And she drooled pink…..

Parents are uniquely qualified for investigative research.

A beautiful Saturday morning in the McKenzie household- I was giggling with Oz on the couch and Lily was helping daddy in the kitchen. Then I hear my husband say, “What is coming out of your mouth?” In true toddler form, she ran away to the living room as he tried to get a better look at her.

My husband exclaims, I think she is bleeding! As I grab her and plop her on my lap, I see that her shirt is covered in countless drips of a pepto bismal-looking pink. Following her stained shirt up to her mouth, I see her chin covered in the same pink drool and more in her mouth. After a brief debate about the color (I won) we confirmed it wasn’t blood. Unless of course my daughter is part faerie, in which case pink blood may be normal.

The next step was figuring out what in the world it was….this meant a more invasive technique. We chose the lay her my lap and use her toothbrush to help us look in her mouth. Anyone who has ever dared to put their finger in their toddlers mouth, never did it again and probably lost part of their finger! In case you are unaware, they BITE! So the toothbrush dicovered a small clump of pink behind a tooth. We lost the wrestling match at this point though and had to retreat for a minute. A drink of water to flush out the remainder and we were confident that whatever it was, was gone.

But as scientists, and more importantly, still new parents, we were compelled to uncover the source of the pink drool. She could not have gotten into any medicine or chemical. It looked like candy but had no discernable odor like candy. What would dye my daughters drool pink? Since we had ruled out anything dangerous we relaxed and began to gaze around the room.

Then I saw it. Smack dab in the tray of her easel was a pink crayon, with a small chunk missing. It looked so innocent just lying there, silent.

I realize that we are only at the beginning of stories like this and you can believe I will be honing my observation skills!

photo

Advertisements

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.

IMG_5201

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?

IMG_5062

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.

IMG_2951

DSAM Day 20: Don’t Eat That! It Might be Poison!

Lily used to be a wonderful eater…until she became a toddler and now she reacts like we are poisoning her!

When Lily was 3 months old, we learned that because of her low tone (on the inside), she was aspirating my breast milk into her lungs. She also was diagnosed with acid reflux. We had to add a thickening agent to her milk (which meant I could no longer breast feed but had to exclusively pump) 😦 and she began medication to treat the reflux. Both of these issues would begin to resolve as she got older, stronger and bigger.

Beautiful Nurser

At 6 months old she had her very first bite of food- PEAS! After that bite, a whole new world had opened up for her and she eagerly stepped into it. She enjoyed all flavors of food….

IMAG1143  IMAG1597

….with the exception of squash- not a fan of squash.

  IMG_1468

With her first birthday came the extinction of bottles and baby food. My big girl was now drinking whole milk from a straw cup and eating table foods along with us. How exciting! She was really turning into a little girl now.

488   413

Still not a fan of squash.

202

At about 18 months, she learned she could spit out her food. Even more fun, she learned if she spit it out on the floor then Molly would eat it. Much to her amusement and my dismay, a new game was invented! She also began to throw her sippy cups to the floor (spilling them- even the spill proof ones spill!)

Just when we our teachings of “set it down” were taking effect and the random flying of objects ceased- she decided that she was ready to be INDEPENDENT.

Now it is a HUGE cognitive development when toddlers begin throwing tantrums and want to do things their way. So as much I am thrilled that Lily is experiencing this, I want to run to the nearest island for a break!

Here is her progression with eating: First she refused all food the first, second and third time. This included yelling, turning her body around and even trying to run away (when she was not in her chair). Next she began sniffing and licking her food first (testing to make sure we aren’t trying to poison her)  Then she would only eat food placed exactly where she wanted it and had to feed herself.

So we introduced utensils. Now she had been introduced to a spoon and fork before but this time was different. This time she learned how to use them! She loves her fork! She has mastered the art of stabbing items with her fork and makes it to her mouth every time. Next came the spoon, she did amazing with the spoon- I was so proud of her!

Before my eyes my little girl just grew up a little more. I forsee many more food messes, meltdowns and hunger strikes in our immediate future but she is on the right path to feeding herself and my eyes rain with joy!

photo 5  photo 1 (1)

Now the important Down Syndrome Awareness Month (DSAM) message for the day is this:

Lily is just like every other toddler! Lol. She strives to be independent, is demanding, yells when she gets frustrated, and makes huge messes when eating. Yes, its true she must work harder to eat due to the lower tone of the mouth muscles and sometimes gets lazy with chewing but she is more alike than different ❤

052

Teething- a cruel necessity

20131016-214006.jpg

Teething has got to be one of the cruelest rites of passage for children to endure and they must go through it TWICE!

Children with Down syndrome can have missing teeth, extra teeth, oddly shaped teeth, out of order teeth and delayed teething. (That was a mouthful) 😉

Lily began teething when most babies do but didn’t get her first tooth until she was close to a year old. She got them out of order – her upper eye teeth were first and looked like fangs (she could’ve been the Twilight baby!) but she got quite a few in all at once.

You would never know this kid was teething while she cut her incisors, eyes, and even pre-molars! But when she began cutting her 2 yr molars and canines- oh boy! She now has 14 teeth and has 6 to go. These last teeth have been awful- creating high emotion, restlessness and even a hunger strike!

They say that as teeth begin to emerge they cut through the gum and go up and down a little before finally agreeing to stay out. Now that’s just plain mean!

All this work and guess what? They will just fall out and she will have to endure this all over again! What was the plan here? The only bright point I have to give her is that when she begins losing these hard earned teeth, a magic faerie will come and take these precious teeth and leave her some money…..:)

But with teeth come new things to discover- different foods, a smile that looks so much more grown up, brushing your teeth and of course, the dentist!

Lily’s first visit to the dentist was fun. Well playing on the pirate ship in the waiting room was fun, getting a goodie bag was fun, laying in the lap of the dentist- not so fun! The dentist counted her teeth and looked them over much to Lily’s dismay. We received a good report and were sent on our way.

Seeing the dentist may not be on Lily’s list of fun activities but brushing her teeth sure is! She brushes her own teeth in the morning and I brush her teeth at night. Any time anyone runs the bathroom sink, she races over and points to her teeth signaling she is needing to brush! I sure hope we can continue this enthusiasm!

20131016-213950.jpg

Blah Blah Blah

photo 1 (3)

To Speak: to voice your emotion, concern, make a statement. To be able to ask for help, have a conversation with a friend or lover, to be able to tell a joke, to express how much you love someone.

Speech is very important to us. In fact, we rely on it so much as a society that when we have trouble understanding someone, we get frustrated, when it takes a minute for someone to reply to us, we get impatient and if someone has a lisp or other problem we tend to make fun.

One of the most distinguishing marks of DS (I think) is speech. We were told that Lily will be delayed in speech and that may or may not be able to speak clearly. People with DS tend to have flatter and broader tongues which in addition to having smaller mouths, can create problems with speaking. Since even learning to talk is a ‘tone’ thing, it is harder for Lily to coordinate her lips and tongue to make the right sounds.

When I first learned of the potential speech problems, I didn’t pay much attention. After all, Lily was only days old, what did she and I care about speech? Now that we are in toddlerhood, however, speech is very much on my mind and has become important for Lily too.

Lily’s first word was “dada”. I will remember that day forever and so will James. The three of us were playing on the floor when James, got up to leave. As he is walking away, we hear this tiny little voice exclaim “DADA!” James stopped dead in tracks and we both looked at her with excitement. She was so very proud of herself. And we were too!

Since that moment, Lily has expanded greatly on her speech and now has a variety of words and phrases. She babbles constantly and most of the time I know what she is trying to say. “Dada” has now evolved into “daddy”, and she says- Oz, what’s that?, Stop It, Cat, Dog, Step, Ready, can Hiss like a snake, Roar like a bear,  sign more, all done, brush teeth, come here and elephant and can understand just about everything I say.

That being said, I find myself more and more worried about her speech. I don’t often get a chance to hear other almost 2 year old’s speak but it seems that most have a much bigger vocabulary than Lily. (Before you scold me for comparing my daughter to others, let me say, we all do it, it’s natural and I am not judging my daughter just comparing.) I also find myself wondering about how she will sound. Will she be hard to understand? Will she get frustrated because people can’t understand her? How bad will it be? Will it always be that way?

Like with everything else DS related, we will not know these answers until we get there. That’s okay. I have learned to accept that there isn’t much I will know until we ‘get there’.  I do know this, I love hearing her communicate and have conversations with me and her toys- and I think she is amazing as she reads her books aloud to her brother, who also thinks she is amazing 🙂

photo 2 (3)

DELAYED DELAYED DELAYED

1380674_10202059263626296_952573472_n

 

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!