Sunday, 10 November 2013

How Do I Know If My Child is Introverted?

What are Introverts?
Some kids can be a bit of a mystery to their parents. In my counseling practice I come across parents who simply do not 'get' one of their children, that he/she 'pushes my buttons'. In many cases it's proven to be that the child is like the other parent.

An important thing to perhaps realise is whether your child is introverted or extroverted. Simply put - extroverts feel energised by being around people, introverts feel drained by being around people. Both groups enjoy the company of others, it's just that for introverts, social interactions are taxing and require periods of solitude to recharge. A fantastic cartoon version of this which illustrates it perfectly, can be found here

Is my kid a Sheldon Cooper?
TV's The Big Bang Theory has done much, I think, to help the general public understand how introverts (and highly intelligent introverts) think, but the show does stereotype them a little. Not all brilliant scientists are like Dr Sheldon Cooper, who is clearly on the Autistic Spectrum. And not all introverts have trouble finding a life partner either. But I do have to laugh at the rigidity of the characters' social lives and their childlike fascination with comic book superheroes! If your child is on the spectrum, perhaps some Asperger's Traits, (and I'll blog about that another time) you will by now have noticed inflexibility in his/her thinking that often leads to arguments.
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For introverted children the challenge becomes how to manage social interactions and quiet times to recharge. It's a delicate balance and the strain will often manifest in behaviours which can be puzzling for parents - screaming, slamming doors, crying, holding their head, blowing up over some minor issue, shouting 'Leave me ALONE!' - that kind of thing. It's essential that an introverted child be allowed to be thus. They cannot 'learn' to become more extroverted. It's just not how they are made. According to studies, introverts make up approximately 25% of the general population, which explains why the majority of people (extroverts), have trouble understanding them!

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Introversion is Normal
In her excellent book, The Introvert Advantage - How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, Marti Olsen Laney describes the physical differences in the introvert and extrovert brains and how each gains 'happy hits' quite differently. This is a fantastic resource for parents, as well as adults, as it explains behaviour patterns, ways of thinking and how to survive, whether you are an introverted parent with an extroverted child or an extrovert with an introvert partner etc. Laney debunks common myths and misconceptions about introverts - that they hate people and never want to come out of their 'bunkers'; that they are somehow dysfunctional and weird. It's true, we introverts have a bubble around us, for protection, and we like to choose who comes into that sacred space. But it's not because we don't like people, or that we disapprove of people, it's a matter of energy. Laney backs up her theories with solid scientific evidence, including brains scans and long term studies. The diagrams are easy to understand and the explanations make so much sense.
You can purchase this book online here

So, if your child or partner's behaviour is puzzling, perhaps this will help you determine why and give you some ideas to handle the relationship better.

cheers, Dawn

Monday, 14 October 2013

Kids Controlling Their Own Moods and Behaviours

Most children are very skilled at manipulation, figuring out ways to get what they want. It's an inbuilt survival skill. The difficulty arises when their behaviour is too self-focussed and impacts upon others.
In our house we developed a behaviour indicator, (see above) which helps a child realise how they've behaved. The blue knob is slid backwards or forwards, depending on whether privileges have been lost or gained. 
There are expectations for behaviour, for both child and parents, which are clearly stated:

Expectations:
You
· Speak in a respectful tone of voice
· Show you are grateful for what is done for you (saying thank you)
· Not arguing, but saying “Ok Mum/Dad” or nothing at all.
· Consider the feelings of others (not bossy when playing with other kids)
· Apologise when it’s the right thing to do
· Be helpful & thoughtful
· Keep your room tidy
· Help with chores
· Respect privacy and belongings of others

Mum and Dad:
· Guide you, believe in you, encourage you.
· Look after you, make decisions for you
· Provide a safe place for you to grow up

The indicator is linked to a list of privileges, which can be withdrawn or won back:

Everyday privileges
· Watching 1 TV or DVD episode
· Walk dog to school
· Swimming at the pool
· Listen to music
· See the horse (brush/feed/ride)
· 7.30pm bedtime lights out

Special One-off privileges
· Eat in front of TV
· Watch a whole movie
· 8pm bedtime lights out
· Trip on Dad’s boat
· Visits to or from other kids
· Out of school activity (Scouts or Little Athletics)
· Go to the movie cinema
· Out for a meal
· Picnic
· Go to markets

Lose spaces if you:
· Leave clothes etc lying around
· Are rude, mean or ungrateful
· Are asked more than once to do something
· Are not in bed on time at 7.15pm (Lights out 7.30pm)
· Are disobedient

Most importantly, we provide specific ways in which our child can WIN BACK spaces. This is what really counts:

Gain spaces if you do the following without being asked:
- Put your clothes away
- Entertain yourself for 1 hour
- Help with dishes
- Set the table
- Mind your tone of voice & not arguin
- Cleaning – help Dad or Mum
- Bedtime list without being prompted

This puts the child in more control. They may lose a privilege, (or two!) as a consequence of their actions, but have the opportunity to win them backif they change their behaviour. It's less punitive and more empowering, while maintaining a standard of behaviour and providing feedback to the child. Our little girl loves it. The chart quantifies, in a measureable way, her behaviour, good and bad. It could be modified to suit the child, with slightly different aspects of behaviour listed. I know. This is very detailed! Your head mught be buzzing right now, but for our particular child it works like a charm. we don't have to rant and rave, we just calmly slide the indicator back and discuss what happened. Then we provide the opportunity to have it slid forward again. Much less drama! Natural consequences follow choices. Isn't that what life is about, learning to make good choices?

So if you're wondering what on earth you can do to manage behaviours, perhaps draw up your own version of this and give it a go! The key is strict adherence. There's no point in a half-hearted attempt on your part. Your child will be watching you like a hawk to see if you're consistent. Make it easier for yourself and stick to it, the easy parts (granting privileges) and the not-so-fun bit, (taking them away).
Good luck!

Monday, 16 September 2013

What Do Kids Really Want?

It's a cause of concern to many parents and carers, sometimes surfacing around Christmas and Birthdays - what do kids actually want, more than anything? Harry Harlow's research into child attachment shows that when young monkeys are given a choice between a wire 'mother' with a full bottle of milk and a wire 'mother' covered in soft fabric and padding, they choose to go hungry and cuddle up to the padded  'mother.' Every time I think about this experiment it makes me want to cry, imagining those poor babies snuggling up to a padded form, their bellies twisted with hunger.So what are the implications of this research? What do kids want from you?

1. Your approval.
Your encouragement, when they are striving to do or learn something, this week's spelling words for instance, can mean the difference between success and failure. Their confidence is directly affected by how you handle the situation. Kids need to know that you see how much they are trying and that you proud of their efforts. Even if they fail. They also need to know that whatever they are feeling is ok. If they are angry about something - that's perfectly valid. If they are sad - that it's perfectly normal to feel sad sometimes. The worst thing we can do as adults is tell a child, 'you're not allowed to show anger because it's disrespectful.' or that being sad is somehow weak or silly. Being self aware about their own feelings and being honest in sharing them with someone is the basis of every relationship they will ever have. Knowing they have your approval can drive kids to push through their fear barriers and sets down a solid foundation for their self-esteem.

2. Your time.
You don't need to rush out and buy another toy or gadget. You don't need to enrol them in yet another activity. What kids want is YOUR time and attention. Have you ever noticed how they love doing things with you, watching and learning from you? It's an opportunity to share your knowledge and skills, and to help develop their language vocabulary and general understanding of the world. And that's just from washing the dog, clearing out the garage and having a garage sale, making a swing in the backyard, putting together a photo album, choosing and making a special meal from a recipe book, going for a walk in nature and chatting about what you see, singing along to a music CD together, digging and planting in the garden. The ideas are endless! Discussing the day's events at the dinner table, breakfast in the sun, reading together; these are activities which help children to feel loved, valued and happy.

So don't worry that what you have to offer isn't enough. Believe me, it is. You are your child's role  model. They look up to you. Don't squander this precious childhood era doing your own thing and ignoring them, or chasing around trying to give them 'everything you never had as a child'. They just want you. Live your lives together.

Monday, 2 September 2013

How to Make Your Kids Feel Safe

The number one piece of advice I give to parents when they come to see me about their child, is to work on their own relationship with each other, as care givers.

It's SO important that children see you are in love, openly show affection and are kind and thoughtful to each other. It's easy in the hustle of a busy day to forget to connect, to say 'I love you', hug each other and to give compliments.
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But little ears and little eyes feast on such things! It makes a child feel secure to witness these exchanges, to feel that you are capable of providing the protection they need, as they grow and learn to face the world on their own some day. A solid parental relationship shows that you respect each other, and isn't that one of the most important values we want our children to learn?
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So work on your relationship. Put it first. It's so easy to put the kids first, but your strength comes from your partner, not your kids. It is the well from which you draw your drive and confidence to keep going.

When children see their parents showing love and affection, they feel safe and happy that all is well in their little world.

Monday, 29 July 2013

How Do You Get Reluctant Writers to Write a Story?

Boys are notoriously full of energy, whether its physical or mental, and I've found in twenty years of teaching them, all ages, that they generally find the static activity of writing BOOOORING! So, how do we get them interested, excited, keen?
Here are a few tips that work:
  1. Have a very basic story outline, in the form of titles for each section, on one sheet of paper. On it put: character, setting, problem/complication, resolution, ending.
  2. Make up a pack 2 types of cards, one with random nouns, the other with random adjectives. I use this in writing workshops with up to 60 children at a time. They love it! And, more importantly, it's a simple way to improve their vocabulary and spelling, with words such as librarian, fairy, archaeologist, magician.
    • Each child randomly selects a noun, ie: 'mechanic' or 'bunny'  
    • then two adjective cards, ie: 'grumpy' or 'cheerful'. Voila! They have a main character. 
    • They can then go through the process again to select a minor character/evil dude/offsider.
    • Discuss how and where these two characters would meet and what they both want to do.
  3. Dictation. One of the barriers to writing is the physical act of putting pen to paper. You can help this along by doing it for them (for the first draft only!) 
    • Discuss a story idea, whether it starts as a recount (something they experienced in real life) or as a completely made-up idea.  (narrative)
    • Ask: Who is in this story? What happens to them? Where does this happen? And start typing. 
    • This is where the basic story structure sheet is perfect for guiding along. You'll find you can't type/write fast enough!
  4. Proofreading, editing, final copy. It's up to the student to proofread and edit the second draft and final copy. Read aloud to them exactly what they have written, spelling mistakes and all. (This can be quite hilarious!) and instruct them to say 'STOP!' when they want to change something. Assist with spelling, grammar, punctuation as a team, suggesting possibilities and asking them what they think might be correct, then providing it if they don't know. I find saying, "If you don't know or you're not sure, you just say 'I'm not sure.'" This gives them the freedom to admit they don't know without feeling bad. Children love being right, so set it up so that they give YOU the answer, wherever possible by providing two or three alternatives and let them choose which seems 'right'. Gently provide the correct answer if needed. 
  5. Illustrate! This is the most fun. Again. provide guidance where needed in the form of questions. 'What do you think he looks like? Did you describe him?"
  6. Publish and share the finished product. A child who feels proud of their work will be more confident to attempt it alone next time.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

I'll begin this blog by sharing a book I'm currently reading. There are some pretty challenging stories in Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz's book. You have to grit your teeth in places, but a thirst for knowledge drives me to read on and discover new insights. It's well worth the journey!

Reading this book prompts questions - What is considered normal behaviour for a child? Why do some children never thrive? Why do some children grow up to be sociopaths? Can we prevent such a disastrous outcome simply by good parenting?

In the case studies Bruce Perry shares with his readers I am touched, horrified and ashamed at the injustices done to innocent children purely through ignorance and circumstance. Such as the four week old infant, Leon, who was left alone all day in his crib, every day, while his mother took her older child out to the zoo, the museum, the shops and finally came home to cook dinner. Baby Leon soon learned that when he cried, no one came. All his milestones, such as turning over, crawling, sitting up were witnessed by no one. And so he learned to be a self contained unit, needing no one. His mother thought he was fine, 'because he didn't cry anymore.' But Leon grew to be a troubled child, with many different diagnoses, entering the juvenile justice system by the time he was six until one day, he murdered and raped (in that order) two girls, aged 12 and 13. If you saw the monster he had become, you would not perhaps wonder at the infant he once was. But Dr Perry did. In all those years, no one thought to ask about the home life, the routines, of that child. Leon's ability to empathise never developed. He was switched off to the needs of those around him, concerned only with getting his own needs met, by whatever means necessary and subject to infantile rages when he didn't.

The boy who was raised as a dog lost both parents and his grandmother, who had taken over his care. He was raised by his step grandfather who knew nothing about children, so he kept the child in a cage outside with his dogs. He was fed, played with and returned to the cage when he misbehaved. He could not walk or talk.

So what do we learn from stories such as this? That children are resilient and can cope with trauma? That all parents understand the basics of child rearing? That 'the system' can help these kids with early intervention programs? What we learn is that a parent's love and attention, from day one, has enormous ramifications for that child's future life, physically, emotionally, cognitively.

There are other stories in this book which make you marvel at the ability of children to spring back when given the right homelife. One carer, Mama P., would take any child in her care, no matter how old, and cradle them, rock them, sing to them. She'd call them her 'babies' and believed in treating them not due to their age, but according to what they needed. Studies show that children remain, developmentally and emotionally speaking, at the level at which they were abandoned. To allow them to thrive, you have to go back to that stage and help them grow by fulfilling what they lacked, hence, the rocking and singing.

I'm starting this blog because I believe that parents struggle sometimes with guilt that they are not doing the best for their children. With over twenty years of experience working with children and their families I have seen it over and over. The parents who ask the questions tend to fall into two groups - they either want a quick fix and don't understand they are part of 'the problem' or blame themselves and don't listen to their intuition. In this modern age, where everything we do is influenced by the media and advertising, I want to provide something of value to parents, teachers and carers that reminds us that we are instinctive animals, with nurturing capabilities, who want the best for the little ones in our care. And that sharing what we've learned, even via the internet, is a way of bringing the village back into child rearing.