Category Archives: self-help

Grit by Angela Duckworth

If you haven’t read Grit by Angela Duckworth, be forewarned and encouraged: the book is long AND it is worth your time. The information is enthralling. Listening to the audio (read by the author) is even more fascinating.

One of my colleagues suggested I read it after I related the latest escapades in our quest to find the best care for our children’s special needs. Grit, according to Angela, is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

When it comes to our adopted kiddos, any social worker, community service board member, child services team contributor, school administrator, teacher or member of the mental health community with whom I’ve interacted would agree that I tend toward dogged advocacy. Our first social worker told Hubby I’m “hypervigilant” (hence the blog name).

Their well-being is my Quest, if you will.

Our kids had such a traumatic start; Hubby and I are determined—as much as is within our power—to make the rest of their growing-up years decidedly un-traumatic. I have to tell you: spending almost every moment of my wake time (and sometimes my dreams as well) finding ways to sow seeds of future success is exhausting.

At my friend’s recommendation, I read Grit thinking it might give me some encouragement.

Check.

Perhaps some validation.

Check.

Maybe even a little focus.

Check.

What I didn’t expect: Angela talks about ways to develop Grit in our children.

Her explanation of Grit indicators enthralled me. Among other things, a huge predictor of future success is a child’s commitment to a challenging activity for a certain amount of time.

At the high school level, two years of involvement in the same activity (whether sport, club or organization) is a solid predictor of future success.

Chess club, lacrosse, football, student government, school newspaper: as long as the activity creates growth and challenges the child to learn more, improve or think more creatively, it counts. (One year of involvement predicted nothing, by the way. That second year matters.)

To grow Grit in their children (and themselves), Angela, her husband and her children all “Do Hard Things.” (As a nerd partial to ancient myth, I prefer the term”Grit Quest.” My paraphrase of quest: an adventurous search or pursuit to secure or achieve something.  GQ for short. Gives more of a sense of the “bulldog determination to scale the highest limit of this mountain” ideology our family tends to embrace.)

The Rules:

1. Everyone does SOMEthing that requires practice (pursuit) to improve. Each family member must embrace a GQ.

“Everyone” includes parents—how can we expect the kids to do something difficult while we potato on the couch?

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that Hubby and I do fun things like teaching ourselves how to knock out and rebuild walls, replace the bathroom ceiling and restore cars. The kids’ counselor actually told us we needed to take time to relax, to show the kids that adulting isn’t all work. #1 will be no trouble.

2. Everyone chooses his or her own GQ. No one wants to work hard because someone else is making them.

We have a child who would prefer to do nothing at all, so #2 will be more difficult.. If we don’t choose something for her, she will sit in her room and converse with herself. We’ve come to a compromise: there will be a GQ and it will involve music; the kids can choose from the instruments we already have on hand (piano and guitar). They’ve each asked for music lessons (unwitting of the work required), so this technically follows Angela’s guideline.

Other GQ considerations are transportation and impact on family time. For instance, we’ve ruled out football (American) for now because practices every night and games on weekends would effectively preclude any other activities…for anyone, player or not. We’re open to any sports which enable the kids to play together without taking over the family schedule.

3. No quitting. At least, not on a difficult day nor due to bad attitude. Predetermine a timeline or stopping point.

Once they’ve fulfilled the terms of the agreement (e.g., eight weeks,”when you reach x level” or a sport season) they can pick a new instrument or try something else.

Angela Duckworth says, “if I’ve paid the tuition for your set of piano lessons, you’re going to take all those lessons and you are, as you promised your teacher, going to practice for those lessons.”

Sounds great, but #3 is a bit more tricky for us, as we’re still working on motivation.

For over a year, the kids took Karate (THEIR CHOICE). We told them they could quit once they received a green belt. Most of the class attained the first belt within the first three months. Over a year later, our little darlings finally managed to pass the first belt assessment. They simply refused to practice.

No consequences mattered. Rewards, consequences, the teacher calling them out in front of the entire class…nothing mattered to them.

This lack of response to negative consequence or positive reward has been an ongoing burr under my saddle. It’s a “normal” response from trauma kids.

I literally had to stand there and watch them, directing every move. Right, it’s only fifteen minutes a day…but when it took an hour to complete thirty minutes of homework and we had Scouts (one for each) twice a week and counseling twice a week and…and…and…it just became too much.

What I learned from that experience? Pick a shorter term goal. The idea of allowing them to quit when they hit green was this: by the time they got to green, they’d be so good, they wouldn’t want to quit. Both of them have athletic physiques and our boy has flexibility any ballerina would kill for. We knew if they found success, they’d want to continue.

Problem is, they fought so hard to be complacent, they missed out. Toward the end, they both started realizing goals in karate. Unfortunately, it was too late, because they were both approved for in-home counseling (7-10 hours per week). With school, there’s currently no time for karate.

But hey, once the summer starts, we will have all kinds of time to practice an instrument. (Yep, I plan to practice as well.)

In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to Grit one more time. There was a section about the Seattle Seahawks I didn’t fully catch the first time around, and I want to listen again.

If you take time to read it (or already have), weigh in below.

What do you think? Do you have grit? How do you know?

To Be or Not to Be…Medicated Part 2

Continued from Part 1

I’m not 100% comfortable with medication as a solution for attention problems.

I can’t deny the efficacy of certain prescriptions—last week, our son had his FIRST PERFECT WEEK at school.

Granted, we only had two days in class due to snow but this is still a first. Two days, back-to-back, with only green marks (given for helping, staying on task, getting behavioral compliments from teachers in supplementary classes, etc.)? Never happened before.

The potential for success is incredible.

Possibility of side effects, now or in the future, concerns me.

I can say, in good conscience, that we tried EVERYthing before turning to medication. Still, nagging guilt plagues me, an oppressive feeling we “gave in” to the road more traveled.

Some of my friends say things like

Drug companies are the devil

and

Pharmaceutical conglomerates care about making money, not about making kids healthy

and although I’m not sure they’re correct on the first count, I acquiesce on the second. Companies are formed and sustained for one purpose: to make money for someone.

Knowing this, why do we—as a nation—fall in line for the daily dose?

The unfortunate truth is this: other alternatives require more time and sometimes bring less direct results. In the world of mental health—mental health of children, in particular—we search for expedient outcomes.  Medication is fast, and in some cases, immediate.

Research for alternatives led me to an option so easy it’s laughable. MOVEMENT. Activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness. In other words, exercise.

One of the article links cracked me up: “exercise-seems-to-be-beneficial-to-children.” No. Really?

According to several studies (see the links throughout this post), exercise can be just as beneficial as medication. Some claim prescriptions may be eliminated by implementing a consistent workout routine.

Why don’t we hear more about exercise as an alternative to drugs? 

This article by Yasmin Tayag is blatant in accusation. There’s no money to be made; physical activity is, well, free.

To be fair, our doctor did recommend exercise—not to replace, but to supplement the medication. After I explained our involvement in Karate twice a week, Scouts, family chores (yes, cleaning up counts as exercise) and treks through the woods, she agreed that no one could call our family sedentary.

CalorieLab even has a cool page for learning how many calories you burned vacuuming or doing other chores, if you’re interested. 

She also recommended limiting screen time. Our kids watch about four hours of TV. Not per day. PER WEEK. Much lower than the national average, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics article. Where these kids find time to spend 7 hours a day (A DAY!?) entertained by screens is beyond me.

I have to agree with Yasmin; money seems the root of the problem; drug companies court pediatricians and other doctors constantly. I saw three reps during our 30-minute stay in the waiting area.

Why exercise?

If you don’t know the answer to this question after years of watching Richard Simmons Sweat to the Oldies, I can’t offer you help. I mean, really.

Stop pretending you’re not overcome by memories. You know you loved it.

Okay, let’s get serious. Shake off your nostalgia.

This article in The Atlantic shows pictures of brain function with and without exercise. Due to the wording, I can’t determine whether the pictures are a representation of the study or genuine, actual slides. Either way, the visual difference is staggering. The article references children sitting in class with “blue heads” for nine months. Lost learning potential could be significant. An excerpt:

John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD. Even very light physical activity improves mood and cognitive performance by triggering the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, similar to the way that stimulant medications like Adderall do.

Nutshell:

Exercise makes you feel good.

No small accomplishment for a child who tends toward a negative self-image. Many kids with ADHD feel “less.” Less able to do the work, less likely to succeed, less likable (due to their sporadic behavior) than their more focused classmates. Exercise can improve self-image in many ways—not just physical.

Exercise reduces “learned helplessness.”

ADHD kids are likely to quit before they start because they feel they won’t succeed regardless of what they do. ADDitude mag editors also quote John Ratey as a resident expert, but are more conservative. This article describes exercise as a supplement rather than replacement for medication.

I see “learned helplessness” in our children, both of whom struggle with attention (although our guy has a much more difficult time). Our daughter, in particular, would rather not try if she sees potential for failure.

Simple math problems take FOR-EVVVV-ERRRR because, instead of relying on her bank of memorized facts, she counts on her fingers before answering. This backfires, as she is often distracted while counting and ends up with an incorrect answer. This reinforces her idea that she won’t get it right. We’ve worked very hard with her, encouraging her to use the first answer that “pops into” her mind.

Exercise jump-starts your brain

Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention.

-John Ratey, M.D.

Working memory is the key for many ADHD individuals. Our son scored very high on psych evaluations in almost every area except this. Without working memory, we can’t perform two tasks at once—at least, not easily.

How much, how often?

  • WebMD suggests 150 minutes of exercise per week in an article about adult ADHD
  • According to an article in Inverse, some schools have implemented three 20-minute exercise sessions or use “time-in” instead of time-out: if a child acts out, he or she spends the “time-in” on an exercise/ machine

Exercises to try

  • Aerobics/Cardio
  • Running/Jogging/Walking
  • Push-ups, squats
  • Yoga
  • Sports/Martial Arts

Not all exercise must be physical, although aerobic exercise is an excellent strategy to focus that brain. You can also try the following:

  • Try focus exercises geared toward ADHD.
  • Train your Brain. The jury is still out regarding brain-training games, but it seems logical. If your brain is a muscle, and you engage in consistent brain workout, I conclude that it will be stronger and better.  NeuroRacer sounds pretty cool, although they now focus on aging adults. I contacted the company to ask if the game is available to the general public. 
  • Learn something new. Khan Academy offers free classes; the site is amazing. Learning a new skill stretches your brain. Remember when you learned to read? C-A-T. Struggling to decode words. Look at ya now—reading is as easy as breathing. Always wanted to learn Chinese? Greek? Spanish? Learn to play an instrument, to cook authentic Italian food, to swim. Now you have a reason.
  • Do math. I’ve seen exponential (see what I did there?) improvement in the kids’ focus as we’ve dedicated time to learning long division and double-digit multiplication.
  • Write. (YAY!) The creative process, research, putting words to a page whether written or typed, editing—all of these contribute to better focus. I’ve never been diagnosed ADHD (except by all my best friends and Hubby), but I do have my suspicions. When I practice faithful writing, everyone can tell.

Now what?

Our new routine started today. 30 minutes of sustained activity each day—that’s the goal. Hubby and I don’t often sit (we like to DIY, and we’ve been remodeling the kitchen for several weeks). The kids, however, would prefer to meld with the carpet, or couch, or whatever.

As I mentioned above, we all take responsibility for chores at home. Daily chores take a legitimate 15 minutes (for the 9 year old) and 25 minutes (for the 11 year old).

I’ve stopped counting their chores toward daily fitness because she, in particular, moves at a very slow pace. She’s admitted a hope that we will give up if she takes forever. So far, no dice. Sorry, honey.

During research for this post, I realized that our kids don’t participate in sustained physical activity every day.  So, today, I instituted the first daily “30 Get Up and Move Minutes” session. 30GUMM for short, because I’m a nerd. If the weather is nice, out they go. If I look out a window,they should be walking, running, playing with the dogs, swinging, etc.

Our first day of bad weather, I plan to break out the Wii. Yes, it’s screen time, but at least they’ll be moving, so I think it counts. Sort of like tricking them into exercise. Bwah ha ha ha.

Do I have to forgo meds?

This post (including Part 1) is not intended to denounce medication as originating in brimstone.

Although I don’t like the thought of possible side effects, school and self-image are my main concerns for the moment. As long as the side effects remain only on the pharmacy document regarding “all the horrible things that will probably happen because now you are looking for signs of them,” they’ll keep popping pills. Responsibly and at the lowest possible dose. If side effects occur, we’ll re-think the plan.

And for the moment, we’ve had no issues.

On the other hand, I plan be more intentional about integrating physical and brain exercise. Getting them in shape, body and mind, can only benefit. If we’re able to phase out the medication, that will be a lovely added bonus.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

How about you?

Are you a medical teetotaler or pill pusher? Is BigPharm the evil villain, or do you think alternative medicine is for hippies? Have you found ways to focus? What’s your strategy?

Of course, if you think freebasing Vicodin is a panacea, I recommend keeping that to yourself…

We’re all interested in what you have to say. Share below!

 

 

Adoption= Exceptionally Happy

I just read a really cool article by Jeff Haden: 10 Daily Habits of Exceptionally Happy People. http://www.inc.com/ss/jeff-haden/10-daily-habits-exceptionally-happy-people#0

For adoptive families, many of his points will resonate. I borrowed nine. (Used with permission.) 

Granted, there are times the descriptors “Exceptionally Stressed” or “Exceptionally Insane”  more accurately correspond with our circumstances, but being joyful is a decision and a mindset. (Think of the terminally ill patient who ultimately inspires those who come to encourage her.) Life isn’t a breeze, but we can be Exceptionally Happy. Read on:

1.  “I will not interrupt.”

It’s easy to assume that we know what the kid is going to say. (Especially when she uses the same excuse every time…what IS it with ten year olds?) Something to remember, though: interrupting is more than assumption. It’s more than rude. It’s a message. “What you have to say isn’t important.”  For an adopted or foster child, this is confirming something deeper, something they think they already know: “YOU aren’t important.”  Listen to your kid; prove their worth.

2.  “I will not check my phone while I’m talking to someone.”

We, as an aggregate, have phone-ilepsy. Someone else’s phone rings and we all reach for our own. By the time we realize “it’s not my ring,” the phone is already in hand. We check our phone for the time. We check to see if anyone has returned our texts, calls or emails. It’s understandable, when the child is chattering endlessly, that we multitask. The topic seems unimportant, and the kid doesn’t even notice that we’re not paying attention. Or so we assume. “I’m listening, honey. Keep talking.” Give them credit for being perceptive; they’re more cognizant than we think. Put the phone down.  (Of course, if you have an endless talker stuck on “loop” setting, it’s absolutely reasonable to tell the child, “You have five minutes of my undivided attention, but after this, I need to work on something.”)

3.  “I will not multitask during a meeting.”

See above.  We just covered this. Teachers and social workers have feelings, too.

4.  “I will not waste time on people who make no difference in my life.”

Newsflash: the Jersey Shore guys and gals don’t give a flyin’ flip whether you’re tuned in to watch them flex and posture. Shockingly, neither does Alex Trebek (even though he’s everybody’s favorite host). Spend less time watching, discussing and thinking about the people who have no idea you were conceived in the back of your parents’ 1957 Fairlane. Focus on the family, friends and supporters who play starring roles in the Not-So-Secret Life of an American Adoptive Family.

5.  “I will not wait until I’m convinced I will succeed.”

This one tickles me a little, because it applies so well to who I am in general (a confirmed non-risk-taker). However, adoption is pretty much ALL risk. There has never been a time when I considered adoption “success” a foregone conclusion. It’s a good reminder, nonetheless, to take the step, face the uncertainty, make the commitment. In adoption, there is no assurance of future triumph, but every moment is an opportunity to affect change in the life of a child. Carpe this moment.

6. “I will not whine.”

There is soooooooooooooo much to justifiably whine about. Ghastly social workers.  Horrendous former foster families. Appalling biological parents. The “system” (every foster/adoptive family understands this term). Government program inadequacies. Whomever neglected the academic, social, emotional, physical, mental, psychological, EVERYTHING-ical well-being of this child. And, of course, sometimes the kid himself is something to whine about. Think for a moment about the following synonyms: Gripe. Moan. Grouse. Grumble. Complain. Snivel. Do any of these words give you warm fuzzies? Neither does the act these words describe. The more you (grouse, gripe, grumble), the worse you feel. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Just Do It.” In this case, Just Don’t.

7.  “I will not be afraid.”

The wisest individual once said, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Often, we’re oblivious of allowing fear to worm it’s way into our lives. Fear is a habit: unbelievably easy to overlook and incredibly difficult to combat. When the fear creeps in, call a friend or contact a fellow adoptive family member. Some of us have already lived through the fire. We might be able to point you in the direction of an extinguisher or emergency exit. Bravery is a daily (and sometimes hourly) decision. Choose to be strong and courageous. You are not alone.

8.  “I will not blame other people – for anything.”

Again. Sooooooooooooo many people to blame.  And again, legitimately, justifiably so. The above mentioned Ghastlies, Appallings and Horrendouses caused much of the pain as well as many of the issues we’re trying to help these kids unravel. No thanks to these people, our kids have stinky, unpleasant, and in some cases, gruesome baggage to unpack. Things that no child should have in their personal carry-on.  All the same, by caving to the habit of blame, we handicap ourselves. Blaming others gives them influence they don’t deserve. We begin to feel inadequate, ineffectual, overwhelmed. Don’t bestow power on those who have no claim to it. Take responsibility for the future. Which brings me to the next point…

9.  “I will not let the past control my future.”

The first two years of our lives together, the kids spoke incessantly of prior families, both biological and foster. We allowed–and even encouraged–the verbal deluge, hoping they would “get it out” and then move on. Actually, the opposite became true. The more they reminisced, the angrier they became. Predictions of failure spoken over them (by adults who should have provided support) ripened.  Finally, we proclaimed our home a Present-and-Future-Only-Zone. Go ahead. Tell the counselors about every bit of the garbage all those crazies put you through. But in this house, we’re going to focus on the amazing person you are today. We’re setting our sights on the fascinating individual you will be in two, five, ten years. Yep, they dealt you a really nasty hand, but we’re going to help you make it to Uno. And you’re going to win this game.

Working toward Exceptional Happiness takes time, especially if you’re discouraged. (“The good news: I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news: It might be a train.”)

The better news: adoptive families are already Exceptional, so you’re halfway there.

 

 

 

 

 

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