3 Ways to Make Halloween Fun for Your ASD Kid

Crowds of children, the fear of personal contact, and the idea of approaching strangers for candy can be too much for a kid on the spectrum.

When my son, Jackie, was young, I dreamed of the fun we would share over the holiday season. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. On Halloween afternoon, we would load up the wagon with all his stuffed friends and begin the journey down the street. Most years, we only made it a few blocks.

Because Jackie has high functioning autism, the crowds of children, the fear of personal contact, and the idea of approaching strangers for candy was just too much. By the time he was in the third grade, we had to switch gears and rethink how we could make Halloween a fun memory instead of a stress-filled day. We decided on a party instead of the traditional door-to-door trick or treating. Here are a few ideas to make your ASD Halloween party special.

Movie party

Having a Halloween party and featuring a movie is a great way to celebrate while protecting your ASD child’s internal system. It’s low key but fun, and there are so many great Halloween-themed movies out there. We have viewed old-time favorites such as “The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” or “Curious George Boo Fest,” but there are other not-so-scary Halloween choices for older children as well. Check out “Monster House” and “Shrek” movies for an older group.

Serving treats of pizza and orange-and-black cupcakes adds to the fun, and goody bags filled with the candy they may miss out on can be added. You might also slip in some healthier options like fruit snacks or pretzels. The great thing about a movie party is that you can control when the fun ends so that your ASD child doesn’t become over stimulated. It’s also a great time to encourage socialization skills!

Hotel party

One year, I wanted to do something different. The constant ringing doorbell was becoming a real annoyance for my son. I decided to move the Halloween party to a local hotel. Many hotels understand the issues of special needs children and are happy to accommodate them. I rented a room and set up trick-or-treat stations around the hotel with the help of the hotel staff. We invited a small group of friends to rotate around the stations, collecting their candy and visiting with the staff.

My son had an easier time trick or treating in one place with staff that I could introduce him to before the party. The children ended up with a small bag of candy and small toys. After the trick or treating, we headed to the pool for a short swim and then to the room for Halloween cake. When the party was over, we had a fun time sleeping over with no doorbells.

Progressive party

Older ASD children can sometimes feel the loss of doing what they see as normal things. One idea to help them feel as if they are fitting in is to plan a progressive trick-or-treat party. We began at our house with three or four friends. I set up a small scavenger hunt in the house for the children to search for treats. They found a small bag of candy corn hidden on a bookshelf and fruit snacks behind a door.

After all the treats were found, we moved on to one of the friend’s houses where another scavenger hunt, game, or treat was waiting. Each friend had an activity at their house and the children had a fun time figuring out what awaited them at the next house.

They also enjoyed walking from house to house for a short time. Though there were still some crowds to navigate, the end destinations gave a place for decompression before heading out again. If your child’s friends live too far away, consider driving to the destinations. You can park a few blocks away so that the children can still have the experience of being out with other trick-or-treaters. The progressive party is a great way to have the best of both worlds.

Halloween can be a difficult holiday for children on the spectrum. We can make great memories even if the new traditions aren’t the same traditions that we have experienced in the past. Be creative and work with your child to make Halloween a great time filled with fun, friends, and, yes, a little candy.

What Exactly Does Great Faith and Great Courage Look Like?

I suppose faith has come easier to me these days. Spending time around children does that to you, I think. But courage? No way.

There is a single prayer I pray every day, often many times a day, and lately with every breath. “God, help me be brave.”

This is still relatively new to me. I didn’t grow up praying. I didn’t grow up in a church. So when I decided I needed to start having a dialogue with God, I did what a lot of people do: I asked for stuff.

“Please let me find happiness.”

“Please let me fit into that dress next weekend.”

“Please smite that chick in the eyeball who stole my boyfriend.”

“Please let this marriage last.”

”Please keep my babies safe. Healthy. In my sights.”

There’s a problem with that, though, and it’s not that all that asking is greedy. I truly believe the universe is a plentiful and loving place. I believe that it wants us to be happy. I believe that it wants us to have what we need and even what we desire, that it wants to rise up to meet us where we are. With the possible exception of wishing that people be smited in the eyeball (even if they deserve it), I think we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for things or hope for things or truly believe in our hearts that we are good and worthy of receiving things.

The problem is that all that asking I was doing was giving me the illusion of control, and control is where it gets tricky. I’m addicted to control the way some people are addicted to booze or sugar or gambling. I crave it. For God’s sakes, I follow around behind my family and reload the dishwasher when they aren’t looking like I’m the only one who can do it right. Like I am the queen of dishwasher-loading, like this is a thing that little girls everywhere are aspiring to right now, like it even matters. Much like anything we are addicted to, control makes me feel powerful and that I have a purpose when at the same time it is slowly destroying my life.

Really, I don’t have control of anything.

It’s a hard time to be a control freak. All we have to do is look at the news or outside at the weather to be reminded of that. The world feels increasingly hard to live in with every passing day and everywhere I look I see people throwing up their hands and asking “Why? What did we do to deserve this?” I’ve been asking it too, whispering it in the dark corners and waiting, waiting, for the answer.

Maybe the answer is nothing.

Maybe the world is just hard, maybe being alive in it takes great faith and great courage. Maybe it takes a slow un-gripping of the wheel, finger by white-knuckled finger, because we were never the ones driving anyway and the truth is the dishes are going to get clean even if they are stacked all wrong.

Of the two – great faith and great courage – I suppose faith has come easier to me these days. Spending time around children does that to you, I think. But courage? No way. I’m not a brave person. I’m the one who watches everyone else jump in the pool from my corner where I have to ease myself in so painfully slow, one inch of stark white goose-bumped flesh at a time, holding my breath for so long that dizziness starts to crowd into the corners of my vision. I don’t drive above the speed limit and I don’t watch scary movies because they make me feel like I am dying (lately that is exactly how I’ve been feeling when I watch the news too).

Also, my depression is back and it has brought its faithful partner along with it, anxiety, and every single bone in my body is calling out for me to hide, seek shelter, and cower.

But I cannot, and that’s where God comes in, at least for me, at least for right now. I am not inherently brave, but maybe I don’t have to be. Maybe all I have to do is ask for the courage to keep going. Maybe getting out of bed and facing the day is an act of tremendous courage sometimes. Maybe that’s how the revolution starts.

I still want happiness. I still want us all to be healthy and safe. And yes, I want revolution too, and healing, and progress. I want to march and sing in the streets and not be afraid every morning when I let my babies out the front door and into the world. None of that is going to be found in my hiding spot. I know. I’ve looked.

So all I want, all I will let myself ask for right now, is to be brave.

God, help us be brave. Brave enough to keep going. Brave enough to live our lives in a broken world. Brave enough, even, to fix it.

This post originally appeared on the author’s website, Liz Petrone.com.

What You Need to Know About Protecting Your Kid From Identity Theft

With their squeaky-clean credit histories, our children’s data are the crown jewels to identity thieves.

It’s a standing joke that in the first week of school, parents have more homework than kids. One form our schools have always sent home is the permission slip for releasing directory information. Like me, perhaps you thought checking “no” and signing it was enough to keep your kids’ information safe. The sad truth is that most schools are under-equipped to keep our children’s data secure. After all, if big financial companies employing the latest in cybersecurity can’t keep our information safe, why should underfunded schools with out-of-date technology?
That should concern parents, because children are especially vulnerable to identity theft. With their squeaky-clean credit histories, our children’s data are the crown jewels to identity thieves. And the consequences aren’t pretty: identity thieves can use the data in multiple ways, like opening credit cards, obtaining government benefits and health care, using Social Security numbers to obtain identification for employment, applying for loans, and more. Once done, they can then sell it to other criminals.
Often, stolen identities are not discovered until it’s time for your teen to apply for an education loan or their first credit card. It can take years to repair damaged credit, and that can hamper your child’s ability to rent an apartment, apply for a loan, or even get a job. “Your credit touches virtually everything,” says John Sileo, a cybersecurity expert with The Sileo Group who has personally battled identity theft.
The New York Times, NBC News, and other outlets have reported that children as young as one-week-old have had their identities stolen. One young person who posted in an online forum for renting apartments in New York City expressed frustration with being unable to rent a place because his identity had been stolen as a teen.

A troubling trend

According to a Carnegie Mellon report, there were 11.7 million reported cases of identity theft in 2008. Researchers in the study looked at over 42,000 identity scans of children 18 and under and found that 10.2 percent had had Social Security numbers stolen – a rate that’s 51 times higher than the rate of adults who experienced the same theft.
Experts say it’s just going to get worse.
One mother I spoke to found out that all three of her children’s identities had been stolen when a pharmacy called to verify a prescription. It took her more than a year to resolve, and she ended up putting credit freezes on all her children’s files. This happened over 10 years ago. “Had it happened now, I think the repercussions would have been much, much worse for my kids,” says the mother, who wished to remain anonymous.
With more data than ever being digitized and more thieves and hackers trolling for vulnerabilities “it’s a catastrophe waiting to happen,” said Rachael Stickland, co-founder of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, an organization that advocates for stricter regulations to safeguard children’s data.
Just this month, the U.S. Department of Education issued a warning that many school districts have been targeted for extortion and threatened with the release of student data. Higher education is also vulnerable. Stickland says that colleges and universities report upwards of 4,000 attacks of ransomware a day.
In addition to inadequate protections at institutions, experts say there simply are not enough regulations in place that keep companies from selling children’s information. While FERPA supposedly protects this information, in 2012 many parents became aware of loopholes when the company inBloom, funded by the Gates Foundation, was able to set up service contracts with schools that accessed student information without parental permission. While the company closed after many states passed laws preventing any outside vendor from aggregating student data, it exposed the inadequacies in the system. The CEO of inBloom defended their database, saying that it was up to the schools to upload the data and that parental concern was really a misunderstanding.

An ounce of prevention

What it comes down to is that parents are left with little recourse to protect their children, but there are some things we can do. Educating ourselves is the first step, says both Sileo and Stickland. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy provides a free downloadable toolkit that explains what data is collected, how it’s used, and how you can protect your children.
Parents also need to talk to their kids and make sure they know what to share and not share. “Educating kids often gets passed over,” says Sileo. Stickland recommends that parents frequently remind their kids about what they should and shouldn’t be sharing on social media.
Be sure to safeguard your child’s information by shredding documents that contain data. Ask schools and other groups that keep information where it’s stored and how it’s kept private. Only give out information that’s necessary to people you trust.
Some cases of identity theft are actually perpetrated by parents, guardians, and other adults who know the child. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests safeguarding your child’s information from anyone who may find it tempting to steal your child’s identity because they’ve been turned down for benefits or credit.
The FTC also recommends checking your children’s credit reports before they turn 16 so there’s time to address issues before starting the college search process and applying for jobs. You can request a free credit report annually for both yourself and your family members through annualcreditreport.com. Through this service, you can obtain free credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. (There is a charge if you want to check it more than annually.)
You may find that there is no report on file for your child. Sileo recommends not doing anything until there’s actually a report, then freezing it. However, freezing your child’s credit report can be time-consuming and comes with its own challenges. It often requires you sharing the information you’re trying to keep private, like copies of birth certificates and Social Security numbers.
Many parents and advocates would like an easier process for freezing a child’s credit report. A number of states have passed legislation requiring credit bureaus to work with parents to freeze their children’s credit files. On the federal level, Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin has introduced legislation to allow parents and guardians to create a protected, frozen credit file for their children.
“We’re in a surveillance culture. What happens with our data could have a lasting impact,” says Stickland. “I think it should be a consumer right that your credit should be protected by default.”

Warning signs that your child’s credit may be compromised

  • Rejection for government benefits
  • IRS notices about taxes in your child’s name
  • Collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t buy
  • Claims for medical treatment that they didn’t receive
  • Multiple credit card offers

For more information

How Kids Can Cope With Stress in Our Unpredictable New Reality

This practice gives kids strategies for developing self-awareness, improving mental focus, handling emotions, and increasing kindness and empathy.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, six of the largest school districts in the United States closed, and 1.7 million American students missed school. This figure doesn’t take into account school interruptions after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and elsewhere where officials have no clear timeline for school re-openings for over 350,000 students.
According to some experts, such school closings could have disastrous consequences the likes of which we’ve seen only after Hurricane Katrina. I worry about the students in Texas, Louisiana, Florid, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have been displaced by these recent storms, because they may experience the kind of stress my New Orleans students had to handle in 2005 and 2006. Officials on the ground are already reporting a mental health crisis in Puerto Rico. And, as if the hurricanes aren’t enough, scenes of assault weapons spraying bullets on a crowd in Las Vegas pop up in our children’s news feeds and cause more anxiety.
After Hurricane Katrina forced evacuations and devastated New Orleans, I returned home and volunteered to teach creative writing in a public school. My plan was to help children write stories to express their emotions and creative voice. I quickly discovered, however, that many of my students had high levels of anxiety and poor academic success. They had difficulty focusing in class, following my instruction, and sitting still to write. They also fought with each other on the playground. As I got to know them, I learned why.
Many of these children were growing up in poverty, and their families had limited resources to evacuate during the storm. Some had stayed in New Orleans and witnessed trauma. After Katrina, their families moved to other cities – often living in shelters – and my students had missed school. Like many displaced children, they exhibited depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders. Some also faced other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect, exposure to unsafe environments, and a broken family structure.
Research has shown that children who experience stressful events at an early age may have behavior problems and below-average academic and literacy skills. They are also at increased risk for developing health problems as adults. The good news is that children often respond well to interventions, including classroom mindfulness activities. With a mindfulness program, teachers have reported improved classroom behavior of their students especially in the areas of paying attention, self-control, participation, and respect for others. As a long-time practitioner of mindfulness, I decided to teach my students mindful techniques at the start of each writing class.
Mindfulness is a method of paying attention – on purpose, with kindness and patience – to what’s going on inside and outside of you in each moment. This practice gives adults and children strategies for developing self-awareness and acceptance, improving mental focus, handling difficult emotions, and increasing kindness and empathy. In my writing class, I taught my students many of the mindfulness exercises I still use today as a way of preparing them for the day, and for writing. Here is a sample:

Mindful breathing

Feel your breath come into your nose or mouth, into your lungs, and into your tummy. Feel your lungs release each breath before you take another. Put all of your attention on the air going in and out. If you start thinking about something, shift your attention back to your breathing. This exercise helps you focus on where you are and what you are experiencing in your body in the moment.

Squeeze and release

After taking three mindful breaths, focus your attention on your feet. Squeeze all the muscles tight and then release. Move your attention up your body, squeezing and releasing all your muscle groups until your reach your head. End with three more mindful breaths. This exercise, too, brings your awareness to the physical sensations in your body. You can try it lying down to help you relax.

Mind bubbles

Try this one as a way to release the stressful thoughts that are bothering you. Think of your worries as bubbles that pop. Take three mindful breaths and imagine holding a bubble wand. Breathe in and notice your worry. Breathe out and blow your worry through the wand to form a bubble that floats away and pops. This is a way to see your thoughts as temporary and release them. Repeat the visualization until you feel ready to continue your day. This exercise may not take away immediate problems, but it gives you a tool to release troubling thoughts so you are better prepared to face your life.

Finding the pause

Breathe normally, and at the end of each breath, notice the short pause before you breathe in again. Relax a different part of your body during each pause. Continue as long as you wish, relaxing your whole body a little more with each pause. This exercise helps you handle your emotions and problems with more confidence.
I taught my students these or similar techniques, which we used before writing. In the absence of a controlled study, I can only report that I saw many changes in my students over the school year. At the start of my class, the majority of my students could not write a complete grammatical sentence much less a story with an intact narrative thread.
By the end, every student contributed at least one complete story to our classroom collection, which we printed and bound. They also performed on stage, many reading their writing aloud to a packed auditorium. They also improved in paying attention and controlling their behavior. We simply got along better by the end of the year, and my students were calmer, at least in our classroom.
For the teachers and school administrators who have been affected by the 2017 storms, I wish them courage as they face the challenges of returning to school. They too had to evacuate or shelter in place and may struggle to create a safe environment for their students who could be traumatized. I hope they can put interventions in place that allow for healing and growth during this tough time.
No matter how bleak or surreal our daily reality becomes, our kids don’t deserve to fall into a desensitized-yet-anxious funk we often feel, especially after a series of crises. We owe them a way to cope. Mindfulness is a helpful tool.
For more on mindfulnes, visit Barefoot Books. Whitney Stewart is the author of “Mindful Kids: 50 Activities for Kindness, Focus, and Calm“.
 

Every Mother Deserves a Doula: The Benefits of a Supported BIrth

Supported birth is not just a luxury – it is a complete and utter necessity.

I’m 24-years-old, lying flat on my back in a stiff hospital bed. I’ve been forced here by a nurse who told me that regardless of what my doctor had said, “it’s hospital policy.” I’m entangled in wires, attached to monitors. Gray machines are beeping at me. I’m growing more uncomfortable, being held like a hostage in my own body, and I haven’t even begun to feel the force of my contractions.
“Am I having one now?” I ask naively, when a gentle tightening comes across my belly.
The nurse shifts her gaze to the screen next to the bedside.
“Yeah. You’re having one.”
Within a few hours, being on my back is unbearable. I’m twisting and turning, tying myself in knots. I am not being pounded with one contraction after the next, like I anticipated. I am in constant, unrelenting agony. I am blindsided by it and at a loss for how to manage it.
I sense everyone is angry with me for thrashing wildly, tearing at the bed sheets. But I don’t care because I’m angrier. I’m thinking of the time I spent reading pregnancy books that emphasized how important it was to move during labor, how birthing on your back could make for a longer, more difficult delivery, how your pelvis can’t open when you’re laying flat, and how the risk for cesarean birth increases. I did my research, and here I am, suffering at the hands of someone else’s ignorance. Someone who should know better.
My daughter finally emerges, in the early morning, but not before a doctor picks up a knife a slices me from underneath without warning. I almost yell out “Don’t!” I want to command him, but something, a fear of authority perhaps, holds me back. I don’t yet realize that it will be months before I can sit down without wincing, that my nerves have suffered permanent damage from his deep cut.

The advocate I wish I had

It’s been eight years since my first birth, but I’ll never forget how it felt to be so utterly unsupported on one of the most important days of my life. Yes, my then-partner, now-husband held my leg and said encouraging words. But he’d never attended a birth before. How should he know how to offer labor support? Everyone made it out alive, yes. Is this the only standard by which we measure the experience of giving birth? Escaping death?
No one had seemed to care about my choices, my feelings about my body or my baby, or what my recovery would look like as a result of how my body would be manipulated. There had been no one in the room to help me manage my pain, or to be my advocate when policies that lead to riskier birth were forced upon me. From laboring in bed to the episiotomy I received (a procedure that hasn’t been routinely recommended in over a decade), most of what happened during my first birth wasn’t evidence-based. I knew it at the time, but advocating for yourself while you’re in the throes of labor is practically impossible.
It would be years before I would become pregnant again. When I did, I learned there was a profession called a “doula,” a designated person who provides non-medical support during labor and delivery and in the immediate postpartum. I learned that doulas have the power to drastically improve labor outcomes, from decreasing the rate of cesarean birth by a landslide, to making sure women feel supported, empowered, and comforted during delivery.
Personally, a doula could’ve helped me to achieve an evidence-based birth, rather than one that felt convenient for everyone in the room, but torture for me. A doula could’ve saved me from hours of back labor (the most excruciating pain of my life) by letting me know I had the right to informed refusal (as any patient, even a mother in labor, does). A doula could’ve helped my partner be a better support, or spoken up to hospital staff if medical treatments I didn’t want were being pushed upon me.
A doula could’ve been the light when everything seemed dark and terrifying.

The case for doulas

There is no denying that giving birth in the US has become astonishingly dangerous. From having the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world, to high rates of unnecessary interventions, to women experiencing birth trauma (PTSD-like symptoms post-delivery), supported birth is not just a luxury – it is a complete and utter necessity. Where you give birth is now the biggest predictor of what kind of birth you will have, and your care provider’s preferences and bad hospital policies dictate outcomes, rather than science.
Why shouldn’t they? A traumatic birth can lead to greater cases of postpartum depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Not to mention, the day a woman becomes a mother is a day she will likely remember for the rest of her life. Only too many of us don’t want to.
Women shouldn’t have to learn the hard way that when it comes to giving birth they need to arm themselves with an experienced person whose sole job is to support her, because often times no one else is (or even knows how). It’s why every single pregnant woman deserves a birth doula. It’s why they should be accessible and covered by insurance without question. And because black women are more likely to die in labor than white women, we especially need to make sure women of color have access to doulas, too.
Research also shows that women’s feelings about their births have more to do with labor support and having choices than specific details about the birth. So doulas shouldn’t be brought on board for one specific type of birth. Rather, they should be a standard for every birth. Whether a home birth, a hospital birth, a planned cesarean, or a VBAC, making doulas the new norm can make women feel comforted and supported no matter what type of birth they plan on having – or end up having.
Regardless of positive outcomes demonstrating the importance of labor support, mothers-to-be are routinely subject to messages that tell them that their choices about their own bodies aren’t important. They are told if they plan for their birth at all they will be mocked by the care provider. The narrative of calling women “controlling” or “unreasonable” for wanting to make choices about their own bodies might be centuries old, but it’s certainly not gone. We hear it all the time, and yes – some providers still hold onto the paternalistic attitude that tells women to lay down and be quiet. We should be pushing back against this harmful narrative, not accepting it so easily. These are our births, our bodies, and our babies, after all.
Supported birth is not our normal. We don’t see it or hear about it often enough. And while hospitals and care providers need better policies, training, and an attitude that seeks to protect women’s choices, we still have far to go. Too often, birthing women don’t receive the care they expect. Labor support can help bridge that gap for every birthing person and every type of birth, too.

Illness and Family Dynamics: What Happens When We Get Sick?

It’s what we do as a society when we or our children get sick that highlights a lack of flexibility in our lives.

It’s inevitable that, at some point while raising children, you will be used as a tissue substitute, thrown up on, or pooped on. But it’s what we do as a society when we or our children get sick that highlights a lack of flexibility in our lives.

Lack of sleep never stopped anyone

Everyone has a sick kid tale to tell. My mother tells me about staying up all night with my ill brother when he was a baby. She talks about standing in the shower with him as he coughed, the endless checking of his temperature and the worry for my sister sleeping in the next bedroom.
My mother didn’t sleep that night. By the time the sun had risen, her temperature was rising, too, and she felt that familiar thumping in her head that precedes influenza. That same morning, she drove to the next camp where my father was working, not so he could take over – he was busy building a road and couldn’t take time off – but because it was the agreed upon plan, and illness doesn’t stop motherhood.

What are the options?

Whilst I never drove cross-country with a fever, a sick baby, and an excitable child, I certainly know what it feels like to wake up ill and have that sinking feeling that it can’t make any difference to my day. I’ve begged my husband to stay home, citing a thumping head and a stomach-ache that turned out that night to be appendicitis.
He went to work. He had to, and I understand that. People rely on him, and his work requires a significant amount of notice to enable him to take a day off. This is not about who should or shouldn’t take a day off, or who deserves to be cared for when they’re ill, or exactly how ill you need to be to justify staying or leaving. This is an examination of what we all do, what I’ve done myself, and how I wish we could do better.
Because it feels awful to watch your loved one leave and know that you have to get through at least nine hours without throwing up on your child. It feels awful when you’re the solo parent and you can’t even count down nine hours until you see another adult and have some help.
It feels awful to leave your loved one behind, knowing they’re going to have a terrible day, but that money or your boss’s goodwill just can’t stretch for a day off. It feels awful when your kid says they’ve got a sore throat on the day you’ve got back to back meetings. Dosing them with medicine and sending them anyway becomes a viable choice.
These are all options people routinely choose. Yet, none of them are ideal.

There is no illness!

Many parents have made the choice to ignore their symptoms and just get on with it. In two parent families where one parent is at home, most of the time the other parent will still go to work. Currently, there are no legal requirements for paid sick leave in the U.S. Families are entitled to unpaid sick leave instead. This forces people to choose between leaving their child with an ill care-giver, relying on a support network (which may or may not be available), or losing a day’s wage.
We would never let our children stay with a caregiver who could barely walk, so why do we consider it acceptable to care for our children ourselves when we’re so sick? We do it for two reasons: lack of flexibility in the workplace, and cultural expectations. Our culture is entrenched in the idea that sickness is weakness. We power through. Advertising for medication isn’t about getting better; it’s about masking symptoms and getting on with your day. Stay-at-home parents put a movie on and hope for the best, because really, what other options are there?

I’m not sick, it’s just pneumonia

This ‘powering through’ isn’t limited to stay-at-home-parents. When working parents get sick, they go to work. Time off for illness is rarely available. Given the nature of sickness, it’s not as if you can book a sick day a fortnight in advance for a head-cold. Illness takes us by surprise and often leaves us with the choice of going to work or missing a day’s pay.
Unsurprisingly, research shows that people in low-paying jobs are the most likely to go to work even when they’re sick. This is likely because the consequences of missing that day of work are monetarily more severe than for workers in high-paying jobs. However, 45 percent of people in high-paying jobs still go to work when they’re ill, but they more frequently cite reasons such as letting down co-workers.
The culture of the workplace has a big impact on whether workers come in if they’re sick or not. Companies who have procedures and policies in place involving back-up staff and the flexibility to work from home are less likely to have sick staff in the workplace. Interestingly, companies who have better policies also have workers who take less time off overall.
Families who have found workplaces with flexibility surrounding illness want to keep their jobs, so they work harder even when they’re working from home with sick kids watching a movie. Flexibility is they key to providing families with viable options.

They’re not sick, it’s just…pneumonia

When kids get sick, guess what happens? They still go to school or childcare or wherever they usually go. Four out of 10 working parents say they might send their sick child to school. Six out of 10 do this because they fear they’ll lose their jobs if they take time off to care for their child. Clearly, workplaces hold some of the power here.
Families with children will get sick more frequently throughout the year. A study found that, in childless households, viruses were present four to five weeks in a year, whereas households with children had viruses present up to 45 weeks in a year – that’s 87 percent of the time. We all know that once one person in a family goes down, it’s inevitable that everyone will.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to have a solid plan.

Make a plan, and make it good

Talk to your spouse about what you’ll do when you or the kids get sick. Find out how you both feel about illness and responsibility. Figure out who will do what so you’re not left simmering with both fever and resentment as your partner drives away to work.
Also, find a really good takeaway place, stock up the freezer, or sweet talk Grandma into watching “Moana” on repeat with a sneezing toddler. Try and strengthen your immune system in preparation for flu season. Build up your support network. Even if your friends or family can’t watch your sick children, maybe they could leave a lasagne by the door?
Perhaps most importantly, talk to your workplace about flexibility. We all deserve to know that we’re worth receiving care when we’re sick, whether that’s from a partner, a parent, or an employer.
Planning for sickness will pay off. The way we do things now? It’s a bit sickening.

Why Bad Behavior Is Not Synonymous With Bad Kids

Your kid’s behavior is neither driven by “badness” nor is it a sign of bad parenting. Rather, it’s a sign that you’re not speaking the same language.

Have you ever thought “my kid couldn’t possibly do that” just to find out that he can and he did? Sometimes kids do, well, bad things. Sometimes they’re difficult. But your kid’s behavior is neither driven by “badness” nor is it a sign of bad parenting. Rather, it’s a sign that you’re not speaking the same language. Here are a few tips to help you hit it off.

1 | Get on the same wavelength

You know how sometimes you’ll say something totally innocent and someone else will take your remarks as a personal attack? Well, sometimes it happens even with our own kids. Despite speaking a common language, family members may have different interpretations of family dynamics and behavior.
In other words, families in which members are not the same wavelength have higher levels of tension because of the different ways in which they interpret the same thing. What you perceive as concern, your kid may define as intrusiveness. Being on the same wavelength means making sure your kids understand why you do the things you do, but it also means being able to understand why they act like they do. It also means being clear about your expectations.
Being on the same wavelength means being receptive to your kid’s point of view even when it differs with your own, and being big enough to own even your smallest mistakes.

2 | Your child’s temperament matters

Researchers from the University of Washington found that tailoring parenting styles to kid’s personalities had a significant impact on behavior.
Over a period of three years, the researchers observed how 214 kids interacted with their mothers in the home environment. They observed issues such as everyday conversations, common problems, and conflict (for instance, resistance to homework or chores). They also analyzed parenting styles and focused on issues such as warmth, negativity, autonomy granting, and guidance. Kids’ anxiety and depression levels were also measured and their personality traits identified. The kids were nine years old when the study began.
The researchers came to the following conclusions:

  • The kids’ whose mothers were warm and encouraged them to be independent had less anxiety and depression, but only if these kids had good self-control
  • The kids who had good self-control but whose parents were over-controlling and provided them with few opportunities to cultivate independence had higher levels of depression and anxiety
  • The kids who had poor self-control were less anxious when their mothers provided more structured environments and less autonomy
  • If the mothers of kids with poor self-control skills provided little control, the kids’ anxiety doubled
  • Maternal negativity increased depression among kids low in fear

As the study shows, parenting styles are more likely to have an impact on kids’ behavior if they are tailored to their personalities.

3 | Parenting is a relationship

Relationships thrive when there’s mutual respect. They thrive when all concerned parties feel appreciated and heard. How we treat our kids speaks volumes about how we view our relationship with them.
Much evidence suggests that adopting a positive discipline approach improves kids’ well-being and behavior and also strengthens the parent-child bond. Positive and intentional parenting approaches can enable parents to use discipline techniques without negatively affecting kid’s development outcomes.

4 | Don’t forget that emotions are a big deal

It is now widely accepted that kids’ inability to manage their emotions explains much of their “misbehavior.” Indeed, much like adults, kids find it hard to communicate about complex issues. When you use age-appropriate strategies to help your kid identify his emotions, you help cultivate his emotional intelligence. You teach her that it is normal and okay to have emotions, but also that each and every one of us can learn to control our emotions. Evidence suggests that kids who have learned to regulate their emotions have lower levels of depression and anxiety.

5 | Need for professional help

In the study cited above, the researchers from the University of Washington found that kids’ temperament may render them vulnerable to certain behavioral problems, regardless of parenting. In other words, despite your best intentions, you might be unable to help your kid. When you lack the necessary skills and resources to help, turning to a skilled professional can help both you and your kid get over difficult moments. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

What Are We Apologizing for When We Apologize for Our Kids?

What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid.

“I’m sorry” I mutter when my three-year-old bumps into a stranger’s legs at the store.
“I’m sorry” when we cancel because she woke up at 3 a.m., was a terror all day, and finally went down for a nap.
“I’m sorry” that he can’t eat the treats because of food allergies.
“I’m sorry” when the two year old doesn’t share a favorite toy.
“I’m sorry” about the wiggles and squeals we try to suppress at church.
“I’m sorry” he acts hyper when he feels overwhelmed.
“I’m sorry” she wet her pants.
“I’m sorry” he’s eating your snacks.
“I’m sorry” she clings to the teacher in class.
“I’m sorry” someone pushed.
“I’m sorry” he’s standing too close to her.
“I’m sorry” they are loud.
“I’m sorry” they are in your way.
So many sorrys.
Recently we traveled to visit family. During the first part of our trip I spent a lot of time saying sorry – for spills, messes, misbehaviors, and early mornings. One afternoon, after struggling for several hours to get my kids to take naps, we showed up late at my grandma’s house for a playdate we had planned. When she answered the door I immediately began explaining myself, doing the “mommy sorry.” She cut me off, mid-apology. Looking me directly in my eyes as I fought off some tears of overwhelm, she said, “Please. You don’t ever need to apologize. We are in this together. We can be flexible.”
Her words melted me and all my mommy-insecurity into a big puddle of tears, right there on her porch. This was a veteran mom of six children talking. But more importantly it was my grandma, someone who loves and sees me and my kids for who we are, not how well we perform.
Her words lodged themselves in my heart, and they have caused me to think a lot about the superfluous “mommy sorry.” Why do so many of us do it? I hear you apologize for your kid not answering adults when asked a question, for your toddler not sharing, for countless other social infractions. I know I’ve said my share of sorrys too.
Why do we apologize for the growing process of our little people when it is not something we can control by verbally taking responsibility for it? Are we actually sorry? Their very existence hinges on inconveniencing others. When we say sorry for everything about our kids, it starts to sound like we are apologizing for the very fact they exist and for the people they are.
What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have been more concerned about pleasing others than properly parenting my kids. I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid. Or having food allergies. Or not sharing, although pediatricians say kids can’t understand sharing until age three. Why do I apologize for the social behaviors of these small people? For them not yet understanding personal space. For being attached to their mom. For struggling to master the art of whispering. For not noticing they are in the way because their eyes can’t even see over the shopping cart. Why do I apologize for their physical needs and the instincts they follow to meet them? Like wanting someone else’s snacks. Or taking a really long nap. Or having an accident in the middle of Target.
I’ve realized if there’s anyone’s forgiveness I should ask, it’s my kids. I hope they forgive me for the times I have apologized for their kid-ness. I want them to know I am not ashamed of them or embarrassed about the things that make them kids. Those sorrys were voiced by Mom’s insecurity, not her heart.
Parents of the world – can we stop apologizing to one another for our kids being kids? After all, we are all in this together. We can be flexible with each other as we all do our best to raise kind and responsible people. Let’s support more and judge less. Let’s be the village it takes to raise a child.

Determination

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
What a mundane word: determination. Used so casually to describe the driving force behind menial tasks. “Sure took a lot of determination to carry all those groceries in by yourself.” To me, determination means so much more. Sometimes determination is all you have.
Daylight breaks, warm rays of sun fall on your bed and face. Your eyes open and, for a moment, just a moment, you feel at peace.
Pain. Pain hits you like a truck. It doesn’t trickle in from a tap, it pours in from a waterfall. You can feel it everywhere. As it sinks in, saturating your hopes for the day, your ambitions, your solitude, it meets a wall. This wall is my determination not to let chronic pain steal my day.
Lists and lists of things that must be done…. Doctor appointments to book, parent and teacher interviews to arrange, bills to pay, a house to clean, dogs to walk, cats to feed, an Individual Program Plan to review, exams to study for, Low Vision and Autism information sites to read, and I will probably have to pee a few times.
Did I take my meds? Give my son his meds? I must have. I do it twice a day, every day.
There is the pain, still there, eating at me.
Eight things off the list. Have I sat down yet?
What can I postpone? I will get through this day. My pain won’t destroy me. I have unending determination.
Made it. Sort of. I am behind on my chores, phone calls, studies, writing, marketing, health, and organization of a future for my little family. Me and my boys. We have a happy place in this world. We are finding our way.
There are extracurricular and volunteering activities to attend to. That’s fun. Busy, but fun. We have colleges to look at, plans to make, and upcoming holidays. Terrifying, but fun. I can fit in my medical appointments, surgeries, and exams. Somewhere. As long as my son’s shunt doesn’t malfunction, as long as he doesn’t have a seizure, or my truck doesn’t break down, or….
I am determined to not let those things happen and have even more determination to handle them when they do.
The day is moving quickly. A few new symptoms. What’s that about? My son had a headache at school and his aide was being “mean.” But hey, we are down to four headaches a week. That’s great news. No homework? Even better. Let’s cook together. Life skills for the future, boys! Plus, it’s fun.
A bit hard to peel sweet potato when your back feels burned by stabbing hot pokers and your foot is half dead. Even more difficult to cook, make lunches, feed and walk dogs, deal with paperwork, and organize showers when you have more knots in your muscles than a lobster trap and the pain-induced nausea drowns your thoughts.
Let’s do this. My determination will see me through.
Finally, time to sleep. I hope I can sleep. The hours before I drift off are for reflecting, clenching the pain aside, taking mental inventory of coping resources: I kept my temper, didn’t lose my patience, listened to stories of grand dreams, computer games, Sci-fy books, girls, and heard a bit of bickering, of course.
Smiles, laughter, stories, that’s what its all about. Goals, dreams, ambitions, that’s what it’s all for. Maybe I will get my degree, go back to work full time, become an accomplished author. Maybe my son will become the biologist and fabulous family man that he hopes to be, and possibly my other son will receive all the external supports he will require to be an independent adult and marry a movie star….
We will have bumps along the way. Chronic illness does that to you. But we have made it this far. We know a little determination goes a long way.
And it carries all the groceries in, too.

Questions Not to Ask a Woman Who Has Passed Her Due Date

If you hope not to piss off a woman who has passed her due date, never ask the following

I’ve carried four babies to full-term and passed my due date twice. Those last few weeks with each were brutally long and miserable. Unfortunately, the constant checking-in by well-meaning family and friends didn’t really help my mood or my patience level.
But it wasn’t the well-wishes that drove me crazy after I’d passed my due date. It was the ridiculous questions people constantly asked.
While I know each family member and dear friend had good intentions, their constant prodding left me feeling more judged than loved and supported: Am I doing enough? Do they think I don’t want this baby to come?!
If you hope not to piss off a woman who has passed her due date, never ask the following:

Still no baby?

It seems like an innocent enough question, and you’ll probably get a polite smile and short, sweet response, but really, it’s a silly question with no good answer.
Unless you’re dealing with an unusually cheerful pregnant woman (which is a rare thing after 40+ weeks), she’ll probably be running through a lengthy list of snarky responses in her mind, such as “Are you blind?!” and “Would I be here or doing this if the baby was here already?!”

Weren’t you due…?

Seriously, people, stop with the “due date is a blood oath” idea. Less than five percent of babies are born on their due date. Medical professionals refer to an “EDD” (estimated due date) because babies can come any time.
Full-term is a range, generally accepted as between 39 and 42 weeks. Most first-time moms welcome their babies after their due date, so let’s stop assuming the baby will arrive on or before that “magic” day. It’s not a package delivery and there are no guarantees.

Have you tried…?

There are a thousand ways one can try to induce labor “naturally,” and chances are, the pregnant woman you’re talking to has tried one or all of them already.
From walking to eating pineapple to ripen the cervix to “what got the baby in there,” most pregnant women who have passed their due dates have already explored the options. Unless they specifically ask for your advice, it’s probably best to just leave it alone.

Are you going to be induced?

Induction is so common these days that it may seem like a harmless question. A third of births that reach 41 to 42 weeks result in induction.
Despite this frequency, however, induction is a pretty serious medical intervention that involves risks for both mother (increased risk of postpartum depression and up to six times higher chance of a c-section) and baby (oxygen desaturation and significantly more occurrences of non-reassuring fetal heart rates).
Induction is a decision that really only needs to be discussed between a woman and her healthcare provider, not every acquaintance she runs into at the grocery store.

Are you ready?

I’ll venture to guess that nearly all women are ready for their baby’s arrival by their due date, at the latest. By the time the due date has come and gone, most women have prepared, and re-prepared, and re-prepared again.
Constantly doing all the tasks that she wants done before baby arrives, like having the house clean or the laundry done, can make an expectant mother go crazy as she spends her days wondering how much more cleaning and laundry she will have to do before the baby actually gets here.

What are you doing here?

Clearly, every pregnant woman who is waiting for her baby to arrive should be at home doing…I’m not exactly sure what. Waiting? Driving herself crazy waiting? Wondering when it’s going to happen? Wondering if it’s happening and she doesn’t realize it? Wondering why the hell it isn’t happening?
Yeah, no. The best thing a pregnant woman can do while waiting is to keep busy. It not only keeps her mind off the waiting, but normal human activity can also get the baby to actually come.

Are you going to try to have the baby before the storm?

Three of my babies came during hurricane season in South Florida, so I’m no stranger to preparing for delivery and a major storm at the same time. While not being able to get to a hospital during labor because of a natural disaster is certainly a terrifying prospect, bringing it up to a hugely pregnant woman who has probably been thinking about it non-stop is less than helpful.
Plus, babies are much safer and easier to manage during a natural disaster when they’re still in utero than after they’re born. So no, I will not “try” to have the baby before the storm.
So what should you say? Instead of prodding too much or drawing attention to the obvious, it’s best to stick with a simple “How you feeling?” or “I’m thinking of you” or, most helpful of all, “Is there anything I can do?