When I watch kids at the beach, I always find myself smiling. It may be one of the few places where kids can be loud and dirty and run here and there—without adults telling them to lower their voice, wash their hands, and sit still.
So I’ve come to think of the beach as a safe haven for kids, a place where they can just naturally be their age without conforming to adult perceptions as to what is “proper.”
Camping in the woods also comes to mind as another safe haven for kids. Once again, in this environment, adults seem to “let go” of their need for quiet voices, cleanliness, and being still.
But not everyone has access to the beach or woods or, if so, there probably isn’t time to go there every day.
Yet, that doesn’t change kids’ need for daily downtime in a place where they truly can be themselves without adult restraints.
No, I’m not talking about allowing kids to run amok or do something harmful. I’m just advocating that we allow kids time each day where they go with their own flow, move at their own pace, and engage in activities that naturally appeal to them.
With that mindset, we can be creative and ensure our kids engage in daily safe haven time. So, how might we do this within our already hectic schedules?
First, we need to list our possible safe haven environments. On such a list, we may write: the park, the backyard, the bedroom, the beach.
Note that some of those possibilities include places within the confines of our own home. That then makes it easier to implement daily, rather than weekly, safe haven time. In other words, if we don’t have to do more than open a door (to go to the backyard) or close a door (to go in a bedroom) on our part, then scheduling daily safe haven time won’t be that challenging.
So, what might be some guidelines for safe haven time? Here are some suggestions:
If we do the last suggestion, we may (initially) experience that our child has no clue what to do. So, he turns to us for some ideas. If so, we say no more than, “Just go with your intuition. What sounds fun or interesting to explore?”
In such case, we may also ponder: Is our child’s life so programmed that he has lost his natural spontaneity? If so, then asking for help with safe haven time can be viewed as feedback to ensure that we implement this daily.
But more than likely, you’ll get a different response. Watch your child’s facial expression when you tell him he’s now going to have daily safe haven time, where no adults are going to be on him to do this or that. You’ll probably see a look of sheer joy.
And that expression and feeling is what we want to make sure is part of our child’s life—each and every day.
I was cleaning through an old cupboard when I came across a half-piece of paper written by my then seven-year-old daughter.
The paper said:
A paragraph about life!
Life is a wonderful thing. You can dance. You can play. You can jump. You can write. You can live. Use your life!
She’s now 26, and guess what?
She still dances (she is always enrolled in some kind of dance class). She has a high-level position—that she loves—at a prestigious company that requires her to use her writing skills daily. And yes, she makes time to play.
So how do we keep that child-spirit alive in our kids so that it stays with them as adults?
I’d like to say I had it figured out back then, with a set plan in place. But that wouldn’t be the case. So, I’ve pondered what (by chance) created such a lasting free spirit.
Here’s what I came up with:
Those are pretty easy “doables” for any parent to adopt.
So, here’s a challenge. Ask your kids: What would you say in a paragraph about life?
If your children’s answers reflect joy and a carefree spirit . . . smile, and know they’ll take that mindset with them when they leave home.
But what if you get a different kind of answer? Well, maybe that’s an invitation to try one or more of the above. After all, any paragraph on life can be rewritten.
What if our lives could be enhanced by eliminating just one word? Sound too far-fetched?
Not really, when we see how the word “should” interferes with positive thinking and our daily interactions.
So, what’s wrong with the word “should”?
Well, if used when talking to someone else, “should” is always attached to some kind of (most often, unsolicited) judgment, whereupon the speaker assumes the addressee is “sub par” in some way.
But that judgment is based on the speaker’s own personal expectations—even though the thought is expressed as though the whole world is in agreement. Most significantly, thoughts with “should” in them do not offer ways to help.
Here are some common judging statements and how they might be modified to do the latter.
“You should pay more attention when I’m talking to you.”
How can I help you stay focused when I’m talking to you?
“You should be nicer to your brother.”
Let’s role-play ways to play with your brother so no one gets upset.
“You should be more organized with your school work.”
Would you like ideas on how to organize your homework so that you know when assignments are due?
We also use “should” a lot in terms of how we view ourselves. In fact, many of us are harder on ourselves than others.
Here, our “should” thoughts seem to infer that we expect ourselves to perform at some high standard all the time. And, once again, that kind of judgmental mindset does nothing to move us forward.
So if we find ourselves saying that we “should have” done something, we can have fun and first mock ourselves—and then reframe the thought in a constructive way. For example:
“I should have known he was going to cause trouble.”
Why? Am I suddenly clairvoyant?
I will address whatever happened in the way that that moves everyone forward.
“I should have never eaten that chocolate cake.”
Why? Am I never allowed to indulge myself?
I will limit myself to two desserts a week.
“I should have paid the bills on time.”
Why? Am I so perfectly organized (or have so much free time) that it’s inconceivable I could ever be late?
I will make paying the bills a high priority next month.
Even more positively oriented statements such as: “I should join a book club” can be tweaked to eliminate all judgment: “I will explore whether there’s a local book club I can join.”
So, hope the word “should” isn’t taking it personal when I write that I’ve decided to toss it out of my vocabulary. Just seems like a really easy way to stay positive.
From the time my girls were little, they learned to do something we coined “taking care of business.” That meant they figured out how to get their needs met—while staying calm and addressing the needs of others involved in the situation.
Both my girls are now in their mid-twenties, and they’re making their mark in the world. But over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the phone where one of my daughters started the conversation by saying, “I took care of business today”—and then proudly proceeded to share how she approached a current problem with that mindset.
Last night I received one of those calls from my youngest daughter. She is the owner of the Brain Highways Center in Denver, and it turns out that the gas station right by her place was chosen by talk show host Ellen Degeneres to be part of a free gas give-away promotion. But it was top-secret until the name of the gas station was announced to the public.
So there was pandemonium as soon as the people of Centennial (a suburb of Denver) heard the news. Lines and lines of cars backed up with people waiting for their turn at the pump. Multiple police officers had to even arrive on the scene, just to keep the mayhem to a minimum.
But not everyone wanted free gas. Some of those cars had parents and their kids, who were on their way to Brain Highways. Yet, they were now stuck in a line of backed up cars with no hopes of making their class on time.
Kiley (my daughter) knew those families would be upset if they missed class. She also knew that many of them came from as far as 60 miles away, so it would be extra frustrating to have driven all that way for nothing.
That’s when she decided . . . to take care of business.
First, she walked over to the gas station to get clarification as to what was going on and why the other businesses hadn’t been notified. (The promotion literally shut down every business in that shopping center.)
She quickly learned it was an Ellen Degeneres promotion and that keeping everything confidential—down to the last minute—was part of the deal.
With that information, Kiley graciously acknowledged how the owner of the gas station certainly wouldn’t have wanted to jeopardize the promotion by breaking the rules. But, as the owner of Brain Highways Denver, she knew her families were going to be upset and frustrated if they missed class. So how could they move forward?
Here’s what “taking care of business” brought about:
1) The police officers agreed to give V.I.P. treatment to the Brain Highways families by holding off oncoming traffic and re-routing the Brain Highways families into the shopping center.
2) Brain Highways staff quickly got on the phone and called the rest of the families who were scheduled to come to classes that day so they now had the heads-up to tell the police officers, “We’re on our way to Brain Highways.”
3) The gas station owner gave Kiley $400.00 worth of gas cards, which she, in turn, gave to her families and staff to help compensate for any inconvenience they may have endured while trying to get to the Brain Highways Center.
4) The owner of the gas station came over to the Brain Highways Center that evening to personally apologize, again, for the inconvenience.
To Kiley’s knowledge, none of the other businesses in her same shopping center did anything—other than complain and get upset over the situation. My guess is . . . they’re still angry today about yesterday’s lost revenues.
But here’s the good news for those business owners and everyone else. Anyone can learn to “take care of business”—at any age. It merely begins with this mindset: If we stay in our cortex and approach situations with a problem-solving perspective, it’s possible to meet everyone’s needs.
Now doesn’t that sound like a world we’d all like to live in?
Here’s an idea for an invention that might revolutionize teaching.
I’m picturing a small machine that is hooked up to each student’s cortex—the thinking, logical part of the brain. As students access their cortex during lessons, teachers would now see different sections of those kids’ forehead light up as they process, ponder, and reflect on the information being presented.
However, if students are stuck in the primitive parts of their brain, teachers would now just see black, empty screens on those kids’ forehead.
So how would this nifty invention make a difference? Well, what if teachers, for example, note that 75% of their students have a black, empty screen? Yikes.
I’m thinking that’s going to make it a lot harder to continue with the lesson as planned. I’m also thinking there’d be more understanding and incentive to implement teaching techniques that address the probability that some (or many) students in a classroom have underdeveloped lower centers of the brain.
But, in truth, we don’t really need that invention. We already know there are kids in the classroom without complete lower brain development—those who have to juggle between paying attention to the lesson and finding ways to compensate for missing automatic brain functions.
We already know that when such underdevelopment is present, it doesn’t take much to trigger a “primitive brain response”—and once kids are in that state, no learning at all is going to happen (i.e. we’re back to the black, empty screen).
So why not forge ahead with various actions to ensure learning is accessible to everyone? Here are some simple ways to do just that.
1. Toss the idea that kids have to “sit up and be still” in order to pay attention.
When the vestibular system is not functioning properly, movement wakes up the brain. So when such kids rock or wiggle in their chair, this actually helps—not hinders—their ability to focus. Similarly, when kids have retained primitive reflexes, they’ll slouch or sit in chairs in odd positions but that, too, actually make it easier for them to pay attention.
2. Provide opportunities for kids to get up and move within lessons.
We all need to move to stay focused. The irony is . . . the classroom teacher is often the one who moves the most in the classroom.
3. Ask questions instead of issuing directives.
Kids with underdeveloped lower centers of the brain may not process directives the same way others hear it. In such case, a directive may become distorted and trigger a response that often seems disproportionate to what was actually said.
For example, a simple statement, such as, “Thomas, put away your book,” may be heard as: “THOMAS! PUT AWAY YOUR BOOK!” In such case, Thomas now responds as though someone had just threatened and yelled at him.
On the other hand, if we forgo directives and ask questions, we avoid this possibility altogether. Here, the teacher would say, “Thomas, did you think we wanted your book on top of your desk or inside?”
In short, questions are always processed in the cortex (where we want students to be at all times).
4. Reduce visual stimuli on the walls, ceilings, desks, and around the white board.
Some kids with an underdeveloped midbrain also have what’s called a visual figure-ground problem. Here, the brain has difficulty relegating information to the “background” and keeping what’s important in the foreground. So all those extras (that we thought were providing a stimulating room environment) are just sensory overload for many kids.
5. Keep directions short. Model both what you do and do not want to happen.
Kids with an underdeveloped midbrain don’t often process speech at the same speed as the rest of us. So, when teachers fire off multi-step directions, these kids are still processing the first part while teachers are now explaining the next step. We also increase the probability of kids comprehending directions if we take a few seconds to model what we don’t want to happen. Such contrast helps to make the desired action crystal clear.
6. Pass out materials only after the directions have been given.
When the midbrain is underdeveloped, it’s often like we have a magnetic draw to touch whatever is in front of us. So, by waiting to pass out materials, we automatically ensure that such kids are not playing with materials when directions are given.
7. Refrain from requiring kids to make eye contact.
If kids’ don’t have good peripheral vision (which is often the case with underdeveloped lower centers of the brain), they’re not going to be able to sustain good eye contact, whereas kids with poor eye teaming may actually see multiple images if forced to look directly at the person talking.
In short, kids with limited peripheral vision and poor eye teaming will be able to pay better attention to what the person is saying if they’re not required to make eye contact.
8. Honor the act of thinking, rather than getting the “right” answer.
If teachers deem an answer “wrong” in front of the whole class, kids with underdeveloped lower centers of the brain are likely to shut down or respond negatively (i.e. we see the black, empty screen when we’re in the survival part of the brain). That’s because such kids are “wired” to go into fight-or-flight behavior as soon as they feel threatened or fearful or uncomfortable.
So what can teachers do instead? Well, they can thank the student for giving the question “a whirl,” as well as acknowledge the thinking that went into the response.
Just eight simple tips . . . yet they can radically change many kids’ learning experience. What would it take to make these changes in every classroom?
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.
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.
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.