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When Kids Make Fun of Kids

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It’s possible to turn kids making fun of other kids . . . into something positive.

A mother recently shared that another child was mimicking her daughter’s speech. She admitted that her daughter’s speech is sometimes hard to understand, but nonetheless, she was upset by this.

I certainly understand a knee-jerk reaction of wanting to shield and protect our kids from such negative interactions.  But since we cannot control what others say and do, I actually find such situations to be  . . . unexpected gifts.

How can that be? Well, it gives us a chance (as parents) to teach our kids how to respond when others aren’t acting in ways we perceive to be kind or understanding.  In truth, we all continue to experience such unpleasantness throughout our lives. So why not help our kids build effective brain maps right now—when they are young—so that such negativity doesn’t throw them off balance, now or later.

For example, we can teach our kids not to cringe or withdraw or even judge the person who wasn’t responding as we’d like.

We do this by role-playing what our child might say to shift the spotlight back on that person who initiates the negativity.

For example, in this case, our child might say: “I was wondering why you’re imitating how I speak.”

With that single comment, we empower our child how to quickly redirect the focus back to the other person, as well as teach her to ask others to clarify their intent.  Wouldn’t that be a helpful brain map to have throughout life?

Or, our child could ask: “How were you hoping I’d respond when you imitate how I speak?”

Again, this comment puts the spotlight back on that person—so that he’s the one on center-stage and is now the person who has to come up with a response.

Of course, it’s unlikely the child will say something as direct as, “Well, I was hoping you’d cry because I’m mean.”  But even if the child says that, then this immediately erases any doubt the comment was really about him—and not our child.

But more likely, the response will be something along the lines of, “Uh, I don’t know” or “I just thought it was funny.”

So we teach our child to follow up (regardless of what the person says) with only this short sentence: “Thanks for sharing that.”

Nothing more needs to be said because our child has already accomplished the original goal: She has nicely shifted that she, not the other child, has been in control of this interaction.

Or, our child can even just say from the get-go:  “Thanks for giving me feedback that it’s sometimes hard to understand my speech.  Good to know that I’m working hard at building highways in my brain so that it will be easier to understand me.”

It’s irrelevant whether or not the other child processes that message. When our child says this truth aloud, it reminds her why her speech may seem unintelligible to others—and that it won’t be that way forever.

So, while it sounds odd, kids making fun of other kids can actually be a wonderful gift—if we choose to view it that way.  In fact, all challenges are really just opportunities (in disguise) to learn.

 

Autism Criteria May Be Changed

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How will changing the autism criteria help kids?

That was the headline in today’s paper.  So, if your child was diagnosed with autism in the past, he could be instantly “cured” in the near future—if he doesn’t fit the new definition.  But why doesn’t that sound . . . right?

Here’s what has transpired to date. A panel of experts, appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, is recommending pretty dramatic changes in the present criteria for diagnosing autism.

For example, with the new guidelines, there would no longer be related disorder categories, such as Asperger’s or PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified).

Instead, there would be just one autism spectrum disorder, and qualifying for that diagnosis would be much more difficult than the current guidelines.

But here’s the upside. These experts claim that such changes could dramatically affect the rate of autism.(In some places, the rate of autism is now as high as 1 in 100 children.)  In fact, Dr. Fred R. Volkman, director of the Child Study Center at Yale University of Medicine says, “The proposed changes would put an end to the autism epidemic.  We would nip it in the bud.”

Okay, first pause.

Changing statistics do not improve a problem.  For example, we could raise the driving alcohol limit, and thereby greatly reduce the number of people arrested for drunk driving. But a change in those statistics wouldn’t mean we’re now any safer on the road. In fact, changing the criteria for drunk driving (by making it so less people were deemed driving under the influence) would only put everyone more at risk.

Second pause.

Is money partially (or completely) driving this reclassification?  With the current criteria, hundreds of thousands of people receive state-backed special services. So, you gotta wonder if tightening the criteria for autism and eliminating its related disorders isn’t just a creative way to help fix existing state budget problems.

That being said, diagnosing autism and its related disorders has always been subjective, and this latest attempt to change the criteria underscores that point. In other words, such diagnoses have never come about in the same way, for example, as a cancer diagnosis—where there’s tangible “proof.”

And here’s another truth: While parents of kids with Asperger’s and PDD-NOS may presently qualify for certain resources, those services are limited. Often, such assistance does not even render significant results.

So maybe this is one of those blessings in disguise.

Maybe—if such changes pass—more parents will be motivated to learn about brain organization and how they can facilitate positive changes in their child’s brain wiring.  Maybe more parents will no longer be resigned to out-of-bounds behaviors that they’ve been told to “expect” if their child has autism or one of its related disorders.

And maybe, just maybe, the focus will return to this question: How can we best help kids who are struggling?  If that is the driving question, then having or not having a diagnosis becomes irrelevant.

 

Lessons We Can All Learn from My 94-Year-Old Dad

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We will all be lucky if we age like my dad.

My dad just recently started to age. Truly. A year ago, he was still playing golf twice a week—even though he was 93 at the time.  He only started using a cane six months ago (and it’s one he personally created out of a dowel stick, with a golf-ball-handle on top), and it’s just been a little over two months since he stopped driving altogether.

So it’s entirely new for me to watch my dad . . . finally age and require some modifications in his life.

But rather than focus on what he no longer can do, I decided to see what kinds of lessons I might learn as he enters this new stage of life. It turns out this was much easier to do than I thought.  Here’s some of what I’ve gleaned.

Experience 1: My dad’s vision has diminished somewhat, so I recently bought him a phone with extra large buttons and offered to copy his personal phone directory in large, bold font. But while the time-worn book was filled with lots of names, he only wanted me to copy the numbers of these few people: his daughters, sisters, and grandkids.  That was it.

The Lesson: Most people in our lives come and go, yet a small inner circle will remain with us for life.  So the next time a coworker or neighbor or teacher upsets us, we can ask ourselves: When I’m 94, is this person going to make the cut in my new phone book? Could be a helpful guideline for deciding who’s worth getting distressed over right now.

Experience 2:  I’ve never known my dad to drink wine, and he has probably had a total of a dozen or so beers in his entire life.  But recently, he started drinking wine with his “girlfriend.” (My mother died after they had been married for 50 years, and he’s been with his girlfriend for the last ten years.)

The other night we were all out to dinner, and they were both having a glass of wine.  While she has always enjoyed wine, I confess it was such an odd picture for me to see my dad drinking out of a goblet.

So I nonchalantly asked why (after all these years) he had now decided to drink wine.  Without missing beat, he raised his glass and toasted it against his girlfriend’s glass and said, “So that I can do that.” And then with a twinkle in his eye, he added, “I couldn’t do that if she was drinking alone.”

The Lesson: With my dad’s new changes, he can no longer help his girlfriend in some of the ways that he previously did. So, he has found a new way to make her smile. Bottom line: If we’re willing to explore possibilities, there’s always a new option.

Experience 3: Since I started taking my dad to his doctor appointments, I noticed a disturbing theme. The doctors turn their back on my dad and talk to me—as though he isn’t even present.  After the third time this happened, I brought it up to my dad.  I was getting pretty huffy about it, but he merely shrugged his shoulders and said, “They just don’t have experience treating a 94-year-old patient.”

The Lesson:  Insight over indignation is always a much better way to go.

Experience 4:  My dad does not talk about what he can no longer do or what he now does more slowly than before. Instead, he proudly shows off what he can do—and that’s a lot.

For example, while he’s no longer driving to the grocery store, he does all his own shopping once someone takes him there. While he has some difficulty seeing the line to sign on his credit card, he whips it out of his wallet right on cue. If you shake his hand, be prepared for a grip that rivals young twenty-year-olds.  The list goes on.

The Lesson: There are always going to be negatives and positives in our lives. That’s a given. However, we can choose which of those two we decide to focus on.

Experience 5:  For as long as I’ve known my dad, he has eaten the same breakfast, for which he preps each night. He’s still doing this; however, he recently asked me, “How would you define optimism for a 94-year-old man?” His answer was:  A guy who prepares his breakfast . . . the night before.

The Lesson: It’s important to have a sense of humor at any age.

Now, it’s not as though my dad has lived a charmed life. Not at all. He’s a WWII veteran with some pretty horrific war experiences. In his forties, he was robbed at gunpoint. He has had cancer not once, not twice—but five times.

Yet, he never complains about anything.  There is something to learn from that, too.

So as I spend time with my dad in this new phase of his life, I’m going to keep focusing on the positive and see what other life lessons I can extrapolate from our time together. That’s because I want to feel joy, not sadness, as he continues to age.

And that  . . . seems the best way to honor how he’s lived for over nine decades.

 

Why Kids Lie

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After our child makes a poor decision, does he believe that lying is his best response?

There are three reasons kids lie.  When we understand those differences, we know how best to respond.

Kids lie because:

1) They don’t process information well.

In such instances, they really think they heard you (or someone else) say something—even when that’s not the case. There’s often even some shred of “truth” to their fabrication.

For example, suppose our child hears us say that we’d love to go to Hawaii for Christmas, but her brain processes that as  . . . We’re going to Hawaii for Christmas!

So that’s what she tells everyone. She may even get upset when called out for her “lie”—since she really believes that’s what was said.

2) They don’t interact well in social conversations.

The intent, here, is not to create a lie to evade responsibility for something they may have said and done.

Instead, such kids come up with something often wildly preposterous as a way to circumvent feeling uneasy and to start or become part of an on-going conversation. For example, they may say that they saw a famous pop star when they were at the store.  Or they’ll say something such as, “It snowed at my house yesterday”—but they live by the beach in Southern California.

When called out on the whopper—which is what usually happens—the child insists that whatever she said was the truth. In fact, the more someone challenges the whopper, the more adamant she becomes.

So the whopper becomes a way to shift an initial friendly conversation into an argument. And guess what?  That kind of interaction actually feels good and familiar to the child who told the whopper. So, now she’s at ease (which was the original, subconscious goal).

3) They want to avoid judgment and punishment. 

From these kids’ perspective, it’s more appealing to lie than tell the truth because the former (at least) creates the possibility of avoiding a negative response.  In other words, this kind of lie is more of a protective, fear-based reaction to how such kids project someone might respond if they “find out” what they did.

There’s a common thread among kids who tell these kinds of lies.  Usually, those in charge of them tend to be attached to an outcome, judge if such outcomes don’t meet their criteria, use lots of judgmental words in their daily interactions, and resort to punishment if behavior is not up to their standard.

So how do we respond to such different kinds of lies?

If we realize that our child doesn’t process information well, we initiate a general discussion on this topic. We make sure to do this when we’re all “in our cortex” (versus right after there’s been a miscommunication).

We may even play the game “Telephone” to underscore the idea that communications are not always processed as they were actually said.  We then establish some kind of code word to use if our child now says something that she believes to be true, but we know . . .  wasn’t actually processed as intended.

At various times, we can also ask our child to tell us what she thinks we just said (especially if we don’t think she processed the message). Doing so gives us a chance to clarify any misinterpretation, right then.

If our child tells whoppers, we no longer call her out.  In fact, we completely ignore all whoppers. Instead, we use that as our cue to see how we might include our child in the current conversation in a way that puts her at ease. We may also seek ways to help her, in general, become more skilled in the art of making conversation.

If our child tells lies as a fear-based reaction, we first reflect on how we actually deal with mistakes in our home that perpetuates such fear.  Do we yell? Do we judge? Are we demeaning? Do we immediately punish?

If so, then it’s really no surprise that our child concludes it’s better to lie than tell the truth—even though such conclusion is not viewed similarly by others.

But trust is also a two-way street. While we want to be able to trust our child, here’s the second part of that equation: Does she trust us?  In other words, why doesn’t our child believe she can tell us the truth?

That may be a hard question to answer. But more times than not, such answers are the catalyst for changing a child who lies into one who tells the truth.

We may also ponder these questions: Has our child ever had a positive experience where telling the truth served her well? Has anyone actually taught her how to take responsibility if she makes a poor decision?

I’m not advocating that if kids tell the truth, then they just waltz away without any more ado.  Not at all.

But if our kids don’t first trust us enough to share the truth, then we miss incredible opportunities to teach them.

For example, when they feel secure enough to admit when they’ve “messed up,” we can now help them explore ways to rectify that situation. We can teach them not only to learn from their mistakes, but also how to accept responsibility for their actions. It seems like those experiences would build ever-lasting character and serve our child—in the long run—far more than issuing a generic punishment for lying.

So I’m not sure that it’s ever helpful to view a child as “a liar.”  Instead, we can opt to hear such responses (if they happen) as mere feedback that gives us insights—both about our child and ourselves—so that we may know how to respond in a way that moves everyone forward.

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