Helping Our Son Navigate Self-Regulation…This is Helpful for Adults, too

Last week I wrote about my depression and how it connected to my son. He really helped me get through it.

What’s amazing to me, as a parent, is that as I’m working so hard to help him in every way possible, he’s actually helping ME. My, how I have grown since he came into my life! Does anyone else feel this way about having children?

Before Ethan I feel like I was mostly out of control in my head. I wasn’t very patient (I still feel like I’m not, but I sure try and breathe through the moments I wanna scream), and I’m not sure I actually understood how to self-regulate. WHY IS PARENTHOOD THE GATEWAY TO LEARNING MORE ABOUT MYSELF AS A PERSON?!?

I’ll tell ya why. It’s because all-of-a-sudden I have this little human being whom I love so damn much and I would do anything for, including work on myself so I’m not an asshole mother.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Ethan got suspended. During my deep depression I dove into books, talked with professionals and friends, and did some online reading as well.

Here are our “problems” and the solutions we’ve come up with. When I say “we”: Nathan and me, ETHAN, Ethan’s teachers, Mama Jada, Ashley, Bridget (Beshte), and Kay. Without this tribe I would be lost.

The “Problem”: Ethan was nervous walking into school and I wasn’t helping

I would give him reminders like, “What are our hands for?”, or, “Remember to keep your hands to yourself”, and, “Have a good day!”

I never imagined that my reminders would be a source of anxiety for him! This was a total face-palm moment. I felt like an idiot for doing this to him. I’ve had to forgive myself, because guess what!? There is no manual for how to do this the right way. That’s what friends and family are for.

The Solution

My girl, Ashley, gave me some really amazing, POSITIVE ways to send Ethan off in the morning to help reduce his anxiety. I even had her text them to me so I could easily reference them before school. I’ve been so used to saying “keep your hands to yourself” that I was struggling to remember the positive send offs. So, go ahead! Take a screen shot! I fully believe this is helping Ethan have a better day.

THANK YOU ASHLEY!

The “Problem”: ADHD?

Along with anxiety I feel like Ethan is dealing with some sort of ADD or ADHD. I’ve never really cared that he was extremely energetic. I find it amazing. He has a hard time sitting still and is easily distracted.

I have learned that it seems really hard for him to cope with how he’s feeling at certain times and I think it’s been a snap decision on how to respond. So, instead of being able to say, “please don’t ______ I don’t like that.” He jumps right to hitting, pinching, etc. After it happens he says how “stupid/dumb” he his. It breaks my heart for him. As an adult I have a hard time with that negative narrative…I can only imagine how it must feel as a child. He gets frustrated when he can’t master something the first go around.

So, it’s a very large mix for me. I’m not saying he’s ADD/ADHD. I’m also not saying he’s not. One of the books I’m reading (Parenting Your Child with ADHD) actually suggests that ADHD is something that children DO rather than something they HAVE. I have to agree so far. This seems to connect to Ethan pretty well.

The Solution

READ! Read and read again. Libraries are great resources. Librarians are the glue that holds it all together. I still don’t understand the dewey decimal system, so having someone to help guide me and find even MORE resources is unmatched amazingness.

Raising Boys with ADHD and Parenting Your Child with ADHD are from the library. Best part about the library: you get to borrow the book! And if it’s something you think you would like to have for a reference at home, you know you’re gonna like it. WINNING!

Driven to Distraction I haven’t read yet. This is one I’m borrowing from Kay. Gotta love having friends that can relate and help out!

A Fidget. Okay, okay. Those damn fidget spinners really threw me for a loop when they became popular. But now I get it. Kids (especially with anxiety/ADD or ADHD tendencies) need something to put that energy into. So, I got Ethan a cube as suggested by Kay. It seems to help while he’s working on assignments or when he should be sitting still. I’m looking for another one that may be less distracting during class. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

MORE exercise. Ethan already loves to go outside after school and pay on his pay-set or just run around with Lucky. If I notice he’s really fidgety I’ve been encouraging him to go outside again…or run it off in the house. He’s all about a good race.

More challenges. Ethan has been flying through his work at school. Which at first I was like, “COOL!” now I’m like, “OH NO, maybe he’s board!” So, his teachers are working with him to do more challenging works, which is great! He told me that he had to take a break with one of them and come back to it. That’s perfect. It means it’s challenging him, which means he’s not getting board, which means he doesn’t have time to disturb other kids around him while they are trying to do their works. Badda bing!

Reducing technology. For us this is an AGAIN scenario. As you know, the TV is gone so that’s not really a big issue (if you didn’t know-now you do!). One of the books I was reading said to limit technology or games to thirty minutes a day, and two hours on the weekend. Check, we were already doing that. We noticed if we did allow any more time that he got pretty wired very quickly. The thing about technology and children with ADHD is that it actually helps them. They like the fast moving stuff. They like the challenges on video games, etc. We’ve noticed a direct link between technology and his behavior- so we limit even more now. We took some privileges away due to the reason he was suspended. He has been slowly earning those privileges back. As long as he keeps his ‘tude in check I see no reason we won’t be able to go back to thirty minutes a day.

Keep in mind that kids are exposed to technology at school, too. Ethan’s told me about a game he likes to play with a friend called Monkey Mayhem. While I’m sure these are educational games, I have to be aware that it is still screen-time and he may not be able to handle more than ten to fifteen minutes at home. As with anything, it’s all about balance.

The “Problem”: Ethan wasn’t understanding what to do in the moment when having certain feelings

We’ve been working on self-regulation for quite some time. I suppose it’s been about a year. I took some parenting classes on Conscious Discipline (GREAT PROGRAM! Check it out) while Ethan was in preschool. I love all the techniques they talk about. Especially the breathing techniques…my goodness they have so many AND they are fun to learn (in hopes that the kids will want to do them at the time of need) but Ethan would hold onto his emotion and flat out refuse to do anything about it. And then I found this:

The Solution

I purchased the program above from teacherspayteachers. If you ever need resources for anything teaching related I highly recommend this site.
The teacher that made this little program even set up a one week lesson plan to introduce all of the “engines” and work on self-regulation. We’ve been working on this program for over two weeks. I didn’t really think it was helping him until I realized it was easy for him to relate to each emotion because there’s a color associated with it. It’s pretty brilliant actually. It’s even helped me learn some self-regulation skills as well. (Go figure!)

My biggest fear with Ethan going back to school after being suspended was that everything we’ve been working on didn’t really seem to help much. But after being back for a week and having great report every day I can say it definitely has worked. We just needed reassurance and support from school as well to be able to make it work for Ethan. I was able to print some things off for his teacher to use in class, so he had exposure at home as well as at school. She’s been so instrumental in helping us.

In this program she does a great job of explaining different feelings/emotions in each category. Red (Ethan’s go to emotion) would be mad, angry, out of control, etc. And then from those emotions they talk about how to recognize and then regulate…so instead of hitting someone we would have options like, take deep breaths, talk to a teacher, use a fidget, walk away, or use specific words to let our friends know we are angry.

The “Problem”: Taking things personally

It’s an interesting world we live in, but it doesn’t revolved around anyone. Interestingly enough most kids think it does. That makes since I suppose. Thankfully we have Mama Jada (Kay’s mom) in our corner she’s helped A TON!

Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay 

The Solution

She said to remind Ethan, “things aren’t happening TO you. They are just happening“. This hit me in such a way that I use it all the time now. Especially with a child that isn’t around other little ones all the time. It feels like being bumped into in the hall or in line can be a personal attack, when really it just so happens there are twenty-four other children around- so it’s really not so personal after all.

More helpful suggestions that Mama Jada has given me:

Journal

Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay

She said to sit down every night and journal what the teachers said about his day, and what I’ve noticed for the day. I’m usually the one to do the journaling, but if I’m not home Nate makes sure to jump in. So far I’ve noticed that his issues at school usually happen during transition times. Ethan needs a heads-up so he can prepare. So, at home we continue to give him warnings when time is up on something, or when we are going to be leaving the house. At school they make sure that he’s just a little behind the other students so he’s not feeling overwhelmed with the amount of people around him.

Communicate with the teacher(s)!

Image by  Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay 

I can’t stress enough how important this is. Having an open and honest communication between Ethan’s teacher and I has been a major blessing. Before she seemed frustrated…but when I reached out and started asking lots of questions I think she got that I really do care. I’m sure she gets plenty of parents who don’t really care or think she’s doing something wrong. I can tell what we are working on together is helping. She seems less frustrated now and far more happy with Ethan’s behaviors at school.

Peer Help

Image by SeaReeds from Pixabay

The last and final suggestion I have received, that I found extremely helpful, is getting him connected with someone in his class that keeps him chill. Mama Jada said that for boys its’s usually a girl that helps them the most. I guess it’s sort of a “motherly figure” thing for them. So, I’ve been in contact with his teacher to see who may be a good companion at times for him.

At the end of the day…this little guy is the sweetest most helpful dude I’ve ever known. The grooviest of all groovies. I have and always will give him all I’ve got. Children are the future. And…bonus…I get to learn a few things on the way as well. Mama Jada says, “remember that this is just a snapshot of your life. It isn’t going to be this way for forever.”

I know it was long. If you read all of that I commend you greatly. Haha.
Thanks for sticking it out with me,
Jamma

I have to acknowledge the people in my life that have been giving me strength and guidance through the hard times.

Nathan- Thank you for recognizing my fall into depression. I know I fell anyway…but you acknowledged me where I was, listened, and helped me fight. Thank you for always reminding me that the three of us are a team and that together we will get through anything. This means more to me than I could ever express. You’re my rock, and I f***ing love you.

Mama Jada- Wow. Thank you for talking with me. Thank you for sharing your thirty years of experience of teaching with Nate and me so we can make the best choices for Ethan moving forward. Your notes helped me communicate with Ethan and Ethan’s teachers on the best ways to help him.

Kay- You see me. All of me. It’s rare to find a friendship like this one. So, thank you, from the depths of my soul for supporting me, hugging me, caring about me, and laughing with me.

Ashley and Mama Kristi- You two are amazing. Thank you reminding me that Nate and I are great parents who try their best everyday. Thank you for your loving embraces that make my heart melt. Thank you for always having an open ear and a shoulder to lean on.

Beshte (Bridget M.)- Girl, thank you. You always know the right thing to say. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate our friendship and your light. You remind me to take it one day at a time, no matter what I’m going through. Thank you for always being honest and sincere.

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