List of Common Dysfunctions Caused by Trauma

The many and various forms of neurodevelopmental trauma (experienced in the womb and first 2 years of life while the brain is forming) cause all kinds of dysfunctions. FASD research has produced a great list of typical dysfunctions/behaviors for individuals being damaged by alcohol exposure en utero. But for other kinds of trauma a comprehensive list is hard to find. This comes pretty close IMO.

Do remember, however, that caregivers can bring significant healing in these areas when there is a focus on attachment/connection and that care is given in a manner that works WITH those brain differences. Brains CAN be rewired through patient, loving, connection oriented care.  Thanks to Connect the Dots w/ ACEs for the graphic below.

EffectsofTraumaList

Help w/ Transitions using Tendril Theory

The Tendril Theory

You need things to get done and the people around you aren’t always tuned into your needs/desires because they have their very own. Go gently; be patient; make a little extra space and remember no smaller human is actively trying to make you crazy. It just feels like that.   By Carrie Contey, Ph.D., Contributor, Internationally recognized coach, author, speaker and educator 12/7/17

A dear mama in my Evolve program posted this insightful piece by Human Illustrations on our private Facebook page and I was thoroughly taken with it.

tendrilWhile this comic was not specifically drawn to only represent children, many parents in my community have connected to it. That is because it helps provides a visual of the experience of shifting gears, something that can be particularly hard for certain people. It also explains why slowing down transitions is so important. Especially this time of year when families are heading back to school and adjusting to all the new people, new teachers, assignments, schedules, homework, etc.

Heartfelt thanks and all credit goes to Human Illustrations and Erin Human for this wonderful illustration! Erin drew this about herself: an autistic person, an introvert, who has ADHD, and she is an adult. This comic was not intended to describe only children – as it does apply to many kinds of people, of all ages, whose brains are hard wired to work this way. I am grateful that she shared this with the world. Perhaps it speaks to how your brain works. Perhaps it helps you appreciate and give space to the people around you. I hope that this serves as a reminder and tool to give space to all people (and yourself) to honor the tendrils, however they may look.

If you have a developing person at home, here’s how things may go down…

You make a request. Nothing. You make it again. Still no response. You start to raise your voice. Still, crickets. Eventually, you are full-on freaking out and THEN everyone gets moving!
Ugh. Sound familiar?

In those moments, it can feel like they are flat out ignoring you when you ask them to brush their teeth, pick up their rooms, do their homework, put on their shoes, come to the table, get in the car, etc. and all this perceived heel-dragging can monumentally trigger you. It feels like they are ignoring you, acting disrespectfully and purposefully trying to drive you mad.

But…

What if they are not actively ignoring you?
What if they are not being willful or disrespectful?
What if they are not trying to make you crazy?

What if they are attending to something that is really pertinent to their experience/interests/evolution?

What if they are fully invested and inspired by what they are doing? What if these moments give them space and safety?

What if switching gears and doing what you want them to do requires a little more time for the de-tendrilling to take place so they can shift their focus and hear your request?

When we can hold the understanding of “tendril theory” in mind, we can work to honor the people around us as we still seek connection and cooperation. Here are some steps to experiment with when you create accepting space for the Tendril Theory.

You first.

  • Before you even open your mouth to make the request…slow yourself waaaaaayyyyy down.
  • Take a deep breath (actually take at least four deep breaths).
  • Count to 10.
  • Check in and see how you are feeling (Calm? Anxious? Annoyed? Relaxed?)
  • If you are anxious, annoyed or angry, take another few breaths. Move your body. Perhaps step out of the room and wash your face.

Observe.

  • Walk over to them. (This is critical. Shouting your request from the other room is rarely going to get you what you want, and going to block the feeling of safety and connection.)
  • Take a moment to notice what they are doing before saying anything. Just notice and honor that they are fully invested in what’s happening for them in that moment.

Connect.

  • Depending on the neurostate of your child, look them in the eye and connect before saying a word. If making eye contact is not what is best for the child, use concrete statements, “Maria, I am sitting on the floor next to you to watch you play.”
  • Offer them a word of kindness or appreciation. “I can see you’ve worked hard on this drawing.” or “You really love that game!”
  • Once you feel like you’ve connected, kake your request.
  • Speak in a quieter voice than usual. If you really want to be heard, whisper.
  • Ask for a confirmation that the message was received.
  • Say thank you.

Pause.

  • Walk away.
  • Give them at least 30 seconds (ideally, one to two minutes) to shift gears, and honor their request if they ask for more.

I can’t promise this will work every time but I guarantee that if you experiment with it, you will see something different happen and it’s likely you will appreciate the outcome.

Give it a try!

Bottom line, yes, you need things to get done and the people around you aren’t always tuned into your needs/desires because they have their very own. Go gently, be patient, make a little extra space and remember no smaller human is actively trying to make the people responsible for their well-being crazy. It just feels like that some of the time.

How to Help A Child Focus in the Classroom

By: lauren@themilitarywifeandmom.com

I often hear from concerned parents that their child’s teacher has shared something with them, and it sounds something like…

  • My child is difficult for the teacher to manage.
  • They take too long to do the task at hand from the teacher.
  • She doesn’t follow directions in school.
  • My child has trouble focusing in the classroom.

This puts you in a really tough position as a parent because you can’t exactly control what’s happening in the classroom. The teacher is also in a tough position, needing to manage the competing demands of a large classroom of children.

It’s hard no matter how you look at it.

Here’s where you and the teacher hold common ground: You both want the child to not only be successful in school, but in life! And of course, you want to work together in cooperation.  Which begs the question…

How to Help a Child Focus in the Classroom?

As a mom, I can wholeheartedly attest to struggles in getting my kids to focus. There was a time when I could barely get them to sit at the dinner table for five minutes – literally. Waiting in line at the post office with kids was a joke. And grocery shopping involved a lot of bribery.

We’ve come a long way since then.

Most articles you read on helping kids with lack of focus in school will recommend things like seat kids away from distractions, make learning fun, vary teaching methods, set up routines, etc.

5 fresh ideas to improve focus in kids.

All those are great strategies to use in the classroom, but what they don’t address is how you can start to help your child build focus, self-control and attention span at home.

You can’t control what happens in the classroom. You can, however, work with your child at home using five core strategies.

  1. Play board games for concentration.

Board games are one of the best ways to help your child build executive function, which is the cognitive or “mind” part of self-regulation. When kids need help focusing, what you’re actually wanting to help your child do is build better self-regulation skills.

 The Center for the Developing Child defines executive functions and self-regulation skills as: the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

The more you can help your child practice attention skills at home, the sooner they will be able to apply those skills and concentrate in school.

Here are some of my favorite board games to play with kids:

For more board games to help build executive functioning in kids check out these best board games for 5 to 7 year olds and best games for self-regulation in 3 to 5 year olds.

You can also help your child learn to concentrate by using other self-control games like these:

  1. Practice waiting – A LOT – to improve attention span.

Practice waiting with your kids as many times as you can fit into the day. In the doctor’s office, at the grocery store, at the dinner table and during play at home are all places that are great for practicing self-regulation.

Instead of reaching for your phone or electronic device to distract your child, practice playing games with your child while waiting. These are creative hand games or mind games to play with your child to improve focus and attention. They only require your body sitting in a chair and nothing else.

Here are some examples:

  • While waiting in the doctor’s office we may play “the thinking game” where my son will describe something and I have to guess what it is.
  • While at the grocery store, play “I spy” where you describe something you see and your child has to guess it.
  • Have your child place his hands out palms facing up. Place your hands hovering over his, except with your palms facing down. The goal is for your child to try and slap the top of your hands. Then switch roles.

In addition to waiting in different scenarios out and about, practice waiting at home for a toy that a sibling has, a special treat like a cookie, or a toy they want to buy at the store.  If waiting is met with tears, sadness or a temper tantrumbe sure to acknowledge thoughts and feelings and validate how hard this must be for your child. Building self-control takes a lot of work – especially for kids! Knowing that you are on their side and that you understand their point of view will make a huge difference in your child’s mental health!

Finally, have your child practice sitting at the dinner table until everyone is finished. Getting them used to sitting for about 30 minutes can help kids stay focused once they transition into the classroom.

  1. Focus immensely on vestibular and proprioceptive input.

In order for kids to listenfocus and learn to sit still for a period of time, they must develop both proprioception and vestibular sense. The most critical time to develop a child’s proprioception and vestibular sense is before age six.

Proprioception is what tells you where your body parts are without having to look at them. This is the sense that helps you make sense of gravity. It’s the reason you can switch from the gas pedal to the brake without looking at your feet, or bring popcorn to your mouth without taking your eyes off the movie screen. Without properly developed proprioception, kids can push too hard during tag, fall out their seat at the dinner table or trip while walking up stairs.

Vestibular sense provides information about where the body is in relation to its surroundings. This is the sense that helps you understand balance, and it connects with all the other senses. Without a strong vestibular sense, kids will have no choice but to fidget, get frustrated, experience more falls and aggression, get too close to people when talking, and struggle with focusing and listening. Because they literally cannot help it.

You can read more about a series of activities you can do with your child to support vestibular and proprioceptive development in my post here:

The Most Overlooked Reason Why Kids Won’t Listen, Focus or Sit Still

There’s a free printable worksheet at the bottom of that post with the exercises too.

  1. Cut back on screens – WAY back.

Study after study shows that kids who have more screen-time (or video games) have lower attention spans and lose focus. Without realizing it, screen-time can really add up fast.

While some past studies recommend kids use a screen device less than two hours a day, new research is recommending that children only have zero to 30 minutes per day.

Some experts even recommend a “screen fast” where electronics are completely removed for several weeks to allow your child’s neurological system to reset. If done correctly, this intervention can produce deeper sleep, a brighter and more even mood, better focus and organization, and an increase in physical activity. The ability to tolerate stress improves, so meltdowns diminish in both frequency and severity. The child begins to enjoy the things they used to, is more drawn to nature, and imaginary or creative play returns.

  1. Encourage role-play at home.

According to the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, “It takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it is done with play – in which case, it takes between 10-20 repetitions.

Talking to your kids about what they could say or do instead when they are fidgety or bored in the classroom is always an option. However, the most efficient way to help your child problem-solve solutions, and actually have them remember in the moment, is to have them role-play with you at home. Practice with your child using role-play in a variety of ways. One that I love is, of course, role-reversal games.

In the example of helping your child focus, your child would play the teacher (that’s them reversing into the teacher role) and you would play the fumbling child who always gets distracted, dawdles and can’t concentrate in school. The more exaggerated you get with your inability to focus, the more fun it will be for your child. This creates a deep connection and a safe space for you and your child to work through this challenge.

Once your child asks to play the role of the student again, you’ll know he or she is opening up to your guidance and solutions will start showing up in play. Play out potential strategies your child could use to pay attention in class and focus. The funnier they are, the more memorable they will be when the moment strikes in real life.

Recommended reads on using play in parenting:

Here’s to getting kids to sit at the dinner table for 30 minutes, wait in line at the post office without a fuss, seamless grocery store trips and working with your child’s teacher in collaboration to build focus, concentration and attention span.

Mother’s Day w/ Adopted & Foster Children

For many adopted children and those in foster care, the three most difficult days of the year are Mother’s Day, Christmas or Hanukkah, and the child’s birthday. These special days often bring about feelings of loneliness, sadness, and grief, especially for children who had spent them with abusive parents, those on drugs or alcohol, or without a family setting at all in the past.

Children who have experienced trauma may remember days like Christmas more as a time of dealing with inadequate parents and the lack of gifts and food. Some children mourn over and miss positive memories they shared with their biological parents during holidays. Many children who have come from family backgrounds in which their lives were extremely unpredictable hate the element of surprise connected with these holidays as well as with birthdays. Therefore, many foster and adoptive parents are well acquainted with the fact that their children act out before and during these special days.

How to help adoptive and foster children and their foster or adoptive parents through difficult days

In order to help a child with the pain of Mother’s Day, Christmas or Hanukkah, and their birthdays, adoptive and foster parents can:

1. Acknowledge the pain of the child’s many losses.

Encourage the child to share his or her feelings about those they have lost to reinforce that his or her emotions are perfectly normal. You could encourage the child to honor his or her birth mother and other mothers at home during a candle lighting ceremony or similar ritual to celebrate the special occasion. It is helpful to honor your child’s previous mothers before Mother’s Day, Christmas or Hanukkah, and the child’s birthday. Even abusive birth mothers may be honored for giving birth to the child and providing whatever positive qualities the child may have inherited such as an attractive appearance, sports abilities, musical talent, and intelligence.

2. Talk with the child about his or her past holidays.

Gather specific information so that you can incorporate your child’s previous positive memories into your current family’s activities. Family get-togethers may be extremely difficult. Be honest with each other about your feelings. Sit down with your family and decide what you want to do for each specific holiday. Undertake only what each family member is able to handle comfortably.

3. Remember there is no right or wrong way to handle special occasions.

You may wish to follow family traditions or change them. It may help to do things just a little differently. Holiday activities can change from year to year. Be careful of “shoulds”. It is better to do what is most helpful for you and your children than to follow a prescribed regimen of activities. Set limitations if a situation looks especially difficult for your child before it is to occur. Realize that it isn’t going to be easy and do only the things that are very special and important to you and your child.

4. Remember that your child’s negative reactions to special occasions are based on his or her grief. Becoming angry with a child who is grieving accomplishes nothing. Understand and accept the child’s feelings about the special occasion and about the people he or she has lost. Acknowledge those feelings, encourage the child to express them, and then move toward the special occasion with the intent of providing yet another opportunity for the child to heal.

5. Communicate with other adults in your child’s life. As Mother’s Day approaches, chat with your child’s teacher about usual assignments surrounding the day. The teacher needs to know about such circumstances in order to modify assignments to fit the needs of children who no longer live with their biological mothers. As holidays near, let friends and relatives know your unique plans for the holidays. Ask them to honor your decisions on behalf of your family’s special needs.

6. Nurture yourself. Many adoptive mothers have an especially difficult time on Mother’s Day. You may long to have a positive relationship with a child who can’t attach and feel isolated and sad as well. Try to let go of expectations you place on your child as well as yourself. Do something nice for yourself.