kids to. They also talk about technology and using phones a lot, which is a little too meta for my taste. Despite that, I still love the passion for science that it instills as well as the little bit of mystery and wonder you can always expect from the Friz.
When family TV time comes around, I hope you enjoy these shows as much as me and my little guy do. Let me know what you think about these and if there are any other favorites of yours I might’ve left out.
no babbling, pointing, or meaningful gestures by 12 months
poor eye contact
not showing items or sharing interests
unusual attachment to one particular toy or object
not responding to sounds, voices, or name
loss of skills at any time
The CDC has a great wealth of resources to get more in-depth information. If you suspect that your child is on the spectrum, don’t worry. There is so much help out there if you know where to look, and parenting autistic children–while certainly challenging–is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
My son’s baby and toddler years were rough. He cried often and demanded attention. When he was still an infant, he would lie on his back, transfixed by the ceiling fan. Sometimes he would scream for no particular reason; it seemed as though just to hear something.
When my son was mobile, he literally never stopped. He crashed into things, grabbed everything, and often threw toys. He often bit and pinched when playing with other children.
When we went in the grocery store, it felt like a ticking time-bomb–usually about 20 minutes–until he had a total meltdown and I had to escape with what groceries I was able to snag.
The screaming continued into his toddler years. The erratic motion continued. He continue to handle objects and toys roughly and not in the way they were “meant” to be handled. He lined up his cars in perfect rows. He had meltdowns at every transition, and generally could not handle change.
Accepting Autism and Getting Help
It seems painfully obvious when I write this all out that something was up, but it wasn’t as clear in my day-to-day. For one, I had virtually no experience with other children. Secondly, there were plenty of moments when he exhibited very non-spectrum behaviors. He would make eye contact, he would snuggle, he would laugh at my silly faces or when I bounced him up and down.
And of course, these “typical” behaviors made it easier to rationalize the other ones away. Just because your child likes order doesn’t mean he or she is on the spectrum. But all the signs taken together began to add up.
I will never forget the day I truly saw it. My son was two and a half. It was fall, and my son, his father, my sister, and I went to a local farm that was hosting a pumpkin patch. There were animals, rows and rows of pumpkins, a corn maze, and trains–my son’s absolute favorite thing.
He was immediately overstimulated with everything going on. I prodded him to pet the animals–he refused. I encouraged him to pick a pumpkin–he resisted. And finally, I was practically begging him to ride the train.
I was so attached to having a “normal, good time” that I was missing all of his communication with me–he was utterly overwhelmed by the throngs of people, the noisy band, the chugging and somewhat intimidating large metal train. He finally had a meltdown right there on top of a bale of hay.
After he calmed down, he simply sat and watched the train go around and around and around. I don’t know how many times. He refused to do anything else.
Life on the Spectrum
My sister, who had worked with autistic children quite a bit as an ABA therapist, pointed out what we all knew; my son was on the spectrum.
I felt a surge of anxiety at acknowledging this fact. My sister assured me that we could get support, and the earlier the better.
That’s when we started our journey toward diagnosis, though he wouldn’t officially receive one until he was five. There are still times when it hurts to think that I waited so long to get help, that I thought maybe we could fly under the radar because he was so “borderline”, and that maybe living without the labels would be better for him.
The thing is, depending on where you live, there are typically more free resources available for younger children than older, and early intervention is key. Again, not to change them–but to support them, and you.
In retrospect, I’d encourage anyone who thinks that their child may be on the spectrum to seek help immediately, not because there is something to “fix” but because learning how to best to relate to a child on the spectrum can enrich a relationship that is undoubtedly challenging at times.
I’m still learning how to love and live with my son the best possible way I can, but starting the journey earlier would have set me up with many more tools and given us more time in those precious early years.
That said, I still believe we are making progress every day, and my goal is to help my little guy find his place in the world. I know that, with the right support, he can thrive and share the amazing, sweet, sensitive, quirky, and brilliant child he is.
Seaweed is chock-full of great stuff, like magnesium, calcium, iron, folate, and fiber, and according to Chinese medicine is a yin-nourishing food. Seaweed is also a great option when you’re short on time but still want to get some veggies in.
I’ve been in love with seaweed ever since I first tried sushi as a kid, and I’ve always looked for ways to incorporate this extremely beneficial and delicious food into my diet. I’m thrilled that my kiddo loves sushi as much as I do, because it’s an easy way to sneak a great veggie into his meals without too much fuss.
Seaweed also makes a great flavor enhancer for a simple soup or rice-based dish, and can work well as a garnish in a salad.
My Top 6 Seaweed Picks and How to Use Them
Dulse – I love to sprinkle dulse on just about everything I eat. Dulse makes a great garnish seaweed, as its tiny flakes can easily enhance almost any dish, from a salad to a stew.
Wakame – When I make my weekly Instant Pot meal to take to work, I almost always include some wakame. I simply crumble up the dried wakame, place it in a bowl of water until it rehydrates, and then add it to my stew, rice porridge, or soup after cooking it. It creates a salty flavor that makes it unnecessary to add extra salt. Wakame is also a key ingredient for seaweed salad.
Kombu – This thick, flavorful seaweed is best added to stock. It’s a little too chewy even when cooked (trust me, I’ve tried it), but it adds a unique taste to whatever you put it in. Think of it as the bay leaf of the sea.
Kelp – Kelp noodles, anyone? These are a great alternative to pasta when you’re doing full paleo or just trying to lighten up a meal.
Agar – Agar is a lot of fun and you can make a variety of tasty deserts and unique dishes with it. You can also find agar boba (also known as crystal boba) at milk tea shops these days. I’ve used agar in lieu of gelatin to make a vegan flan, to make vitamin C gummies for my little guy, and to make jello.
Nori – Probably the most familiar of seaweeds, nori is best for making sushi. It’s also nice to simply snack on, and is the type of seaweed you’ll find in most seaweed snack packs. I often add these to my little guy’s lunch as a healthy non-perishable veggie option. Nori also makes a quick and easy addition to a salad. Just tear it into bite-sized pieces and mix it in.
Making Healthy Meals Simple
Not only do I love the health benefits and the unique salty taste, I love that my kiddo enjoys it. I make sure he eats a vegetable serving at every meal, which isn’t always easy.
When we go out for sushi, the veggie is built right into the meal. This is a major win for both of us, as I don’t have to do any bribing, and he knows that he’ll get his end-of-meal treat with what seems like no extra effort.
If you can, I suggest getting your kiddo into sushi when they’re young. That way, it won’t be a struggle to incorporate this awesome vegetable into their diet on the regs.
I hope you’re inspired to try adding this super simple food into your diet. Let me know how you do so in the comments below, and good luck getting your sea greens!
I have a little mom rule I call the “oxygen mask method”. Very simply, it’s making sure my needs are met before I move on to meeting my son’s. This might sound a little selfish at first blush, but I’ve come to learn the hard way—over and over again—that it is indispensable, imperative, and utterly sacred in my parenting book.
Let me explain.
We’ve all seen the safety demonstration at the beginning of a flight; the attendants remind us to secure our own masks before we move on to our children. The logic is simple; if you pass out, you won’t do a whole lot of good for your kid.
Same principle applied to life. If you don’t feel safe, secure, loved, nourished, fulfilled, healthy, and content, your kid can’t either. They can’t because you are their example of how to be in the world, of how to behave, how to relate, how to love, and how to feel.
No pressure, right?
The good news is that this tosses old school guilt-driven parenting out the window.
Self-Care Isn’t Self-Indulgence
Parenting will always be self-sacrificing, because that’s the nature of parenting. You give up your own small desires, like going out for drinks or watching one more episode of Mad Men, but in so doing you experience the real freedom of acting for a cause that is greater than yourself.
The space created by giving up those fun but frivolous things opens you up to a larger purpose, one with much more meaning and value, one that is ultimately much more satisfying.
Don’t get me wrong, life needs a good dose of frivolity, too. That’s where the oxygen mask method comes in.
It’s easy to justify overworking, over-parenting, and over-adulting by the fact that you’re “doing it for you kid”. The problem is, you’re doing it for your future kid, not the one who’s there with you right now.
What that kid needs is for your to be, well, there with him or her right now.
Getting Back to Basics
The way to do that is to take care of #1. When my needs are more than taken care of, I feel that I have the space, the energy, and the patience to fully show up for my son. I’m not worrying about when I’m going to fit in a nap, or cook myself a nice meal, or when I’m going to get my next workout in.
And when I don’t have all those things worked out ahead of time, I notice that I get impatient, sometimes anxious, even resentful of my son’s demands on me. I’m less present, less playful, and frankly — less fun to be around.
That’s because my needs are actually coming into conflict with my child’s needs. Not a fun place to be, especially when you’re the primary caregiver.
It’s kind of like being hangry, except what you’re hungry for is a little TLC from you to yourself. I like to remember AA’s tip: if you’re feeling off, H.A.L.T. — and check in. Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? If so, you know what to do (we are pretty much like grown up toddlers, in the end).
Self-sacrifice is a beautiful thing. Self-negation is not. Your’re not going to put up with it in the long run, so the imbalance will seep out in ways that aren’t going to be fun for you or your kid. Plus, your kid needs to see a whole person, proud of and aware of who they are, so they can be that, too.
Being A Mom Who Is Her Own Person
This is especially important for women, who have been so conditioned to give their creativity and energy away for the benefit of others; their parents, their children, their husbands, their friends.
Being a mother and taking care of your own needs–and not just the basics but the deeper, human needs of creative expression, community, and contribution (whether that’s coding or accounting or cooking or being on the PTA)—is a revolutionary act. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it matters what it feels like.
The number one quality that comes from taking care of myself first and Noah second is playfulness. When I’m rested, nourished, and content, that means I’m ready to play, both in my own life and with my kid. And that makes me an awesome mom.
Stress puts us in survival mode. It kills creativity. It makes us lament the past and worry about the future. It is not conducive to playfulness, or joy, or presence.
It All Comes Down to This
When I have rest, exercise, healthy eating, and a fair dose of adult social time (even if it is the PTA meeting) auto-built into my routine, I can be at 100%. That means Noah gets the best of me when I’m with him. I can sit down on the mat and play cars for an hour, or climb up a hillside on an expedition for dandelions.
And those things don’t feel like impositions. They feel like the reason for everything else that I do. The job, the chores, the errands, are all for those little moments.
And the job, the chores, and the errands become little moments in themselves.
This way, life itself becomes a game, a playful and childlike journey, and an act of love. Easier said than done, for sure, especially in this extremely fast-paced, high-stress world that we’ve created for ourselves.
It’s more important and more difficult than ever to carve out time to just be, to go slow, to let go of everything else so we can show up in our own lives and be there with our kids.
In its best moments, parenting is a little taste of the most salient aspect of being human; moving beyond yourself and being of service to another.
Let me qualify this by saying I don’t feel that way 100% of the time. Or even 75% of the time. Being human is tough. Being a parent on top of that? The pressure is multiplied a thousand fold.
But in the end, we need to express in order to stay balanced and happy. If we don’t, we get stuck inside ourselves and have that vague sense of something missing. The really difficult part for parents is finding the energy.
I’ve struggled a lot with feeling strong enough to pick myself up and see friends, work out, or do something nourishing simply for the hell of it. Not only is it easy to come up with hundreds of little reasons not to, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel possible.
But living life in this way is the best kind of gift we can give to our kids. If they have a vibrant, fulfilled, and self-possessed parent as an example, they are a lot more likely to end up that way themselves.
I had heard about EFT here and there as someone in the alternative medicine community, and used it myself to help my acupuncture treatments along.
In case you’re not familiar, The Tapping Solution describes tapping or EFT as “a powerful holistic healing technique that has been proven to effectively resolve a range of issues, including stress, anxiety, phobias, emotional disorders, chronic pain, addiction, weight control, and limiting beliefs…
Tapping therapy is based on the combined principles of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. Tapping with the fingertips on specific meridian endpoints of the body, while focusing on negative emotions or physical sensations, helps to calm the nervous system, rewire the brain to respond in healthier ways, and restore the body’s balance of energy.”
I hadn’t really thought about using it for my little guy until we were given a lovely children’s book on the subject by grandma called “Gorilla Thumps & Bear Hugs“. My little guy loved the book right away, and it quickly became the go-to bedtime story for the subsequent three weeks.
As I read, I noticed that my son was reluctant to do the tapping on his own. I asked him to tap along with the story, but his self-consciousness got the best of him; then stubbornness set in.
After brainstorming a bit how to encourage him without being pushy and turning him off altogether, I came across this absolutely wonderful little series of videos on the topic by Cora Rennie. Since I’ve been weaning my kiddo off of TV lately, this helped as a bonus transition tool so that the change in his media diet wasn’t so abrupt.
These little videos are a simple, cute, engaging, and humorous way for kids to learn about EFT tapping. My little boy loves watching them over and over, and finds the “lazer” part to be nothing short of hilarious. Since he gets to watch them on YouTube and media is the ultimate holy grail of everything for him, we compromise; he gets to watch as long as he taps along. That way, he’s getting the muscle memory while he watches.
How Does EFT Work?
There may be some skeptics out there when it comes to EFT, so I just want to take a moment and address that. I will readily admit I’ve done little to no research on the subject, so I can’t argue compellingly for its efficacy or scientific proof.
What I will say is that placebo goes a long way, as nearly any study on the subject will tell you. I’m also a strong believer in the meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine, having healed and come into balance through treatment by skilled and practiced acupuncturists. These treatments have been proven over and over again to provide significant results. This is true to the extent that even a very mainstream company like Kaiser Permanente offers acupuncture treatment to patients, and there is even emerging evidence in pain management that might offer clues to how meridians work from a scientific perspective.
Having a Safety Button
Evidence notwithstanding, the important thing for me is to give my son tools for managing his own emotions and behavior. When he feels an overpowering emotion, when he has the urge to kick a kid on the playground, when he gets let down by life–which he necessarily will at some point–I want him to have an entire arsenal of techniques that he can turn to so he feels empowered to make the right choice.
If tapping works for him, great. If not, he can leave it behind. The point is for him to have something to empower himself. Even if tapping simply gives him the space to pause and reflect on how he is feeling, that’s a success in my book.
The more tools I can give my little guy that give him the sense that he is at least to some degree in control of his emotions, state of mind, and by extension his life, the more he will grow into a capable and self-possessed adult.