Labeling kids with bogus ‘mental disorders’

A Facebook friend of mine posted this video with the comment, “Can I get a f*%cking-A!?” It’s a powerful video with a powerful message. In it, children and young people are shown with psychiatric labels across their chests – oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar disorder, general anxiety disorder, ADHD, etc. The kids then start tearing off the labels to reveal more positive labels underneath – philosopher, revolutionary, activist, etc.

The tagline is “Childhood is not a mental disorder.”


And a big part of me wanted to stand up and scream “Yes!” Because I am the first person to rail against pathologizing normal human behavior – especially in children. It breaks my heart to see parents agonize over a rambunctious boy for fear he has ADHD, to see a mother worry that her sassy little girl has Oppositional Defiant Disorder, to see the deep worry on a father’s face as he reads about autism and worries that this is what’s “wrong” with his late-talking toddler. Most kids are just fine, and many parents worry themselves sick over normal variations in development.

But my own very personal experience keeps me from giving an unqualified “f*%cking-A!” to this provoking video.

I have a kid with a label. And I know with everything in me that having that label has dramatically changed this child’s life for the better.

I think when we discuss these issues we need to be careful not to polarize along ideological lines. Are many completely normal kids given inappropriate labels? Maybe. Are some kids labeled and medicated for the convenience of adults? I believe it happens. Do some kids have legitimate mental health concerns or behavioral challenges that can benefit from intervention? My experience says yes.

It can be tricky to tease out problematic behavior from normal, healthy development. When do normal childhood fears and concerns become an anxiety disorder? When does a tendency for daydreaming or propensity for fidgeting become ADHD?

These are not easy questions to answer. We do not help children by pretending that every ADHD diagnosis is made up. Labeling a child with general anxiety disorder as an activist (as they do in the video) does not help the child live with what may be a very real and very debilitating anxiety that keeps him from enjoying his life. But we must make sure that in “helping” a child, we are truly seeking to help him live his life as the best and truest version of himself. Our goal should be to help all children develop their strengths while learning to manage their weaknesses.

My child’s therapist (you can have no idea how much it pains me to use those words) speaks of therapy as providing an “owner’s manual” for the type of brain my kid has. The goal of therapy is not to change who my child is, not to make this child fit into an ideal mold for our convenience. But before therapy, this child could not do things normal kids do – things this child wanted to do. Play on the playground? Interact with friends? Go to school? See a movie with a grandparent? Sit on the couch in our own house and play a video game? These were things the child wanted desperately to do, but the disorder prevented it. With therapy, the child can now enjoy these activities. Yes, my child needed therapy in order to sit on the couch in our home.

Seeking therapy was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I was always the one shouting against labeling and medicating kids, about putting young children in therapy and making them feel something was wrong with them, about squashing rather than embracing who a child actually is.

But my kid was hurting. I had to put aside my own fears and anxieties and ideologies and help my kid the best way I knew how. And that meant making an appointment with a psychologist. And that was hands down the hardest thing I have ever done.

And perhaps the most rewarding. Today that child is thriving. We have all learned skills to manage the disorder in a positive and supportive way rather than being completely befuddled by and sometimes angry at this poor kid who really was hurting.

If I had let my fear or my stubborn belief that no child should be labeled stop me from seeking help, my kid would still be struggling, still be hurting, still be suffering. How does that serve any child?

So yes, we should absolutely be careful of pathologizing childhood. We should be incredibly conservative in labeling children and even more conservative in medicating children. But messages like the one in the video above simply serve to further confuse parents who are already confused and hurting as they try to help their children. We need to be careful of polarizing messages that prevent children from getting the help they need and shame parents who seek help for their kids.

 

7 Things To Do While Waiting for Labor

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I just read a super annoying blog post about 7 things to do while waiting for labor. I won’t link to it because I don’t want to disparage anyone, but there was reference to a “patience hat.” Seriously?

I’m snuggled in bed with my 5 day old. My sister and a friend of mine are due any minute. I can tell you, you can only tell a woman waiting for labor to “put on her patience hat” from the safety of your computer screen over the internet. Say that to her face and you better guard yours.

Those days before going into labor are excruciating. I don’t care if it’s your 1st or your 4th. I imagine it’s the same even if it’s your 10th, but I can only speak from personal experience for the first 4.

A friend of mine described it as the worst anticipation of her life, and I would agree. That first contraction could start at any moment. It could be with the next breath – or, God help you, it could be another week or more. How in the world does anyone survive it?

So here’s my list of 7 Things to do While Waiting for Labor. I promise not to tell you to just be patient. I promise.

Find a Project
I was super on top of things this time around. My freezer was stocked, my house was ready, the baby clothes were washed, my hospital bag was packed, the laundry was caught up for crying out loud.

Stupid.

I told my husband, “I finished nesting too early. I need a project.” I wasn’t feeling any particular surge of energy, I didn’t want to do anything super physical. I looked around and decided I would finally finish the tiny details on the bathroom makeover I started almost a year ago. It involved decoupaging some pictures (I have an unnatural love of Mod Podge, at least according to my husband) and hemming a shower curtain.

I did it in small steps over a couple of days. It was perfect. I finished 6 hours before the baby was born.

Keep Making Plans
Whatever your normal routine is, just keep doing it. Whatever you do, don’t stop your life and just sit home waiting to go into labor. My sister is due in one week. I just heard from my mom that mom is babysitting so my sister could go to the DMV to get tags on her car. We had a lot of work done on our cars in the weeks before this baby was born. The day before the baby was born, I made plans to get together for a playdate the day after the baby was born. Obviously, those plans got cancelled, but having them gave me something to look forward to had I not gone into labor when I did.
Of course, if you would really rather just stay home and take a nap, for heaven’s sake do that! If you feel tired and snuggly, then rest. But if you feel antsy and restless, keep making plans.

Serve Someone Else
Stay with me a moment here. It’s not a lecture, I promise. It’s just a way to take your mind off of yourself for a bit. One of my favorite mysteries of the Rosary is “The Visitation.” It’s where we reflect on the fact that just after Mary was told she was going to be the Mother of God, she heads off to help her cousin Elizabeth through the final trimester of her pregnancy.

I remember the first time I really thought about this. I remember thinking, “Wow. This woman just found out she’s going to be the freakin’ Mother of God. And she’s pregnant – with the King of the Universe – and she’s humbly trotting off to serve her cousin.”

Because my natural instinct is to be all “I’ve got some big stuff going on here myself, so, um, yeah, I’d like to help, but I’m over here in my first trimester with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, so maybe you could ask somebody else?”

So when I’m making an effort, I try to do something nice for someone else, even when I’ve got my own stuff going on. Nothing big. But the day before I had this baby, I did make an effort to deliver one of the meals I’d frozen to a friend who’d just had a baby. It made me feel good and it took my mind off of the imminence of labor for about 15 minutes. Oh, and it gave me a chance to bitch a little to someone else about how much the end of pregnancy sucks.

Make a Date with a Friend
This is not one of those “you won’t be able to do this after the baby comes” recommendations. This is simply acknowledging that hanging with a good girl friend is a nice way to pass the time. If you have other kids and you can ditch them, great. But even if it’s a playdate in the park where you can let your kids run off while you enjoy an unseasonably warm afternoon sitting at a picnic table gabbing with a friend (thanks, Andrea!), spend some time with people who love you and whom you love. It will distract you and remind you that you have friends. This will be important for you to remember once you do finally have that baby.

Do Something you Want to Do
Again, not because all your fun is about to come to an end, but because it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time. Get a massage. Go to a movie. Go to a yoga class. Go to one of those “Sip and Paint” classes. Whatever. Spend a little time doing something fun and frivolous. Because there’s nothing worse than just waiting.

Remember You Truly Won’t be Pregnant Forever
I don’t say that flippantly. This time around there was a good part of my brain that truly believed that this was all a cruel joke. That I wasn’t actually pregnant but rather had just contracted some strange medical condition with no known cure. The miracle of life is really hard to wrap your mind around, and I think it’s possible for even sane and rational people like myself (ahem.) to start to believe that it is possible to be pregnant forever. Just because it’s never happened before doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen now. There’s a first time for everything.

If any part of that previous paragraph sounds rational to you, don’t worry. It means you’re really, really close.

Go Ahead and Bitch a Little
One of the 7 things to do in the above referenced blog post was to stop complaining. (I told you it was an annoying post!) Bollocks. The end of pregnancy is HARD. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s still this huge thing that’s happening and some of it sucks. Yes, it’s beautiful and spiritual and miraculous. But it’s not really . . . fun. So go ahead and share some of those thoughts and feelings with that friend you’re hanging out with. Especially if she’s been there before. Don’t dwell on it, but really, it’s okay to say, “you know what? This really sucks.” And if she tells you to put on your patience hat, punch her in the nose.

 

 

How do you keep calm and homeschool on?

This was the question posed on one of my homeschool forums. Someone was asking for help in taming her temper. She wanted to hear from people who have real tempers (that’s me) and who have conquered them (that’s not me). Even though I am not a picture of perfect, peaceful motherhood (oh how I long to be that mother), under an amazing spiritual director I have made some steps in that direction. Here is what I shared with the other group.

I most definitely have a temper. Here are some things that have helped. Although please know, it is not conquered. And honestly, I think if that’s your goal, you will always be beating up on yourself. Try to make your goal “improvement” and  thank God for each small improvement.

 Spiritual direction helped tremendously. One of the things that came out for me is the motivation for order. I want a calm organized house, but the purpose should be toward family harmony. And if I am throwing a temper tantrum because things aren’t calm and organized, I’m not working toward family harmony, I’m contributing to the chaos around me.

These great little books: The 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher Series | Ave Maria Press They’re bite sized and perfect for a quick 5 minutes in the morning, but also provide enough to sit and chew on for a good 30 minutes in the morning if I have the time.

Early to bed and early to rise. Getting up at least an hour before my kids helps my sanity so, so, much. I start with a little prayer, and then get my day organized before anyone else gets up. It was hard at first, but now it’s my favorite part of my day.
Really looking at my kids. So often I’m just trying to get through my day, but when I really stop and look at my children, I realize how little they are and how much I love them. Just taking a moment to really see my children has done more to develop my joy in parenting than any other parenting practice. With practice, I have gotten to the point where I can sometimes even do this when I’m about to lose it with them. It helps me to stop, remember my goal is family harmony, and to respond with love and a touch more patience than my natural instinct.
Also from my spiritual director, I am constantly trying to practice responding rather than reacting. I find if I can just take a deep breath, even better if I can remember to say a quick prayer, and attempt to respond with some bit of self control rather than to just let it fly (which feels so good in the moment, but so, so awful later), I can usually come up with a better response than my initial impulse.

 And finally I have had to learn to accept my humanness. I am not perfect, I fall constantly. Daily. A confessor once told me, “When you fall, get up quickly.” So that is what I try to do. Jesus loves me and he doesn’t want me to wallow in self-hatred. He wants me to pick myself up and try again. And again. Tiny steps toward improvement. A trust that Jesus will make it all okay. And a willingness to keep on keeping on.

Clash of Desires: Follow the schedule or go to the farm?

When I began this little project of getting more organized, more intentional, and more disciplined in my homeschooling vocation, one of the things that concerned me was how this would interplay with the freedom I have as a homeschooler to do the fun stuff. In the past, we have spent a lot of time going on field trips, and the fall, in particular, is a time when I like to literally “head for the hills” with my children to soak in the glory that is October in Colorado.

But this year we have a schedule. And not just a schedule. We have a Classical Conversations co-op. With assignments. And teachers. And due dates.

And it’s a lot.

A couple of weeks ago I had a slight breakdown about the new character of our homeschool. It’s harvest festival time, and every year for the last four years we have gone to the farm with friends to harvest a car load of vegetables, ride on tractors, climb into broken old cars and fire trucks and amusement park rides, and slide down an enormous dirt hill on Tonka trucks. (If you are in Colorado and you haven’t been to the Miller Farms harvest festival, you are missing out. Go.)

As I cried to my husband about how we don’t have time to do the fun stuff anymore and it’s not fair to my littler ones and maybe this whole thing isn’t working out after all, he looked at me and said, “You know, going to the farm is just as important to their education as the book work you’re doing.” And he’s right. And I know he’s right. And that’s my dilemma. Because we still have a Classical Conversations co-op. With assignments. And teachers. And due dates.

But I decided to rage against the machine and get the gang together for a trip to the farm. We picked our day (yesterday) and as I put it on the calendar I realized that I have another big field trip scheduled this week. On Wednesday we’re going to a glorious Colorado nature park to have a park ranger teach us about bugs and the riparian eco-system.

At the farm

No trouble,  I thought. We’ll work ahead this weekend to get the co-op assignments ready. It will be fine. But Saturday we went to the Harvest Festival at the historic park near our house. (No actual harvesting happens here, but there are stagecoach rides. And apple cider doughnuts. I go for the doughnuts.) Saturday afternoon Helen and I went to see the Midsummer Night’s Dream ballet with my lovely and generous sister-in-law and my niece.

Sunday morning was church and hanging out afterwards with friends. Sunday afternoon was taken up with “daddy time” for each of the kids. (Our lives are not usually this jam-packed with fun stuff, it’s just a good week!)

So here it is Tuesday morning and we have basically one day to do all of the assignments we normally spread out over 5 or 6 days.

And I just don’t know if it’s going to happen. And I don’t know what I’m going to do if it doesn’t.

The consequences won’t be dire. Henry won’t get his stickers toward his end of the year prize. He won’t have a stellar presentation for class. He may not have a final draft (or even a rough draft, honestly) to share in his writing class and won’t receive tickets for the end of the year carnival.

I’m stuck with this internal struggle to conform to someone else’s standard. I feel resentful of having my child manipulated by peer pressure and token systems. I feel torn between appreciating the structure and accountability this co-op offers as I endeavor to improve the academic part of our homeschool, and resenting the loss of freedom to take things at our own pace.

I don’t know how this all will shake out. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Sandbox Scientist: Real Science Activities for Little Kids {Book Review}

If you’ve been following my posts on scheduling, you may have noticed that Thomas and Henry have a block called “Science Box Time.” This is a time of open ended science exploration facilitated by the handy little book Sandbox Scientist: Real Science Activities for Little Kids.

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I first discovered this book when I randomly checked it out from the library. I loved it, returned it, and forgot the name of it. A bit later I despaired when  I couldn’t recall the name of it. All of my vague descriptions to the nice librarian and her creative searches yielded nothing. Then one day the title just came to me and I immediately jumped on Amazon and ordered my own copy of it.

This book is very nearly perfect for teaching science to young children. And by young, I mean anywhere from age 2 up to middle school.

In the early years, science is not about learning scientific facts. It is about the formation of scientific habits. It’s learning to think like a scientist. Science is learning to ask questions and to look for the answers through exploration and observation. Raising a scientist involves nurturing curiosity, and encouraging creativity. It means empowering children to discover, learn, and prove things for themselves rather than just accepting what they’re told.

Science asks “Why? Really? What happens if I. . . ? How do you know? Show me. Let me see. Let me try. Prove it.” Science sounds an awful lot like an impudent teenager.

Sandbox Scientist provides a list of science boxes you can assemble yourself that encourage children to ask these questions and to seek the answers for themselves through exploration and observation. The boxes work perfectly in a home environment because the materials they call for are cheap and easy to find.

I am using the book to plan out six weeks worth of boxes at a time. For our first six weeks I went through and pulled boxes calling for water. This is not because I’m doing a water theme (though you could certainly use the book that way), but rather because I want to take advantage of the warm weather while we’ve got it. By assembling six weeks worth of boxes at a time, I can make one trip to the hardware store and/or dollar store to get what we need and put everything together at one time. My boxes are now ready to go when I need them.

Yesterday my kids played with the Ice Box. One of the best things about the ideas in this book is that they are suitable for my 3 year old and my 9 year old. They approach the material in different ways, and they learn from each other in the process.

The Ice Box contained large blocks of ice made from yogurt tubs and 1/2 gallon milk cartons, spoons, forks, knives, paint brushes, watercolor paint, and squirt bottles of warm water. I put it all out in a couple of large aluminum trays on a sheet in the back yard and invited the kids out to play.

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The children had a blast observing the different properties of the ice. “This block is clear!” “This one is cloudy!” “Hey look, this one has holes in it?” “Let’s make the hole bigger.”

They also enjoyed painting the ice and watching the patterns of the swirls as the painted ice melted. They observed the effects of spraying a stream of water on the ice blocks versus spraying a mist of ice onto them. They enjoyed chipping and chiseling the ice into smaller pieces to make them melt faster.

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The boys did not happen to discover that they could melt the ice more quickly by using the magnifying glasses to focus the sun’s heat onto the ice. I think a small suggestion from me on using the magnifying glasses in this way could have extended the exploration a bit. As it was, they worked with the science box for a good 20 minutes before it devolved into a squirt bottle fight in the back yard. All in all, I thought our first science box was a success.