Anger Management?

Anger.

The very word contrives all sorts of images in my head from the very mild to the most violent. Anger is the unspoken emotion that we all feel but rarely feel comfortable and safe to discuss within our social circles. Becoming a parent forces you to confront things, like anger, that you may never have explored before and then in the same breath, expects an answer.

This was a much needed girls night in- wine and pjs and excellent company. Although we all come from varying backgrounds and have had very deifferent life experiences, we have so much common. The biggest thing we have in common is that we are all moms of toddlers. While some of us are veteran mothers and others are newbies (like myself)- we all appreciate the comfort in being amongst a group of people that simply understand that tired, half crazy look you don or the inappropiate yawn that occurs when someone is telling a story and the constant interuptions that steer you away from being a ‘good listener’.

As we sat and chatted about our own realities, our men, our daily responsibilities, we naturally also chatted about our toddlers. Soon we discovered that each one of us is being confronted with the same complex issue: hitting.  Suddenly our sweet children are embracing their inner monster and showing us a whole new side to their personality. The anger emotion is unfolding.

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With my daughter, I have observed her hitting for two reasons: 1) She hits for attention and 2) She hits when she is frustrated/angry.

The first was a rather simple fix for me- Upon holding her hands and looking her in the eyes, I would tell her in a calm but serious voice, “We do not hit.” or “No hitting.” I would watch the realization come over her eyes as she processed this information and saw the wheels turning as she thought what she should do instead. And naturally I offered her a solution- when you need mommy come over and use your voice and I will immediately address you. After a couple of trial and errors she and I nailed this one and within 3 days, she no longer hits to get my attention. (Mommy win! Yay!)

Feeling pretty confident in my discipline technique and very proud of my daughter, I moved on to address #2. Hitting when frustrated or angry. Hmmm. As she lifted her hand to strike me because she was upset over my unwillingness to play the game her way- I proceeded with the above measures -only when it came to telling her how to express her anger differently, I drew a blank.

Suddenly I realized that I had no idea how to appropiately express one’s anger. I was never taught how to express anger or frustration. I grew up feeling as though I wasn’t allowed to be angry. Anger was bad. You were punished for hitting but never given an outlet for the anger/frustration behind the hitting. As I discussed this revelation within my circle of friends, it quickly became apparant that none of us felt we had ever been taught how to express our anger. Now, I am not trying to take a stab at my parents, here, because I have no doubt that they probably weren’t taught either. So my question is- why not? Are we, as a society, so afraid of anger that we cannot allow it to exist even for a fraction of a second? Watching your child hit someone can be a frightful experience for a parent and of course you want to (and should) correct that behavior….but how?

I believe there is a difference between behavior and state of mind. There is a difference between discipline and punishment. Obviously my goal is to stop the behavior of hitting but to really accomplish that, I feel I must also change the state of mind behind it: Aggression born from anger. So once again I must face the question- how should one properly express their anger?

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As my friends and I spoke, we tossed around several discipline theories and debated different schools of thought. And while I definately have my own opinions and thoughts on what I consider to be appropiate and inapporiate, I found it very enlightening to listen in.

Naturally the method of spanking was brought up, as most of us received spankings as punishment when growing up.  One friend had an interesting idea that spankings are a good form of punishment so long as they were delivered appropiately. She stated that a spanking should not occur immediately after the event and should not be done when the parent was upset. This gave me pause- I tried to imagine myself in a calm and loving state of mind, spanking my child in response to her bad behavior. I couldn’t manage to do it. The very act of hitting, to me, was only born from a state of frustration and anger, not calmness and definately not love. I am looking to discipline my child, not punish.

The one time I ever slapped my daughters hand was because I was irritated and angry that she kept hitting me. She was hitting me because she was mad at me and I hit her back because I was mad at her…..for hitting me… I refer to this event as one of my bigger mommy fails.

No, spankings are not a technique I am qualified to use. Next.

So what about time-outs? I like the idea of a time-out. To remove oneself from the moment of anger so you can calm down and begin to relax. However do very young children have the comprehension ability to actually do that? Or do they simply feel like I did when I was little, ‘I got angry then I got in trouble’. It is my understanding that utilizing a time-out effectively includes not only separating the child from the activities of the room for a brief period of time but also to allow and encourage a reconcilaition once its over. All primates, even non-human primates exhibit a need for conflict resolution. Or rather, the need to reconcile with the one they got into trouble with.

I have attempted a time out with Lily 3 times for hitting. I warned her that if she hit me again, she will have a time-out. She hit me again and I picked her up and put her in a designated spot a few feet away from anything else. I told her she must stay there and then I stood nearby with one eye on the clock and the other on her. I observed her getting quiet, perhaps thinking about what is happening, perhaps not. After about 30 seconds, I knelt down and took her hands and repeated to her that we do not hit people. Then I offered her reconciliation- a giant hug. Although I felt that she understood on some level that she was in time out for misbehaving, I didn’t really feel as though I addressed how to properly express her anger.

I appreciate the art of the time out but it still fell short for how to teach her to properly express her anger. Next.

The only other parenting theory that was touched on was that of purposeful ignoring of the behavior. Okay, I get it- even negative attention is attention and so if you give your child absolutely no attention for an unwanted behavior then they will stop it- right? Although that could herald a good response for hitting for attention but does not aid me in helping her with anger. Next.

After conversing within my circle of friends, I held my thoughts on my dilemna. How to teach my children to properly express their anger. After some long meditative moments on this, it dawned on me……what is anger? Anger is an emotion that fills one with such powerful negative energy that one is compelled to forcefully expel it. Not expelling it can lead to destruction (either internal or external) and expelling it in a form of aggression can lead to big trouble. What about providing a physical way to expel this energy that does not cause harm or fuel aggression? What about breathing? A simple thing, taking a breath, expelling a breath. Perhaps it is a silly idea from an overtired, over anayltical new parent but then again, maybe it could work.

I have begun to teach my daughter (and when he gets older my son too) that when I see her getting angry to take a big breath and forcefully blow it out. I guide her through that breath to release the anger and focus on changing her state of emotion. Since I have begun this, I have noticed that when Lily begins to get frustrated or upset, she will (most of the time) attempt to calm herself down. Sometimes by taking that breath, sometimes by getting very still and quiet and sometimes turning away, briefly, from the source of her frustration. I am struck by how grown up she appears to me as I watch her do this. Now, she does still hit out of anger, but it is not often and is beginning to fade as I feel I have finally begun to answer my question of how to teach her to express her anger. As she gets older and is able to communicate verbally, it is my intention to guide her to using her words to help express her emotions. Until that time, I will build on the breath.

A few notes from the bench: I am not citing any sources or claiming to be an expert on discipline because I view myself as an educated but new parent. This blog is made up of entirely my own opinions, experiences and reflections. I choose what is right for my family within the morals and values I serve to uphold. I believe that children should be respected and diciplined, not punished. I view myself as my childrens’ teacher and caregiver, not their owner and master. They are uniquely them and I am both challenged and blessed to prepare them to take on their life.

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DSAM Day 30: Stop It

Everyone has there own little list of things that irk them. Some call it their “Pet Peeve” list. James and I refer to ours as a “Stop It” list. Some items may surprise you!

” God only gives special kids to special parents.”

IMG_4705 What does this mean really? Who gets to define “special”?  Is the mother of a normal kid who is sitting in an uncomfortable hospital chair, half starved because she forgot to eat in her worry for her son who was admitted to the hospital for a high fever- not special? Is the father who comes home from work and immediately seeks out his normal children to play with before reading them stories and staying up late to plan a fabulous family weekend – not special? We are not special.We are parents. Now that being said, I do think we are pretty awesome parents but no different than any other good parent.

They are such a pleasure.” “Those people are always a joy. “Your daughter is so cute, I just love them.”

Who exactly are they? Is this the same they as in “They are always watching you?” or maybe “They are gonna get you?” If anyone were to speak this way about a race of people, they would be considered racist. Our daughter is an individual, not a they. Unfortunately, such sweet compliments drown in very poor phrasing.

“Down syndrome is the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

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 I have heard some parents express this sentiment. And while at first I was taken aback, I do believe I know what they are trying to say. My life has changed dramatically since becoming a mother, but becoming Lily’s mother has brought me opportunities that otherwise would not have existed. Opportunities of friendship, creativity, advocacy and confrontation. No, I do not believe that Down Syndrome is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me and truth be told I would take it away or “cure” Lily from it in a heartbeat if I could. I do believe that having my children and my husband are the greatest things that have ever happened to me.

“She will do things in her own time.”

This statement gets thrown around quite a bit when people don’t know what to say or don’t feel like they can help. Although I understand that and yes it is always good to be given perspective, that is not at all what I need to hear. Of course all people will do things in their own time, however sometimes they need a little help. Sometimes the parent who is feeling guilty or inadequate because their child is delayed, needs a little help. This statement actually makes me feel even worse for worrying about it. What would be so much better here would be a statement of reassurance that I’m doing a good job and compassion for my feelings.

“I have to go deal with my children.”

We hear it all the time, “Sorry I have to go deal with my child.” or “How do I handle my child?” Excuse me? Take a quick moment and reflect on what you are saying. Children aren’t things that need ‘handling’ or to be ‘dealt with’. This is so disrespectful and degrading to our children. They are not property or a chore on a list, they are little human beings who are much more deserving than something one must ‘deal with’. We realize that many people don’t think about what they say, but perhaps they should. I imagine most adults would be mortified if they knew people thought of them as something they must ‘deal with.’

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“Staring at my children.”

We see you staring at our daughter, trying to figure out whats wrong with her. We see you staring at our son trying to figure out if there is anything wrong with him. Finally we see you staring at us. Sometimes you look at us with pity, sometimes with admiration and sometimes with embarassment. To you we simply say, Stop It! Our joyful presence should announce to you that we are approachable. Come say hello or move along please,

“How old is she?” “Oh”

Yeah… our daughter is smaller than yours. Our daughter is not abe to do all the things your child of the same age can do. We are fully aware of the difference between our children and are not entering a competition with you so please do not respond with such a sorrow filled exclamation. Do we look sorrowful? No.

“It’s okay, my child didn’t (walk/talk/dance/sing/snore/whatever else) until they were much older too.”

First problem: Maybe it is just us but this sounds like pity. Pity used to be a wonderful expression of sympathy but in todays world it has taken on a whole different tone. Being pitied evokes immediate irritation and sometimes anger. For us, we just don’t get it. Why pity us? We are one of the more blessed familes we know. Second problem: It is NOT the same. I am sorry but it’s not and it’s okay that it’s not the same. We don’t have to walk the same path to show one another empathy. Please stop comparing your typical child to mine.

“You can’t make them do it.”

What does this comment want from us? We are intelligent enough to understand that you cannot make someone do something they either do not want or cannot do. Was this even up for debate? Are you telling us this because you feared we had forgotten this concept? You are right, you can’t make them do it. But you can help motivate them, influence them, give them the confidence they need and so on and so on.. If you truly are wanting to help, then a different, more thoughtful response would be greatly appreciated.

So there you all go, our Stop It list!  This was an interesting write – I hope this post finds you in good humor. If it doesn’t then may we suggest you just Stop It! Lol 🙂

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I Am….

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We are engagingly looking at a statue when I see her staring hard at my daughter. I look back at her and she quickly looks away.

He stares at me while I politely decline to sign the waiver for my daughter’s photograph to be used in an online publication. Other parents tilt their heads my direction.

They smile with sympathetic eyes while I am enjoying playing with my daughter.

I am crying while I am driving because the music on the radio will disguise the sound so my children don’t hear and get upset. I am not sure if I am sad, stressed, tired or frustrated but the tears don’t discriminate.

I am screaming for joy as I sweat through my shirt, walking in the sun for 20 minutes in a crouched position holding my daughters hands because she suddenly wants to practice walking.

I am on my knees begging God for strength and to be a better mother.

I am allowing myself to be vulnerable to complete strangers to hopefully gain a little insight as to how to better help my daughter.

I am constantly thinking, reading, analyzing and observing every thing. No task is mundane, all must be thoughtful.

I am on a first name basis with and can tell you all the good doctors in various specialities in town.

I am daringly hopeful when I hear the latest research discovery that may help my daughter.

I am awake in bed thanking God that He allows me to be this little girl’s mother, even though I may feel like I am not good enough.

I am a mother to a special needs child.

God didn’t make me more special or stronger than you and He definitely did not give me super powers. But He did give me a daughter and now a son that I will do anything for.

2013 Aug 1st (73)

10 tiny fingers, 10 tiny toes, little ears and little nose….

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There are physical characteristics that can go along with Down Syndrome. Wider set eyes, lower set ears, shorter nasal bone, single crease on the palm, etc….are all identifying marks of DS. What you don’t see are the internal characteristics. These include smaller canals in the ears, small nasal passages and sinuses, higher than average palate, etc. This increases the chances of respiratory sickness in people with DS. They are more likely to get pneumonia, colds, bronchitis- those sorts of illnesses.

Lily has had pneumonia twice (once due to aspirating her milk) but has been extremely healthy otherwise. In February of last year, she failed her hearing test, missing the low tones. They discovered she had fluid in her ears which without tubes, would continue to build up and cause speech delays and even deafness. So we joined the ENT surgery club. Lily’s surgeon also wanted to remove her adenoids because it is very easy for them to block the ear canals creating trouble.

After much research (even outpatient surgery is not without risk) we prepared ourselves to allow our little girl to be put under anesthesia and have the tubes placed and the adenoids removed. We had been through so many scares with her that we weren’t necessarily scared but it is a little known fact that I have some control issues (I know, shocker!) and I had a very hard time just turning her over (passed out from the goofy juice) to a complete stranger. I am sure my friends that have had to endure so much more intense surgeries with their children are rolling their eyes at me right now but for that 20 minutes, I couldn’t even sit down I was so ready to run back to her! Lily did very well and was back to her normal self by that evening only now she could hear even better!

As she gets older, we begin to see her change from a baby to a little girl and that includes seeing the characteristics of Down syndrome emerge more and more. After she turned 1, people outside our circle began to ask if she had DS- at first I was taken aback. I wanted people to see her for her not just the DS. However, as I gaze at my daughter, I realize that her appearance is a beautiful blend of the DS traits and  us. I don’t think Lily is cute or pretty. I think she is stunningly beautiful. A truly unique masterpiece.

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DELAYED DELAYED DELAYED

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Whether you are a new parent or repeat parent, you will find yourself getting caught up in the excitement of your childs’ milestone achievements. You celebrate all their firsts. You anticipate their next accomplishment and try and wait for it as patiently as you can. Because as they meet each one, two things happen: 1. We know they are okay, they are ‘normal’ and 2. They get more and more fun and beginning turning into little people, not babies. Everything is wonderful until the word DELAYED enters your world.

Delayed is a scary word followed by lots of unknowns. Some things you don’t even know that you don’t know. If you are a parent of a child that has DS, then this was one of the first words you heard about your child.

We were told that Lily will be delayed in motor, speech and cognitive skills. As she accomplished each early milestone, we celebrated just as any parent. Lily was on time for all of her early milestones (rolling over, smiling, laughing, sitting up, babbling, etc). When she was learning to crawl, we got our first glimpse of how hard it seemed for her to learn it. And then how she had to practice extra hard to get the strength to go very far. So when she first crawled across the room, we celebrated hard, like she just cured cancer kind of celebration.

We felt good, Lily felt good, life was good. Her therapists all said she was developing on time and even a little ahead of schedule on her cognitive and speech abilities. Then suddenly everything changed.

As Lily was learning to cruise and preparing to take her first steps- we notice that she had plateaued, meaning she hadn’t made any real progress in many months. She had lost her motivation somewhere. Now, I will say here that we knew she would be delayed in walking at least by a little bit. They consider one delayed if not walking by 18 months old. But she had been doing so well, we weren’t prepared for what a delay would be like for her and for us.

My first glimpse into how a delay could affect my daughter, literally broke my heart. Since almost all of Lilys’ friends are walking, she can no longer keep up with them. There came a day when she was attending a party with some of her walking friends and once they took off outside to play, Lily was stuck playing alone- the look on her face when all her friends left and she realized that she couldn’t keep up with them, would make any mother’s heart ache. Since that incident and others like it, she has lost her confidence around others. My sweet, social little girl is now a shy, insecure one.

DELAYED. This word looks and feels so different to me now. Now I understand what this word can mean. Lily will walk and do all the things others can and sometimes she will be on time, or even ahead and she will most likely be delayed too.

Walking is so hard for her, not because she can’t do it but because she is scared to walk, scared to fall. We are working very hard to give her the security and confidence to achieve her desire. As parents, that is part of our sacred duty. No parent wants to see their child struggle or feel defeated, but we all will. Maybe as a special needs’ parent, we just see it earlier than others but struggles are a part of everyone’s life.

Celebrate your children’s strengths and encourage them through their weaknesses. You can bet we will be celebrating loud and proud when Lily takes her first brave steps!