Monday, June 30, 2008

Positive Parenting

While reading a book about teaching children with sensory issues, one section talked about looking for (seeking) the good (positive) things that children do and praising them for it more frequently than focusing on the negative behaviors and disciplining them for it. I've read about this principle several times in many parenting books and agree with it so much that I try to do it with my children.

It has been my experience that children like and need attention from their parents. I believe it helps them know that someone cares about them enough to honor them as a person and that they are valuable to their parents. However, in our busy lifestyles, it is easy to get so caught up in our own personal things that we can forget that our children want our time and attention. So, if they don't get our attention by behaving well, then they get our attention by behaving badly. I wonder if it's because things like screaming, jumping on the furniture, or hitting someone requires our intervention more than playing nicely with others or picking up a toy without being asked.

As I understand it, when you want to help someone continue a certain behavior, you can reward that person each time he performs that behavior and he will continue to do so. If you want to discourage a particular behavior, you can attach a negative consequence, preferably related to the behavior. (I think the technical terms are positive and negative reinforcement. :) )

For example, you want your child to put her toys away when she is finished playing with them. So when you've asked her to put the toys away and she does it, you can praise her and say something like, "Thank you for putting your toys away. You did a great job." However, if you want to discourage toy throwing, when your child throws a toy, you get her attention (to make sure she hears you) and tell her that we don't throw toys and if she does it again, the toy will be put away. Then ask her to repeat what you've said to make sure that she understands what will happen if she throws a toy again. Then when she throws the toy again, you calmly take the toy and put it away and say that we don't throw toys.

I've found that when I choose to pay more attention to the positive things my children do and praise them appropriately, it seems to make my attitude towards my children better and they also tend to behave better as well.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Coping with Major Challenges

After publishing one of my last posts, I got an e-mail from a friend letting me know that her newborn son had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. It got me to thinking about what I've written so far and hoping that those who read this blog don't perceive my thoughts as flippant or trite, especially when applying the ideas to difficult challenges. I believe we all have difficult things in our lives, in one form or another. Some are more visible than others, but we all have struggles and challenges that we face. Just because we have them doesn't mean we can't seek the positive in our situation and not find something. In fact, in order to cope and live with our particular challenges, I think we have to seek the positive or we might become absolutely miserable. Even when faced with things like the death of a loved one, disabilities, or chronic illness, I still believe there are ways to continue living positively.

Now, I don't mean that by looking for the positive that we should ignore or discount our challenges in a way that is neglectful of our responsibilities or that reject the reality of our situation. In fact, I think we need to accept certain realities of our situation so we can work to find solutions rather than wallowing in what might have been. We can waste a lot of time and energy wishing for something different. Instead, I think we should allow ourselves to grieve for what might have been lost and then face what comes as positively as we can.

Let me see if I can show what I mean with a personal example. My son, D, is a bright, intelligent, caring boy. He started reading when he was three and has a fantastic memory for things he sees and hears. He is very kind and wants to be good and do good. He is also easily distracted. He will go to do one thing and forget along the way and do something else. He has a hard time sitting still and is easily bored. He likes to repeat the same phrase several times if you don't acknowledge him right away. He sometimes invades others' personal space. If he is interested in something, it is difficult to get his attention. He seems hypersensitive at times to touch and sound. In fact, he is a lot like his father at that age.

In my efforts to better understand my son and my husband, I've learned that these traits are highly heritable, almost the same as height. I've also learned that there are biological causes for these behaviors. His actions are not due to a lack of willpower, laziness, or disobedience, but his brain's difficulty in regulating the activity of certain systems. There are many strategies to work around this (and even correct it somewhat) and we are implementing some and researching for more. This is one of the main reasons why we have chosen to teach our children at home. We want to tailor their education to their specific learning styles and interests so they will continue to enjoy learning as they get older.

"So what?" you might say. (That's what I've been saying to myself for a week now, so let's see if I can finish this and say what I want to say. :) )

Well, I've come to recognize that I'll have to spend more time teaching him certain things like planning, following routines, and staying on task. I'll have to be more patient with his development in those areas because the latest research suggests that children with these traits may have a developmental lag of, on average, three years in the part of the brain that controls things like planning, attention, and judgment. I may have to spend more time explaining his behaviors to family, friends, and teachers so they can understand and help him.

I could spend time wishing that my son didn't have these traits. I could just ignore his challenges and hope they might change on their own. However, what would be the point? God has blessed me with my son the way he is for His reasons, all of which I don't know. Some I think I have figured out, like that planning and organization are things that I enjoy and excel at doing, to a fault sometimes. :) Besides, if I were to ignore my son's challenges and not do my best to understand him, I would not be fulfilling the responsibility that God gave me to help my son become the man he needs to be.

I have also learned things that will make learning interesting for all my children. I've had to evaluate what is most important in learning and life, so I can spend my limited resources and energy teaching what is most important instead of being distracted by little things. I've learned (and continue to learn) that God gave me my children and that He doesn't expect me to do it by myself, that He is there to help me and give me what I need to teach all my children. I'm learning to have more compassion and understanding of others' challenges and am less quick to judge.

I guess my point is that although I have challenges and circumstances that aren't easily solved or changed, there are positive things that have happened to me as a result. As I choose to seek the positive in this situation, it doesn't mean that I always remember the positive things and that I don't get tired, frustrated, or discouraged. I do have down times, but when I remember and look for the positive things, especially that I have a Father in Heaven on whom I can rely to help me, things look better and I can keep going.

Monday, June 16, 2008

It's All About Your Attitude

I know I haven't posted in a while. I've been stuck on a post for over a week and it should be posted soon. (Hooray! I can move on. :) )

I was traversing blogs today. I'm trying to figure out the best way to post videos for family and ended up finding blogs of people I know. Anyway...

I found a blog where someone shared a story that I recognized because I was sitting right next to her when it happened. What was fascinating to me was that her perception of the event was much different than mine. Her perspective was mostly negative, which exaggerated what actually happened. She also chose not to mention anything that might have qualified the point she was trying to make. This really bothered me because this event was significant to me, too, and my actions, if she'd have mentioned them, would have changed the entire point of the story. (Of course, then she couldn't have used it to make her point...)

It got me thinking about how our attitude can affect our perception of what goes on around us. If we choose to focus on negative things, we might not be as receptive or able to see the positive in our lives or in those around us. As we continue to have negative thoughts, we become more irritable, more willing to complain, and more willing to find faults in ourselves and others, which then makes us and those around us feel worse and the cycle starts over in a continuing downward spiral to "the depths of despair" as Anne Shirley might say.

However, as we choose to focus on positive things, we become more optimistic about life, about ourselves, and about those around us. We are more willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, more willing to make allowances for ourselves and others, and, in general, we become much nicer people to be around. I think I like the positive way better. :)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

When It Rains, It Pours?

Do you ever have those times where everything seems to happen all at once? There are times when it seems that way to me and my husband would then point out that the number of events is Poisson distributed because the events are independent of each other and not linked in any way. That means, as I understand it, that fate has not turned on you, it just means that is how it happens sometimes. :)

Well, events in my life the last few days are experiencing this phenomenon. :) I've had a specific problem with my back in the past and did physical therapy to help it. I admit that I haven't been as consistent at the exercises as I should be, though I've been working on trying to fit it into my routine again. Well, now I'll have to fit the exercises into my routine because on Sunday, my back started hurting again in a different spot. I couldn't figure how I'd hurt it, but when it started to keep me from sleeping on Tuesday morning, I decided to go to urgent care. After an exam and five x-rays, the doctor determined that it correlates with some other problems I've been having (intermittent numbness in my 4th and 5th fingers and the previous back pain) and brought it all into a diagnosis of a certain syndrome. (If you want to know the details, click here.) It's a very mild form of it, and I've been referred to physical therapy again. The doctor said I shouldn't have to go too many times.

To add to my doctor visits, yesterday I was trying to adjust the frames on my glasses. One earpiece (Does anyone know what they are really called?) got bent backwards a while ago, but it was okay. However, as I tried to adjust it yesterday morning, it snapped off and I can't fix it. Since my prescription is over a year old, I will have to have an eye appointment in order to get new glasses.

Money, money, money, by the pound. :)

Now, since we're seeking the positive here, let me tell what is positive about all of this.

Good things about my back problems:
  1. I have a single diagnosis that explains this and all of my previous medical problems.
  2. It is very treatable and it involves things I already enjoy doing, which are exercising, trying to have good posture, and getting enough sleep. (Side note: Did you know that researchers have found that getting adequate sleep is important to recovering from back pain? That's what the doctor told me.)
  3. Because I have to go to the physical therapist, I have extra incentive to find the time to exercise since external motivation works well for me.
  4. My whole doctor visit with x-rays will cost $15. (Hooray for our student health plan.)
  5. I got two hours by myself to do physical therapy this morning.
Good things about my broken glasses:
  1. I can still wear them taped together and it's not uncomfortable.
  2. Clear packing tape is working well to hold the ear piece to the rest of the frame and it doesn't look too tacky. :)
  3. I get new glasses. (Hmm, maybe I'll go rimless...)
  4. We have the funds to pay for it.
Moral: When inconvenient things happen all at once, it is still possible to find the positive aspects of it. It all depends on your point of view.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Signing Time and Gospel Art Kit

I want to share two things that have been helpful to me lately. The first one is Signing Time. I think we were first introduced to these videos when my son, D, had a language delay when he was two years old. In order to help him understand language, the speech therapist taught us common American Sign Language signs so D could learn to talk with us. These videos were suggested to us to help us learn more signs in a fun way.

Since then, we have worked to teach our younger children basic ASL signs as babies and toddlers to help eliminate some frustration in communication. It worked for A, who is now three years old, though she didn't use the signs for long since she started talking soon after. Now we are showing them to e, who is almost a year old now. She loves to watch the videos and it has lately been my lifesaver when she has been fussy and I need to do something else for a little while. A and D are coming up to me, too, and showing me the signs they have learned, so they are just fun ways to learn ASL signs.

The other cool thing I have to share is the Gospel Art Kit on the LDS Church website. When we are at church, I try to have the children think about Jesus during the passing of the sacrament since that is when we, in part, remember Jesus' sacrifice for us as part of the service. D was having a hard time during the sacrament today and I had the thought that maybe I could put pictures of Jesus on my Pocket PC so he could look at them during that time. I went to the church website and found that I could put the pictures on my Pocket PC and I can show them in a slide show. I hope it will help.

You can use the images for incidental, noncommercial church or home purposes with the exception of Web site use, so that will work for my purposes. Here is the usage rights, so if you want to use them, you can follow their copyright guidelines. So very cool, at least I think so.