Parenting Introverted Children Well

Parenting Introverted Children Well

Introverted Children are Everywhere

All moms know how challenging, confusing and exhausting parenting can be.  However, the ups and the downs are all part of a beautiful journey that grows us as women, as wives, friends, as Christians and of course as mothers.   With that in mind,  I’ll never forget the afternoon several years ago, when I discovered that I was raising an introverted child.  My sweet friend Amy made me aware of the obvious truth that I had been so blind to for so long.  She opened my eyes to the reality that there are introverted children (and adults) everywhere.

Lindsay, she is an introvert.  She was just upstairs with the girls.  She needs time to regroup.  She is an introvert.

 

What is Introversion?

According to verywellmind.com, introverted children (and adults) may be described this way:

Introverts tend to be more quiet, reserved, and introspective. Unlike extroverts who gain energy from social interaction, introverts have to expend energy in social situations. After attending a party or spending time in a large group of people, introverts often feel a need to “recharge” by spending a period of time alone.

 

My Extraverted Mindset Needed a Shift

As simple as that sounds, it took me quite some time to wrap my extraverted mind around this concept.  I am an extraverted woman who was raised around extraverted women.  It wasn’t sitting well with me that my my second daughter was showing signs of being “shy.”  (By the way, being introverted is not the same as being shy.) 

At the time. I didn’t understand or appreciate her innate wiring.   We live in a world that celebrates the social butterfly.  Those who speak up and advocate loudly are the ones who tend to be exalted.  In school, we show signs of our “smarts” by speaking up in class.  Kids are pushed to have lots of friends and are seen as mentally unstable if they enjoy solitude.

A homeschooling mom swimming against the current of traditional public school and status quo, I had somewhat aggressively been doing everything in my power to render the “socialization” argument moot.  My oldest daughter, like myself, is an extrovert and has always had tons of friends and play dates scheduled.   (I now realize that so much of that was rooted in my own insecurities.  A story for another time.)  So when my middle daughter showed signs of being shy and sensitive, I didn’t get it.

 

Thank God for Introverted Mom Friends

I am so grateful for Amy’s words that day.  We had been at her house for about 45 minutes.  At the time, I had just my two girls as we had yet to adopt our son at that point.  The kids were upstairs playing with Amy’s three daughters.  Amy and I were enjoying some downtime and were chit chatting and breathing in the adult conversation.  And then… I saw my little girl creep down the carpeted stairway and tiptoe over to sit next to me.

Looking back, I am embarrassed and ashamed at my initial response.

Honey, go and play.  You are here to play with the girls.

I don’t know what it was about that moment.  Like a stick in the mud, I was stuck in this belief that the value of a child is dependent upon how many friends he or she has.

This is me being really transparent.  I grew up in a dysfunctional and very parent-absent home.  We moved 14 times before I graduated high school.  In hindsight, I think that as a child and teen I depended upon my social world to give me purpose and value.  Like so many areas of parenting, God was helping me to work through my own junk in my journey with my precious girl.

New Perspective

Amy’s words were used by God to remove the scales from my eyes.  He was teaching me about my introverted child and my broken perceptions.

Lindsay, she is an introvert.

I’ve told Amy a billion times that I will never forget that day.  Her words propelled me down the path of reading everything I could get my hands on in regards to introversion and extraversion.  Being an extravert, I had a pretty solid grasp of what that meant.  However, I was clueless as to how introversion was all around me.  What I realized is that I had misunderstood behaviors and interactions I had with so many people throughout my life.

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Susan Cain’s Quiet

One of the first books that I read was Susan Cain‘s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  Oh my word!  That book was so insightful and taught me so much about my daughter, my sister, my husband, my father, my father-in-law and so many introverted children that were around me almost daily.  I later purchased Ms. Cain’s other book for kids:  Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids.   

Reading & Seeking Advice from Introverted Women

 

Ultimately, I have spent several years learning more and more about the uniqueness of all of our children.  I have created A Heart for All Students to support our children who each have their own gifts, passions, talents and different ways in which they process the world. 

My perspective of the value of the neurodiversity of God’s people and specifically my own kids, has exponentially grown.  However, as so many moms know, we must continue to seek out support from others who have gone before us in parenting and in experience.

Last week I decided to ask the amazing women in the Private A Heart for All Students Facebook Group to answer the following question:

What would you like parents of introverts to know in order to best support and love their own introverted children?

 

Introverted Momma Katherine:

Give them breaks! One of the best coping skills I gave my kid was an “escape room” or way out of anywhere we went. He learned he could step out and then I challenged him to come back in 5 or 10 min later. Eventually, he was able to take his own breaks or to tell me he needed one so I could help find him a quiet place.  

– Katherine Fain, Homeschool mom of 4

Introverted Momma Cheryl:

Stop making them socialize all the time. Encourage them to socialize with the one or two people they’re comfortable with so they don’t withdraw entirely, but them let them take breaks even from that.

-Cheryl Springer, Extroverted Introvert (INFJ) mom of 1 very introverted, very freaking smart (INTJ) teen daughter

Introverted Momma Meridith:

I let my introvert socialize on his terms and I don’t force it.   Personally, I definitely have some introvert qualities.  Often, I  feel the need to recharge with alone time, but being around the right people can also give me energy.  I’m also not good with forced interaction and am the one digging through her purse or going to the bathroom during meet and greets at church. 😬

-Meridith Curran, Homeschool mom of 2 (with one on the way)

Introverted Momma Colleen:

Not forcing kids to talk to people is a big one. It’s important to recognize that a longer period of time with a lot of people gets overwhelming. Sometimes an introvert struggles with including themselves.  Encouraging them by helping them take a step to get involved with other people is critical. For example, walking with them to other kids and start a conversation that can include them, or introduce them and ask if your kid can play, etc.

-Colleen Webster, introverted  homeschool mom of 4, 2 of whom are introverts

Introverted Momma Melany: 

I think it’s important to continually consider your social encounters and your motives for them. Did you say “yes” to the third night out this week because you felt obligated or pressured to please people?  Or because it’s what’s best? I’m a recovering people pleaser, and sometimes that even overpowers my introverted qualities.  So I’m learning to not be afraid to say no!  And I echo all the comments above about not forcing speaking and physical contact on a child.

-Melany Boltjes INFJ (extroverted introvert) mother of one introverted little girl, Virtual Marketing and Administrative Consultant, and wife of a pastor in training.  www.melbeevirtualsolutions.com

Introverted Momma Melanie:

I’ve found that sometimes my children need “coaching” in what to say. What is your favorite subject in school is a hard one for them–we homeschool and don’t really separate our subjects. We talked and now they have answers.  And I have also found that many times it is the adult who needs the help 🙂 Adults can ask confusing or strange questions. You really need to know a child well to ask good questions that make them feel comfortable and able to talk to you. My children are shy to most people, but put them in a room with the “right” people and they will not stop talking!  The same goes for me.

– Melanie Fulton, Introverted Mom of 4 Blessings, The Math Profs 

Introverted Momma Heather:

I am very introverted and am also a pastor’s wife which can be a challenge because I have to get out of my comfort zone a lot!!!!  Two of my kids are also introverted, one is on the spectrum.  Parents need to realize that their children are not meaning to be rude when they don’t engage in a crowd.

Heather continues,

They are seriously in a life and death struggle in their minds, and often overwhelmed and on the verge of a panic attack. Let your kids engage on their terms. Reassure them that they are safe. Let them stick extra close because at that point you are their safety. Their minds and bodies are telling them to run and hide.  However, they know you are also safety so let them cling or hide behind you if they need.

 

When one of mine was little he used to climb under my skirt if we were in a crowd. Rather awkward, but it was that or he would have a meltdown on the spot. As he got bigger, he learned that my skirt was not an option so he would hug me from behind and bury his face in my back. We would just sway and I could carry on the necessary conversations and he was okay.

– Heather Pittman, Introverted pastor’s wife and mom of 6 with 2 extremely introverted kids

Introverted Momma Jennifer:

I am an introvert. It’s ok if kids want to play alone at times and it’s ok if you aren’t the life of the party. Social situations can be super draining for me, so i have to limit how often I commit to outings. I do better in a very small group of people.   Teaching social skills to introverted kids is very important.  My mom did not teach me any social skills so making friends was very hard for me. I have had to learn on my own, in my adult life how to talk to people.

– Jennifer Reed, Introverted mom of 4

Introverted “Fur” Momma, Corinne:

Last but not least, a sweet new friend, Corinne, has a sweet story to share.  She is a “fur” momma who lived as an introverted child.  Here is what she has to share.

When I was younger, I was the only one in the family who liked music and reading to relax. So naturally, my parents thought that everytime I would go into my room to listen to music, that I was sick.

It took many years of explaining that I wasn’t sick and that I just truly enjoyed being alone. My family likes to talk, which is exhausting for introverted children.

It’s so much better now and my parents are a lot more understanding, but growing up, all I ever wanted was acceptance that it was ok that I was not like them and for them to stop worrying about me.
My brightest ideas were borne out of spending time on my own, when I was single or when I traveled alone, unlike an extrovert who prefers to bounce ideas off other people.

If I hadn’t stayed true to myself and just caved in to the pressure of “pretending” to enjoy socializing, then I wouldn’t be where I am now – a place of contentment, peace and fulfillment.

-Corinne Rootsey, I blog about personal finance and wellness at https://myjearney.com/

One Last Thing… Personality Assessments… a Great Tool for All

You may have noticed that some of my AHFAS introverted children experts had interesting letter combinations behind their names.  These ladies have found incredible value and insight into how God has wired them using a personality assessment tool called the Myers-Briggs.    I was introduced to the Myers-Briggs personality assessment ten years ago at church and found it to be very insightful.  Like so many resources available to us today, this assessment does not define anyone of us, but is a tool to better understand oneself and others.    Check it out and let me know what you think.  🙂

Do You Have Parenting Figured Out?

Do You Have Parenting Figured Out?

“I will always need parenting help…”

One thing I have learned in this journey as a momma is that I will never have parenting figured out.  I will always need parenting help and that is ok, Friend.  God, in His mercy, allowed me to let go of the belief that I could do this thing perfectly on my own.   The journey to accept parenting help as necessary and vital to me and my family began with the adoption of my son.

Our boy rocked our world with his aggression, screaming, inability to focus for more than three seconds and his horrific insomnia.   In that 4 year battle searching for answers, I finally realized that I am not in control.  God is God and my job is to be a vessel used by Him to graciously point my kids to Him.  To have parenting figured out would allow me to depend on myself and my own wisdom.  He allows my limitations in parenting to lead me to Him.  I’m grateful for this provision, no matter how hard I fought it (and still sometimes continue to).  

Today I am honored to have a sweet momma share her story with you.  Ms. Carol Parker, a mom of three, shares her perspective of letting go of parenting.  Welcome to our community, Carol!!

This post contains Amazon affliliate links.  If you purchase any resources that I recommend using my links, I may receive a small commission from Amazon at no cost to you.  I will not ever recommend any product that I do not stand behind fully.  Thank you for your support.

Second Rodeo?

The other day, I saw a funny post by Simon Holland that read, “I didn’t realize I was supposed to know how to do everything by my second rodeo. That’s still a very low number of rodeos.”  I laughed.  As I kept scrolling I couldn’t help but wonder. 

“Do I believe I’m supposed to have my parenting figured out by now?” 

Third time’s a charm?

After my youngest was born, we had a number of extra pediatrician visits because he was struggling with jaundice. For some reason that day, I had a million questions for the doctor. After I was done with my speed round of “ask the doctor EVERYTHING,” I joked.  “If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this was my first baby.”  He laughed then assured me that my questions were welcomed.  He graciously told me that he was happy that he got “nerd out” and explain it all to me. 

The thing is, my other two children also struggled with jaundice.  Not only did I feel silly because this was baby number 3, but also because this was the third time I’d been through this exact medical issue.   My need for parenting help was still there.  

What sparked my embarrassment? 

Unfortunately, the knee jerk reaction I get when I tell people that I have 3 kids often the same. 

“Oh! Well, you know what you are doing!”   

“You’re a pro.”

Those comments leave me feeling like maybe I should be a pro, but really I’m figuring it out (messily) everyday. The reality of my life put up against their innocent comments makes me feel like a fraud.  And who wants to be a fraud when it comes to parenting?!! And this further feeds my need to at least seem like I have it ALL under control. 

But guess what – I’m not a parent who has it all figured out and all under control, and my guess is, neither are you. And that’s not a bad thing. 

Embrace the truth

What if, instead of being embarrassed, we chose to embrace the truth that we’re not supposed to have it all figured out.   Be ok with needing parenting help regardless of the number of children at our table or their ages? 

This whole parenting thing is a journey – a learning process where every kid in your care is different, even when they experience the same things (like jaundice in my case). So, ask all your questions. Ask for and accept help (often). And surround yourself with parents who are not ashamed to admit that they are also finding their way. 

Most importantly, let go of knowing it all and allow others to come alongside you to help you fill in the gaps. That’s what makes this journey great.

Thank you, Carol Parker, for being real and owning it!  We need more mommas like you in our communities.  Grateful.  

“Carol Parker is a mom of 3 beautiful babies. She is headed full force into toddlerhood and can’t wait to see what she learns about herself as she learns to parent her kiddos.”  To connect with Carol, email her directly at Hello@carolparkervs.com 

Lindsay’s Final Word: Releasing Unhealthy Expectations

For more about releasing the unrealistic expectations that we moms often place upon ourselves, check out this post where I share how I came to terms with some unhealthy expectations that were sucking the life out of me as a mom.

As my dear friend, Beth Matheson of Roots Down Deep and Wycliffe’s Women of the Word, so beautifully reminds us of how desperately we need parenting help.  “We don’t have what it takes.  Motherhood feels like too much because it is too much.  And that is okay… God’s calling is always an opportunity to learn to float, to be held up and carried along by Him.”

Let’s learn to float, Friends.  Let’s seek help as we parent.

Recommended Reads for Moms

Below I have listed two of my favorite books that have been used by God in my parenting and faith journey.   I am so grateful to embrace the fact that I am not expected to every master this mom thing on my own and that I will always need parenting help.  Support in community and most importantly, from God Himself.   

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freemen

By far this is my number recommendation to moms and any woman who finds herself smothered by the to-dos and expectations of this life.  I can not more highly recommend this book to offer you encouragement, Biblical truth and wisdom as to how crucial it is to accept the gift of grace and live in it.  Life changing book!!

Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake 

I read this book in one of my darkest seasons with my son.  In my sleep-deprived, exhausted state, I experienced some rough moments of anger and rage at my son’s horrific behavior.  This was one of the first times that I read a book where Christian mommas were being real about their own struggle with anger and how to navigate this natural (but often life-sucking) emotion.  Grace upon grace.

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Let’s Equip our Neurodiverse Children Well

Let’s Equip our Neurodiverse Children Well

Neurodiverse children are people too

Do you believe that our children are all unique? After all, there are millions of neurodiverse children in our country.  Why, then, do we as moms struggle so much when our children think and process the world differently.  I think it is because we have believed a lie, Friends.
This idea that tells us something is wrong with us as moms if our children are struggling to fit inside the box? This false belief that if traditional approaches to discipline and education aren’t working then something must be wrong with our child?   Could it be that all of our children are actually unique?  Wait for it… could it be that all people are different in many ways and that diversity includes more than just gender or skin color?  Could we possibly join together and allow our neurodiverse children to thrive?
How about we trust ourselves and trust that God has chosen us ON PURPOSE to raise our precious children? How about if we try something different with our neurodiverse children?

What is neurodiversity?

According to Understood.org, neurodiversity is:

Neurodiversity is a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits.

The idea of neurodiversity can have benefits for kids with learning and thinking differences.

This concept can help reduce stigma around learning and thinking differences.

Mom’s Perception Can Change Everything

Mom Friends, we have to keep it real if we want to love our children well… Let’s keep it real for one another…

For the kids that can’t seem to “get it together”…

And the child who is struggling to fit inside the box…

What about the one who feels as though he can do nothing right?

Let’s be authentic for the tween boy. You know him… he is the one whose heartbeat skyrockets in gym class. His heart pounds profusely not because of a great game of basketball. He is dripping with sweat because he knows he is about to be humiliated yet again. Sports are NOT his thing.

 

Moms Equipping Neurodiverse Children

Fear not, Friends, for that momma who watches her child break down with anxiety when it’s “homework” time.

Can we please be brave enough to stand with the mom who has been “kicked out” of playgroup? The one whose child doesn’t know how to “behave” appropriately?

Shouldn’t we prioritize love for the momma who wakes at 2:00 am overwhelmed with anxiety because she knows her child is struggling.  Her mind races as to what she can do to lift up and support her child well for his future.

For the mom who is late to church because her child threw a fit in the parking lot because the tag on her new pair of pants is driving her INSANE.

For the family who would love to enjoy a family outing but that one child is screaming bloody murder because his sister won’t stop singing…

Our Kids Need Us to Believe in Them

Imagine what would happen to the kids, who most would tell us to continue pushing and disciplining and punishing for “bad behavior.”

What would happen if we as parents, came alongside these neurodiverse children and embrace their differences as a blessing.  Moms sharing a vision of a bright and thriving future for each of our unique children.  What if we moms rally together to provide our neurodiverse kids the tools they need to get there?

Perceived Weaknesses as Great Strengths

Our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses…

Our greatest weaknesses are often our greatest strengths…

What if we looked at our child through a new perspective and looked for strengths out of apparent weaknesses?

What if we then equipped them with the emotional, educational, and practical tools to use those gifts to grow into the adults that God has created them to be?

Can you imagine???

No more kids growing up with self-worth that tells them “they will never be good enough!”

Every child has gifts and talents and purpose.

Let’s begin to parent them this way, Mommas… and let’s watch them fly…



xoxo

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Teen Moodiness, Meltdowns & Mexican Food

Teen Moodiness, Meltdowns & Mexican Food

Parents have been navigating teen moodiness and meltdowns since the creation of man. Generations of moms and dads have been plagued by the hormonal roller coaster of their teens’ mood swings and attitudes. No fun.

I am no exception.

Many of you have heard me share about navigating my adopted son’s severely volatile behaviors. It was our family’s brutal journey with him that led me to a life completely shattered and God rebuilding me into a completely different parent. For more about our story through adoption and special needs, start here.

However, it is not only my son who continually needs support with his meltdowns. Like generations of girls before her, my oldest daughter has morphed into a young lady with all of the teen moodiness and meltdowns.

Let me share a story with you.

Two nights ago, I took my girls out on a little date out for dinner.  Of course, we all agreed on Mexican… chips and salsa are my jam!

The date was supposed to be just my middle daughter and me.  However, at the last minute my oldest begged to join us.  Middle graciously agreed that Big Sis could tag along on our date night.

Fast forward… we enjoyed our chips, salsa, queso, nachos and a burrito (yes!  we shared)… we had a great time… silly convo… yep!  It was a success…

Until…It wasn’t.

 

Teen Moodiness to Meltdowns in 30 Seconds Flat

In what seemed like a thirty second window of time, my oldest daughter shifted.  Her face changed… she was no longer laughing at my stories about how Aunty Jamie used to be obsessed with Davy Jones from The Monkees…  Anyone else remember The Monkees on Nickelodeon after school?

“Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees!”

“Daydream believer and a homecoming queen…”

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Nobody cares?

Ok… apparently my cousins, my sisters and I had strange taste in entertainment. We still had tons of fun.

Anyway, my girls had been asking questions about my life as a kid and we were having fun and laughing.

We were chomping down on our chips and salsa when she began complaining about “being full” and wanting me to drive her home.

I asked her what was wrong.

Classic teen meltdown response, “Nothing.”

Pushing her further, (I knew she wasn’t telling me the truth), she responded with, “I’m just tired.”

‘Oh! That’s how she is going to play it. Great!’ My frustration was beginning to creep up into my voice.

 

Teen Moodiness & Attitude? Or Something Else?

My initial reaction was to become a little P.O.ed at her.

‘Great!  After she begged her little sister to jump in on our scheduled date night… she gets what she wanted…she got her yummy Mexican food and now she is done with us.’

Does anyone see what was happening with me? We will get back to that.

Let’s be real… teens do have a knack for being just a little ego-centric… I couldn’t be that off in my assessment of her new shift in “attitude”. Right?

In my own heart and mind, I began to feel sad and disappointed that this change in my oldest’s engagement in our light-hearted fun, could possibly ruin my middle daughter’s date night. As the adult I had to make a decision.

I could have just started laying into her about ruining her little sister’s date time and being a bit selfish… But I didn’t. Not this time.

In the past, I likely would have pointed out her self-centered motives and “mood” swing. Because my oldest errs on the side of taking too much responsibility for others’ reactions and responses, she would have likely shut down and apologized profusely before I finished even speaking.

Her typical response would have likely satisfied me. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate it when anyone takes responsibility for their actions? An apology would have been a satisfactory response, right?

Maybe… or I could have slammed a door on our relationship… even if just temporarily.

Fortunately, this is not how the interaction went down. Praise God!

By God’s mercy, all that I have learned over these past several years navigating my son, has taught me so much more than just how to handle a special needs toddler meltdown… I’ve learned how to navigate relational conflict. Period.

Teen Moodiness as Meltdowns

My daughter was having a meltdown. Yes, this was her version of a meltdown. I know what to do when one of my cubs has a meltdown.

No, it wasn’t a drop-down kicking and screaming meltdown that the whole restaurant was privy to… but it was my teenage daughter’s (lite) version of a meltdown.

I made a mental pivot from the perspective that told me she was being willfully selfish and could care less that her negative mood and sudden lack of engagement were putting a damper on our girls’ night out. I shifted the lens to view this sudden change as, “Something just happened. She had a thought or something just came to mind and she is responding. Let me investigate.

Four Steps to Resolve My Teen’s Meltdown 

Enter in the Four Steps to Capture & Influence Your Child’s Heart, Beliefs & Behavior.

Step 1: Relationship

I looked directly at my girly and made eye contact.

Step 2: Provide Emotional Vocabulary & Reflect

“What happened, Sweet Girl?  You went from happy and laughing to ‘shut down’.  What are you thinking?  You look like you are feeling sad.”

Step 3: Provide Physical Input

I rocked her in my arms like a baby…

Step 4: Shift Attention & Distract

I began pretending to her cell phone in a baby voice to make her laugh and distract her.

OK.  OK.  I didn’t have to work through steps 3 & 4… the first two steps opened up conversation between us all.

The Result

Her defensive wall of perceived teenage “moodiness” crumbled down almost immediately. My girl opened up to us.

“I just heard a song that reminded me of Grandma,” she managed to confess as she held back tears. My mom passed suddenly about 9 months ago and she has been struggling terribly with her grief.

My teen daughter’s sudden change of mood had nothing to do with selfishly “using” her sister and me for Mexican food. Her perceived “attitude” was actually sadness.

Had I engaged her through a more traditional lens which simply looks at outward socially unacceptable behaviors as problems to be eradicated, I would have blown it big time. I would have missed out on an opportunity to be my daughter’s safe place of refuge… to be her trusted ally who ultimately points her to Jesus.

Praise God that I didn’t jump to conclusions and praise God that I have learned so much through this journey with my son.

Meltdowns Don’t Cease Simply Because We Age

The reality is that we all have meltdowns… ALL.OF.US. Adults and children alike. Adults lose it all the time. Adult meltdowns simply “look” different from a teen meltdown.

When was the last time that you snapped at your child or hubby because you have reached the end of your rope?

Meltdown.

There is no judgement in this. We are all just human beings living in a broken world. Meltdowns simply appear differently depending upon the variables. We will all have meltdowns likely until the day we die. However, there is incredible grace for us all.

Whether a toddler tantrum, an elementary-age explosion, or a teen meltdown or moodiness… let’s equip our children to work through the tough thoughts and big emotions that lead to meltdowns.

Then watch them smile and say, “Thank you, Mom.”

Just wanted to share…

Feel free to grab a free copy of the Behind the Behavior Intro Bundle  and begin to reframe your relationship with your child… toddler to teen.

Resources to Combat Childhood Anxiety

Resources to Combat Childhood Anxiety

Raise your hand if you have a child who struggles with anxiety! Anyone looking for tools and resources to knock out childhood anxiety?  Just recently, I posted the following question to a Facebook group.

If you could solve one major problem that you are currently navigating with your child, what would it be?

The answers to that question revealed a lot of common issues that these parents are struggling with. The top problems that these parents wish to magically solve according to this non-scientific polling data were:

  1. Childhood Anxiety
  2. Child’s Lack of Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation Skills
  3. Child’s Lack of Friendships

Interestingly, I have found this to be true of my personal experiences within my own special needs community. Honestly, I don’t really like to use the term special needs. I believe there is a general misunderstanding about who special needs children are. For lack of a better term, I will use the term SN to describe all children who struggle with cognitive differences that significantly impact their daily functioning.

How to Define Special Needs?

For all intents and purposes, the following brain differences give us a general idea of how I am using the term Special Needs.

  • ADHD,
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder,
  • Aspergers (I know DSM-V has changed this but I believe it is still a useful term),
  • Sensory Processing Disorder,
  • Auditory Processing Disorder,
  • Visual Processing Disorder
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
  • dyslexia
  • dysgraphia.
  • General Developmental Delays
  • speech and language processing delays
  • anxiety or depression (including PANS/PANDAS)

Symptom Overlap (Comorbidity)

The above list is not all-encompassing. Interestingly, this list of diagnoses share common symptoms. and are not mutually exclusive of one another.

Think about children on the Autism Spectrum. Many of them are labeled High-Functioning (in-line with an Asperger’s diagnosis). Sadly, these kids tend to struggle terribly with focus and attention. Additionally, these same children often have anxiety and depression.

Children who were at one time labeled Dyslexic, today may also be diagnosed with Visual Processing and Auditory Processing Disorder.

A child with speech-delays often has an underlying Auditory Processing Disorder (whether officially diagnosed or not).

The point is that all of these cognitive “brain” differences share many of the same symptoms. Therefore, they also have the potential to share many of the same solutions.

Now the term “solution” may seem a bit flippant and inappropriate. Those of us with kids who struggle in any of these areas know that these symptoms are not easily “solved”. We are aware that resolving the symptoms in our children are not easily achieved. In fact, for most parents and children, the road to improvement is often one step forward and two back.

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Hope in Numbers?

Knowing that so many of our “differently-wired” children share similar daily struggles actually offers hope for our kids.

Why would I be hopeful when so many children are struggling? I am hopeful and encouraged that our children are not alone in this. I am grateful that more and more people are aware of the need for children and parents to have tools to support them in the journey.

The reality is that our children (whether or not they have a diagnosis) are bombarded by so much stimulation. Whether through screens, ear buds, school, sports, and social dynamics, the increase pressure and stimulation is overloading and stressing them out.

On a Saturday morning just a couple of months ago, I sat with a group of 9th grade girls from my church. We had just begun a Bible Study about their Identity in Christ. So many of these ladies honestly shared about their fears and stresses. As I looked around this table of 7 typical teenage girls, it hit me. Every single one of them struggles with pretty intense anxiety.

Anxiety Hit Our Home

My own family has navigated anxiety issues. I absolutely understand how debilitating anxiety can be and how much it can negatively impact life. Coping with anxiety is hard enough on adults. Pushing through life with anxiety is beyond exhausting. As our children begin to show signs of debilitating anxiety in greater and greater numbers, we need to take note.

Here is the reality, anxiety in children does not necessarily look the same way that it presents in adults.

Anxiety in children can show itself in many ways. If we are not careful, we will perpetuate the cycle of anxiety if we don’t stop to recognize it. How often do we see…

  • A child who is throwing a “temper tantrum”
  • A child who cannot stop talking
  • The sensitive child whose feelings are so easily hurt
  • The destructive child who cannot keep his hands to himself
  • Little Johnny who appears to be not listening in class
  • Tween girl who is struggling to turn in homework
  • Student who bombs a spelling test that they were confident about the night before
  • The child who complains of headaches and stomach aches
  • The child who cannot sleep at night

Messages Sent to Anxious Kids

In our culture, we very often jump too quickly to demand that a behavior is eradicated.

“Stop biting your nails. It is a disgusting habit.”

“Keep your hands to yourself or you will lose recess.”

“You are so irresponsible. You forgot to turn in your homework again!”

“Snap out of it! I told you to pay attention!”

These are messages that children often receive because of outward negative behavior. However, many times these outward behaviors are symptoms of big feelings such as fear, angst, embarrassment and shame (ANXIETY).

Kids Need an Emotional Vocabulary

Because most children do not have the vocabulary to identify what they are feeling, they often act out negatively. These outward symptoms are reflective of what those emotions and thoughts “feel like” in their bodies and minds. If we only focus on the behaviors, the cycle of anxiety is likely to spiral out of control. This, in turn, increases and continues negative behaviors.

We must equip our children emotionally, socially and academically. As a nation, we understand the need for academic success. However, we have failed to educate our children in the other two areas. As I have shouted from my soapbox many times, ignoring the emotional well-being of children only perpetuates inconvenient and disruptive behaviors. Parents need to be equipped with resources to combat childhood anxiety.

Emotional Education is Power

As with all learning, emotional (and spiritual education) must start at home.

Listed below are some of my top choices for equipping our children to identify and verbalize their feelings. These materials work to support children in their understanding that their thoughts and beliefs impact how they feel.

When we give our children a vocabulary to describe and understand the physical sensations, thoughts and feelings, we give them an incredible advantage. As we offer them techniques and strategies to process and self-regulate. These resources are all phenomenal tools for families and educators.

Turnaround: Turning Fear into Freedom by David A. Russ, Ph.D. & Christopher T. McCarthy, M. Ed.

This resource is phenomenal. When my daughter suddenly developed severe separation anxiety overnight, we immediately began counseling. In the process of navigating her debilitating fear that something bad would happen to me, her counselor recommended this curriculum.

The Turnaround curriculum is an audio drama (think Adventures in Odyssey), and follows a group of children as they attend camp. The group of children all struggle with some area of anxiety for one reason or another.

Children using this resource are to listen to the audio drama. Following the audio session, they complete exercises inside of the accompanying workbook.

The workbook guides them through exercises that help them identify their fears and how those fears make them feel physically as well as emotionally. Examples are drawing exercises and exercises that ask the child to label and illustrate their fears in the form of a character.

Because the child is able to hear the voices of other “kids” who also have navigated anxiety, the child is able to relate easily and feel more invested in the strategies provided. The strategies introduced to the child equip them to combat the thoughts and feelings that lead to anxiety. This gives these kiddos a greater sense of control.

Personal Success

My daughter was 12 years old when she used this set of materials, and while she was very apprehensive of its ability to help her, after the first day she was already feeling more equipped. By the end of the ten-day program, she was much better able to combat her anxiety.

Turnaround: Turning Fear into Freedom is recommended for children ages 6-13 and I highly recommend it for any child struggling with any form of anxiety.

Praise God that my daughter was correctly diagnosed with PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome) and was treated quickly and is back to her old self. More about PANS and PANDAS later.

 

Zones of Regulation by Leah Kuypers, MA Ed., OTR/L

Another resources to help with childhood anxiety is The Zones of Regulation chart. The Zones were introduced to me through my son’s developmental pediatrician, Dr. Yasmin Senturias of Atrium Health in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Senturias has been a godsend to my family as she has walked alongside us as we have been desperately trying to find help for our son.

The Zones of Regulation materials were developed by Leah Kuypers who is an Occupational Therapist and has an education background. She created this resource as a way to help children learn to develop emotional and self-regulation skills.

The materials are often used in schools as well as in mental health settings. The Zones are a visual representation of what a child may be experiencing internally at any moment-in-time.

By providing children with something as basic as the Zones of Regulation chart, kids are much better equipped to process their feelings and emotions. The Zones chart is a chart with color bands each representing specific feelings and thoughts that all people experience on a daily basis. By giving kids a visual representation and vocabulary for emotional states, they are able to move through tough feelings and bring themselves back to a “regulated state.”

Zones are Neutral

The way the Zones are to be presented is in a way in which no Zone is a bad zone. These are zones that all people navigate. Knowing which Zone he or she is in helps them understand why they may be struggling to learn or hang out with a friend in the moment.

This Zones of Regulation chart and other Zones of Regulation materials are geared toward younger children and elementary-aged children. Excellent tool for the anxiety toolbelt. They also have a Zones of Regulation song that would be a wonderful addition to helping younger children understand the concept more fully. (I will be purchasing the What Zone Are You In? song for my 5 year old son.)

I highly recommend the use of the Zones of Regulation Chart (or some modified version) in every home. This is a wonderful childhood anxiety resource. It is especially helpful for young children who need visual cues.

Check out this video where I discuss practical and actionable strategies to use this tool at home today.  

Anger Iceberg

This childhood anxiety tool, like the Zones of Regulation Chart, is a great tool to use to help children understand the multitude of ways that anger displays itself. All adults would benefit from an understanding that anger does not always look the same. In fact, anxiety is a form of anger according to the chart.

By simply walking alongside your child and discussing what the “under the water” terms mean, you will be empowering your child in his or her ability to release and process emotions. Choose a few emotional labels and share some of your life experiences in which you have felt that particular emotion.

If your child does not know what the term “offended” means, explain it and share a story from your life in which you either were the one who was offended or when you were the one doing the offending.

Just allowing these conversations to happen naturally will yield fruit. There is power in knowledge. 🙂

Praise God that there are so many amazing resources available to equip our children.

The Social Thinking Company

Honestly, I cannot more highly recommend Michelle Garcia Winner and her team over at the Social Thinking Company. The heartbeat of this organization is to equip children for life via social and emotional thinking instruction.

This collection was originally created for children with social skills deficits. ADHD and ASD, for example, both of which often display a lack of social and emotional understanding. In my opinion, these social and emotional skills books should be read to every child.

Every parent of any child who struggles with anxiety, fears, ADHD, and any brain differences that are inhibiting friendships, should utilize this incredible site. There are several webinars that are completely free and will educate a parent on the social nuances and skills that their child may be struggling with. Often we don’t realize that children need concrete instruction in social and emotional awareness.

Social Skills to Reduce Social Anxiety

We all know how much stress results when a child feels ostracized. The social awareness presented in the materials written for kids are life skills to be used throughout life.

Titles for kids include:

Fortunately, there are so many resources available for kids on the Social Thinking Company site. Just go check it out! You will soon wish you had all of these resources available to you when you were a kid. 🙂

Another Resource that Deserves Mentioning

  • What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner
    • This workbook series is an excellent way to help children navigate many issues including Anxiety, Complaining, Fear, etc. 

Identity in Christ

One last thing to note. If you are a Christian family, may I encourage you to flood your child with the confidence that he or she has in Christ? Download FREE Identity in Christ Printable Downloads to be printed and hung on your kiddos’ wall. Read them aloud daily and pray them over your child.

God has chosen each one of us on purpose to raise these precious kiddos in this delicate time. Let your kids be confident of who they are because of Jesus. 🙂