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Positive Coping Skills for Kids

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I’ve missed a couple of “Wellness Wednesday” opportunities so I wanted to share a few more strategies or positive coping skills for kids – that may be useful to you as a parent – particularly if you have a child who may be struggling behaviorally or emotionally. I shared about dietary changes & kids, here.

Here is what helped us . . .

Essential Oils

I bought my foster son this essential oil necklace. I thought the “Superman” symbol was fitting. He loved it! As I mentioned in my previous post, I engaged him in the decision making process about what he would take with him to school.

I showed him his options and he picked this {my first choice too}. I also let him try out different essential oils so he could pick the ones he liked most. While I had a blend with Peace & Calming in it, he was not a fan at all. While he switched it up sometimes, he usually wanted lavender, lemon, and sweet orange or  lavender and lemon. He used to say that his friends would ask to smell his necklace sometimes. 🙂

This is the brand we used most consistently. You can read more about my essential oil journey, here.

We also diffused essential oils at night. My foster son’s favorite blend for sleep was lavender and Texas Cedarwood. We rarely missed a night – especially through the spring and summer months of 2018 as he adjusted to being away from one of his siblings.

Breathing & Mindfulness

This book gives kids great visual images to help them understand how to take it slow, breathe deep, and to be mindful about what’s happening inside of them, emotionally. This was a huge help to my foster son during first grade. I am grateful his teacher was working with him on these things.

Use of these techniques at school resulted in us using them at home. Because he loved to laugh and joke – we eventually joked about it at home – when he needed a reminder that he needed to slllloooowww down when he was getting anxious or bouncing off the walls.

I’d ask him, lightheartedly, “Do you need to go to your Zen {a word he used first} place?” He’d usually laugh, smile, or simply respond, “YES!” That was usually enough of a break in a challenging moment, that I could then remind him of his coping strategies. Eventually he got to a point where he’d just tell me, “I need to go to my Zen place.” And I’d ask what would you like to do – reminding him of some of the things that relaxed him.

When a child is melting down – or catches himself/herself on the way there – it’s so important to give them some of the power back as they think about how to cope with whatever has presented.

Now . . . there will obviously be those times when you have to intervene and your child no longer has choices {i.e., now you’re in time out}. But, my biggest goal with my foster son was to give him some power and choices – within the confines of our rules and safety, of course.

He’d lost all of that in his life. He felt he had no power. And no choices. Giving him the ability to make choices was powerful and contributed to drastic, positive changes in our home.

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Find these, here.

Reminder/Affirmation Cards

My foster son struggled in school. It was rough. And while 2nd grade was significantly harder than 1st, one of the strategies that helped him in 1st grade and early in 2nd grade, was to provide him with visual reminders of some of the coping strategies that helped him collect his thoughts. Think lunchbox note but bigger . . .

As an example, we used laminated index cards with:

A Bible verse

Breathing reminders

Encouraging sayings

Reminders to pray

Reminders to go to his “Zen” place

In 1st grade he was allowed to keep the card on his desk which made a huge difference. He had the ability to see it there all of the time. It went a long way to helping him stay on track or find ways to get back on track.

Behavior Chart/Rewards

My foster son was very competitive with himself and the “color” system at school, while not a favorite of some teachers, was a huge motivator for him. I created a chart – similar to this one:

We used clothespins to move up or down the chart. If he woke up in the morning, on blue, due to getting through this nighttime routine on the best behavior, he got a “jewel” for his “jewel jar.”

We used these blue stones and put them in a cup – labeled as “__________’s Jewel Jar.” When he filled the cup with jewels, he could pick out a prize.

 

He loved having multiple visual reminders of how he was doing. His cup was on the counter so he could see it. His chart was on a cabinet in full view. There wasn’t any confusion for him – about what he was working toward and how he was doing. I know children who are responsive to consequences. That didn’t work for my kiddo. I had to approach everything from a direction of positivity. We had to talk about wins more than losses.

The more I focused on successes and good choices, the better things got. I know this may not work for every child. But with my foster son’s history and background – it was a huge deal.

While the spring/early summer of 2018 had been rough, by the time we got into a routine midway through the summer, there were multiple days in a row his clothespin didn’t move much from blue/green. When his behavior was increasingly getting more and more positive, I increased the stakes. Getting the prizes took a little more time and his “jewel jar” was changed into a small vase.

Note on color/behavior charts: I made a decision not to move him to yellow or red for a bad day at school, unless his behavior had been particularly egregious. He knew that even if he’d had a rough day at school, he would get a fresh start at home. This was important for him.

On days when he found himself in the yellow or red area – we would work on ways to get back to green/blue – employing the other coping strategies that we worked on at other times.

Routines

My son lived and breathed by routine. It wasn’t just that I kept up our routine – it’s that he craved that routine and would remind me, when we slipped up, of where we’d gone off track.

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This was what his room looked like after bath time. 🙂

The difference between my son when we followed our nightly/morning patterns and when we didn’t, was tremendous. He knew what to expect and when to expect it. He knew that if he got out of his bath on time, he’d have time to play with this trucks & cars {his favorite toys} before we read & prayed. He knew that if he got off track – he’d lose that. He knew that when the timer {he often set it himself} went off after dinner, it was time to go upstairs and take a bath/get ready for bed. Setting expectations {hello, even we need a little expectation management in our lives} and following routines was enormously helpful {even when I didn’t feel like it}.

These are just a few of the things we worked on, so they became habits, to help my foster son learn positive coping skills.

What are some of the strategies you have used, in your home?

Tips for Eliminating Foods That May Worsen Behavioral Issues in Kids

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If you have a child that struggles with ADHD or other complex diagnoses – particularly if they experienced trauma at any point, it can feel very lonely. Not only is it isolating because people do not understand and lack compassion, but the medical profession sometimes seems to work at cross purposes. I sometimes wonder if medicine these days actually wants healed and whole patients . . . but that’s another story.

As a parent, I think you know in your gut what works and doesn’t work. Or, you may be partially {or completely} uncomfortable with the solutions being presented to you when they miss, or even ignore, who our children are as individuals. We are whole persons. Our wellness isn’t just a medical diagnosis.

While there may be a number of things that work for your family, there are a few things that helped my foster son – particularly with hyperactivity and anxiety. There was a drastic difference in his hyperactivity, acting out, and in his ability to self-regulate after we {he was an active partner in making these changes} made changes to his diet.

I wanted to share some of those things with you for today’s Wellness Wednesday post. This week I wanted to talk about dietary changes. Next week, I’ll cover some additional helps we put into place.

Here are my tips for eliminating foods that may worsen behavioral issues in kids.

This is hard, yo – particularly for foster parents out there who may have a child enter your home that has food insecurity issues or is accustomed to junk food {also very inexpensive and easy to get a hold of for families struggling with poverty}.

But, the differences between my foster son when we worked hard on our diet and when I was not disciplined, was tremendous. Notice that I said when I was not disciplined.

“Some of the studies are difficult or imperfect in that they don’t always tease out specific chemicals in isolation,” he says. “But there is this body of literature that does suggest that food colorings are not as benign as people have been led to believe.”

– Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York

Remove artificial colors completely. If you absolutely cannot fathom removing all artificial colors, I would definitely recommend eliminating red dye 40. I know what you’re thinking – it’s too time consuming. It is at first – especially if you work outside the home or are a single parent as I was. But once you’ve done your research on alternatives and spend time reading labels, you generally know what products to avoid and what products are dye free. Secondly, you will sometimes feel like a jerk parent when you have to continually say “no” to those junk food favorites.

But when you see the differences in your child, it is worth the work to find alternatives. If your child is old enough, talk to them about the changes and ask for their help in finding foods in the store that they would like, that are also dye free. My foster son became a mini expert in dye free foods. And while we had our moments when he wanted those regular Doritos, he did a good job because he was engaged in the decision making process, as often as our schedule allowed for it.

Find foods that you can be less restrictive with & give your child freedom to eat when he/she wants to. I know that might not sit right with a lot of parents. But I honestly believe it helps. And while my foster son also had food insecurity issues, I think there was something empowering for him – knowing that while there were some things he couldn’t eat, he wasn’t restricted in every little thing. He felt some sense of independence and control when the changes were very new for him.

I found foods that were protein rich, higher in fiber, or fruit – that were in his own “snack baskets” in the refrigerator or pantry. Generally speaking, I didn’t restrict the food in those baskets – including before dinner. Again, I know that may not work in your home. But if you have a child that is constantly burning energy due to hyperactivity {mine was}, and/or has food insecurity issues, is it really going to hurt? My kiddo’s appetite for dinner wasn’t dented from his healthy snacking after school. Like not even a little.

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Slightly off topic – if you are a foster parent and your child has major food insecurity issues, consider choosing one type of food that you allow your child to keep bedside as comfort. We chose granola/fiber type bars {be aware of sugar content}. He had one snack before bed {usually string cheese while we read} and then a fiber bar was left on this bedside table.

Providing him a sense of control about what he could eat, made a huge difference once I removed certain things from this diet. His baskets had fruit {strawberries & blueberries were his favorite}, string cheese, Mini Babybel cheese {he really loved these!}, no-sugar apple sauce, no-dye crackers, etc. No dye fruit leathers, fruit snacks, etc., are much more common now.

Here are a few examples of kiddo-friendly “junk” food, which also helps with the transition:




You can even find dye free cake mixes, frostings, and sprinkles now. There are candy companies that exist specifically to eliminate chemical junk in candy. Watkins sells a line of food coloring made with vegetables and spices. The alternatives are out there!

Snacks in our refrigerator and pantry were in these baskets:

I heart them.

Finally, I also cut out as much sugar as I could. I didn’t worry too much about sugar from natural sources. Nor did I eliminate it totally. But I did my best to eliminate as much refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup as much as possible.

Cereal – I tried to stick to 7 grams of sugar {or less}. We would sometimes have pancakes and waffles, but used maple syrup – which has a lower glycemic index. My primary goal was for his breakfasts to be as high in protein as possible. I didn’t always win that battle. But, it was the goal.

As a single mom, I did aim for convenience in this area. We had breakfast bowls, breakfast sandwiches with eggs & cheese, high protein shakes, and protein bars. But being that he was always hungry – he usually ate at home and then took something in the car with him. His “car snack” was usually fruit, the shake, or a protein bar if he didn’t have those at breakfast.

Between making the dietary changes and giving my son back some of the control he’d lost in life and in the diet changes, it made for a more peaceful home. But more importantly, my foster son felt more in control of his emotions, actions, and choices.

Ultimately, it will take some experimenting to make it work best for you. But if you haven’t considered adjusting your child’s diet as you search for answers about what to do to help them – it’s worth a shot. Not only is it worth an attempt if you’re at your wit’s end, but ultimately, no one is more focused on your child’s wellness as you are. Your doctor isn’t likely to make suggestions about changing your child’s diet. They probably don’t for you either. It doesn’t mean that our diet can’t impact our emotional well being as well as our physical health. As I said earlier, we are whole persons – what we put into our body absolutely can impact our emotional and mental well being. It doesn’t just pack on the pounds when we eat unhealthy {we don’t dispute this fact, do we?}. Food is what our bodies use to function. Giving our bodies the best possible foods can only help . . .

Additional note: I wanted to eliminate gluten too {I have been gluten free since 2009}. I had a sense it might help him. But that was a bridge too far between our schedule, life as a single mom, and the drastic nature of that change. However, if you have a little more time to work with, I highly recommend Gluten Free on a Shoestring! She has a wealth of information and incredible gluten free recipes she’s developed since her son was diagnosed with Celiac disease. She even has a recipe for gluten free “Twix bars.” To read about one family’s experience with a gluten free diet and ADHD, read this article.

The Kid’s Room

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From an Instagram post last night:

The door to the “kid’s room” has been closed quite a bit. I’ve been trying to keep Abby from adopting another bed as her own. This week has been a long week. I haven’t been feeling well for days. By the time I got through Thursday evening’s first walk-through for foster care licensing, I was spent.

I have a list of to-do’s that seems sort of overwhelming. I have things to buy that I hadn’t quite planned on buying (rookie mistakes). And I’m trying to complete, in what feels like a rushed timeline, everything needed within the next couple weeks.

By this afternoon, after unsuccessfully searching for a solution to the double-locking storage I need for things like medication, I was just tired. Like have an existential crisis over Christmas cookies I wanted to make for work, can’t find a locking storage cabinet (that’s not ridiculously expensive and/or ugly), “falling down into weepy tears” (name that movie), meltdown.

Guys…it was stupid. But somehow a stupid locking cabinet and my inability to muster the desire to bake oodles of Christmas gifts for work, caused me to stop in my tracks yet again. What is all of this for? And why am I doing it? Certainly not to get a pat on the back for my beautiful furniture (that is also locking storage mind you) that fits into my dining room like it stepped off my Pinterest boards.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:27

So after a wake up call, and praying for peace & wisdom, here I am…planning to buy an ugly, plastic locking case because no one needs my house to be Pinterest perfect to be safe, cared for, and loved. The door to the kid’s room will stay open from now on. Because every time I see it, I’m reminded of why I’m doing this.

Foster Care Adventures – Part Two

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October 2015, a little guy hung around at work, for a week or so. On Wednesday of that week, he “helped” me work. He sat on my lap, we hung out with friends, and then he played with my calculator & drew with my pens. He feel asleep there at my desk, in my arms, and I worked around him {not so successfully}. I lost my heart. I think about him all the time. Mostly because he was part of the journey {part one anyway} that I finished tonight as my foster parent training classes came to a close.

He was a reminder of everything I’ve always known about who I am and what I was put on this earth to do. He was the happiest boy. I saw him the following week and he “talked” all about the book he had with him. I will never forget this sweet boy. And I’m grateful for how God used him to remind me of what I’ve always known.

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Throughout the last 11 weeks or so, I’ve grown more confident that though there is more work to be done, there isn’t anything I’d rather do more than provide a loving home for kids.

So with part one complete, I’m on to the next part of this crazy adventure. I don’t know who my first placement will be. I don’t know his or her age, name, or background. But God does and He’s already put me on this path to cross his or her path.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27.

All She Wants to do is Dance

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If it weren’t for Don Henley, my “about me” on social media and my blog would be less nerdy. He is always there, front and center, along with Jesus, my dog, pine trees, and wine (and occasionally tequila). I had a come to Jesus moment early this year when I realized that I was turning 40 with nothing not enough to show for it.

I took myself to a Food & Wine festival. I’ve started the foster care process. I’ve lost 30.6 pounds so far. And earlier this summer, after seeing that Don Henley would be performing at Wolf Trap in Virginia, I bought a ticket. To go to a concert by myself? Hell yes.

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But things have been a little complicated lately. And in the stress and worry, I called off my trip. On Wednesday, by the end of the work day, I had been convinced to go. I won’t bore you with all of the details of the conversations that led to the change. I will say this – they both said very similar things. It was enough to remind me that I only have this one chance at this life. I don’t get a do-over. I’ve already wasted too much time.

So I drove to Virginia – tired. I was in Quantico for a couple of hours before heading north to Vienna. It was a rush to get there on time. But I made it. I found a spot on the little hill. I knew I’d lost my chance to get better seats, but I didn’t care. Not even a little. I laid out my blanket and enjoyed a picnic. The great thing about a concert like this is all the…hippies. Or maybe they’re retired hippies. Whatever.

They didn’t care one bit about how anything looked. They wanted to dance? They danced. They didn’t care what they looked like, sounded like, or how freaking hot and humid it was. The crowd was great. While there were definitely youngins’ around, the majority of the crowd was my age and older (emphasis on older). The couple in front of me were adorable – the husband read a book until the music started and got excited every time he sang older hits.

Don sang songs from his forty-four career! What in the world? He was awesome. The entire concert was awesome. His last song (before the encore) was “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. The last thing I expected, but really good.  But his encore was the best part. He sang some favorites including “Hotel California.” When he started to sing “All She Wants to do is Dance” I wondered why I sat while everyone else danced. So I danced. In the dark. On a horribly humid night. Alone. It was a blast.

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I was so far away from the stage! I mean…so far away. In the photo above, the lighted area was the stage. If I stood to the right (and on my tippy toes) I could see a tiny Don Henley. And I mean tiny. But it was still a great night. I’m so grateful that there are people around me who get me. My two closest friends knew I needed to be there. And the conversations I had at work sealed the deal. I needed to do this.

I needed to go to this concert. Like there are some other things I need to do this year. Everything is changing.