This Is What Happens When My Expectations Of Motherhood Don’t Match My Reality

“I think you might be losing sight of the fact that he has an autism spectrum diagnosis. That’s not going away. We need to talk about adjusting your expectations.”

This is what the behavioral pediatrician told me in our appointment last week.

She said it in response to me telling her all the things we were “working on” and all the things that were not going well and all the meltdowns that we wish weren’t part of our life.

Last week was not a great one.

It was one of two things that did me in…

1. Hormones 

2. My Expectations

 

This Is What Happens When My Expectations Of Motherhood Don't Match My Reality

Last week, I started off feeling totally overwhelmed by what I perceived as the lack of progress in our life. My son’s sensory system was a jangled mess and his younger brother not reading the word “the” (again) was enough to make me want to go back to bed.

Add to that a major meltdown that erupted in actual punches being thrown at his brother in the post office, plus the lady with way too much make-up that made a very rude comment, and I was certain I had completely failed us – again. I went to bed praying for direction and order and peace. The next day, we had a follow-up appointment with his developmental pediatrician.

God has perfect timing.

When the doctor asked my son to leave the room, I thought she was going to tell me all the things we needed to do next. Instead, she basically said my expectations don’t match my reality.

My son has Autism.

He has severe sensory processing issues that aggravate an already pervasive anxiety disorder.

He will have meltdowns. Period.

He will perseverate on topics for days and weeks at a time. Period.

He will struggle with his body and balance and social function. Period.

Apparently, I am still struggling to fully accept all of this. Apparently, I still need the doctor to confirm a diagnosis that I can so plainly see right in front of me.

Her doing so was an absolute blessing. I walked out of her office in tears…tears of relief and gratitude.

I spent the rest of the week focused on how best to help and love and accept my son, right where he is.

Actually, I spent the rest of the week focused on how best to help and love and accept my life, right where it is.

Expectations, ones that do not match my reality, are suffocating.

Please don’t misunderstand, we should work to make progress. And I was reminded that we have made progress, a ton.

When My Expectations Don't Match My Reality Shawna Wingert, Not The Former Things

This Is What Happens When My Expectations Of Motherhood Don’t Match My Reality

When I first walked into that office, over a year ago, I was terrified. My son hadn’t slept in weeks.

He was harming himself, and me, every single day.

I had forgotten how far we’ve come.

When My Expectations Don’t Match My Reality, we all lose.

Expectations are like that – I get so focused on how I think things should be, that I lose sight of how wonderful they already are.

One year later, he sleeps all the way through the night (well, most of the time). We can actually leave the house and not worry about someone getting hurt in the car. He hasn’t hurt himself in months. He hasn’t hurt me in even longer.

If you had told me a year ago that our current reality is what I could look forward to, I would’ve rejoiced and cried tears of joy.

When My Expectations Don't Match My Reality Shawna Wingert, Not The Former Things

Taking a moment

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

Our reality is worthy of excellence and praise. So much is lovely and commendable and true. Rather than unrealistic, defeating expectations, I will think about these things.

Two beautiful sons.

A wonderful husband.

Diagnoses that help us know what to do to help.

Therapists that love my boys and genuinely want to invest in them.

A loaf of fresh-baked bread that my little guy helped make.

Spelling the word “the” correctly in today’s school work.

A wonderful book.

The sound of birds chirping in the morning.

Our backyard.

Picking tomatoes.

My son telling me he loves me, without any prompting.

Friends that text me a serious, deep thought and a joke with emojjiis all in the same sentence.

A gentle, loving reminder that this is the life, the only life, I have been given.

Prayers whispered, “May I live it well.”


This post originally appeared on Not The Former Things in 2014.

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Does Art Therapy Really Work For Children With Anxiety?

Several years ago, my youngest son began experiencing significant anxiety.

Sleep issues, separation anxiety and even panic attacks became part of our every day.

We saw a therapist. We saw a psychiatrist. Both encouraged me that they would be able to help him. Both said they had just the thing to help. 

“Medication and cognitive behavioral therapy together is exactly what he needs, ” I was told.

Six months later, neither really worked. 

Moreover, the longer we continued with this approach, the worse his anxiety became. He developed anxiety around the therapy itself, and everything associated with it. 

Worse yet, when the typical treatment did not seem to be making a dent, the tone changed. 

Instead of discussing different options, I was told that the doctor wasn’t sure he could help my son because he was homeschooled, because I was so involved in his care, and because maybe I was the one getting in the way of his recovery.

Does Art Therapy Really Work For Children With Anxiety?

 

There seems to be a somewhat black and white approach to treating children with anxiety. This approach usually includes cognitive behavioral therapy and possible medication.

When it’s not working, my experience has been that parents are blamed for “enabling” certain anxious behaviors and even increasing their child’s anxiety because of their own fears.  (I should write an entire post about this sad reality for many of us, but for now, I will just say this – Even if we are 100% the cause of our children’s anxiety, blame and shame is probably not the best way to provide support and intervention.)

After doing a little research, I was surprised to learn that there is no real evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy really works for young children. It certainly is worth trying, and can lay the groundwork for future therapeutic work when the child is older and more capable, but it is not the only way. 

I thought to myself, “Why not try a different approach if it’s not working?”

We added equine therapy the following week.

When that increased my son’s allergies, we stumbled into art therapy. Suddenly, things began to click. 

Does Art Therapy Really Work For Children With Anxiety?

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a mental health profession in which clients use art
media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile
emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills,
improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.

A goal in art therapy is to
improve or restore a client’s functioning and his or her sense of personal well-being.   

From ArtTherapy.org

When my son first began art therapy, it was with a trained therapist. Working with art kept his hands busy and better allowed him to express his feelings of dread and fear, without feeling overwhelmed with the anxiety itself.

As he grew older, and also began to feel better, we transitioned to providing art therapy at home. 

 

 

Does Art Therapy Really Work For Children With Anxiety?

In my experience, the answer is a resounding yes.

Here’s why – 

The goals of any children’s therapy focused on anxiety are typically very similar. 

Developing Self-Control

Finding Personalized Coping Strategies

Addressing Sensory Needs Contributing to the Anxiety

Becoming More and More Comfortable with “Talk Therapy”

These goals are all an element of what art therapy is designed to address. 

The more my son began to immerse himself in an art project, the more he began to talk about his anxiety and how to cope in stressful situations. Moreover, the art itself helped give him a sense of calm.

Does Art Therapy Really Work For Children With Anxiety?

Please know, although You Are An Artist gifted me access to their lessons, I was not paid for my time in writing this post. I am sharing this with you because we love it!

Art Therapy At Home

Having experienced these benefits first hand, we have started to incorporate more and more art into our days. 

We have found You Are An Artist Video Art Lessons to be ideal in helping achieve this type of therapeutic approach at home. 

Nana teaches with a soothing and encouraging perspective. She gently guides the learner through the project and always speaks to the importance of allowing mistakes to be a part of the process (something my anxious child needs to keep going).

Because she teaches using chalk pastels, I find this type of art to be so much less stressful for my anxious child. This medium is much more forgiving and allows for a little bit of fine motor weakness, while still ending up with a great drawing of a bird!

These video lessons have been an easy and cost-effective way for us to continue the progress my son made in art therapy at home. 

A Behind The Scenes Look At A Real Life, Interest-Led Unit Study

Want to join us for a little art therapy this summer?

We will be completing The Baby Animals Art Lessons this summer. (Because Baby Animals!)

You can try the Baby Lamb lesson for FREE here on the You Are An Artist site

I will be posting our progress on Instagram regularly, and I would love to see your creations as well!


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What Are The Best Alternatives To Behavior Charts?

Last week, I shared my experience with behavior charts.

The shame, the anxiety and perhaps, most frustrating of all, the fact that they really don’t work.

Time and time again, it has been shown that  children having the most issues will not only not be helped by a behavior chart, it often actually causes an increase in negative behaviors and a decrease in positive performance. 

/why-behavior-charts-fail-the-kids-who-need-them-most/

Because I feel strongly that this type of motivation is shame-based and honestly, often cruel, in this follow-up post I want to provide more effective and confidence building-alternatives to the typical behavior chart. 

Behavior Charts?

Why Are They Used In The First Place?

Before I get into specific tips and tricks however, I want to take a step back and address the goals that behavior charts typically strive to achieve.

Group/Classroom Management

For teachers with 30-plus children, having a classroom management system is essential. I would never try to say otherwise. Behavior charts are often used to simply decrease the level of interruption and to try to enforce rules and standards.

Decreased Negative Behaviors

When a behavior chart is employed in both the classroom and in behavioral therapies, the goal is usually to decrease negative behaviors. This is why a behavior chart often “punishes” negative behaviors by removing privileges and visually demonstrating the loss (i.e. removing a clothespin from your chart or moving your card from green to yellow).

Increased Learner Self-Control 

Finally, there is a perception, again in both therapeutic and classroom settings, that behavior charts can help a child develop and maintain self-control. 

With these goals, there is a perceived outcome that just does not line up with research and our own experience with behavior charts. As we discussed last week, behavior charts are shame -based, create a decrease communication and relationship, and tend to focus on behaviors that may not yet be in a child’s control.

So, what do we do instead?

What Are The Best Alternatives To Behavior Charts?

Movement

Even in a classroom setting, creating opportunities for movement and sensory breaks can make a significant difference in overall negative behaviors. When working one on one with a child, it’s like magic.

Let me give you an example. 

A few weeks ago, I arrived for a session with a brilliant ten-year old boy I work with weekly. It was obvious when I arrived that he was struggling and his mom said it had been going on all morning. Instead of requiring him to get to work right away, we took 15 minutes outside and did some basic gross motor activities. When we went back inside, he reported his body “feeling calmer.” He was able to better focus and even willingly wrote an entire paragraph. (This child is dysgraphic.)

Children need movement in order to focus and learn. It really is that simple. In a classroom, it can look like quick brain breaks, where the kids stand and stretch. Alternative seating with yoga balls and sensory bands can help the most active children stay more focused as they learn. 

Proximity

Sometimes, proximity can make all the difference for a child struggling with negative behaviors. In a homeschool setting, this can look like a “time-in” where a parent stays with a child as they take a “time-out” to calm down. 

In a classroom, this can look like a teacher asking the child to come up to her desk and help her with a special project. It can even be a simple as walking over to the struggling child, staying close and privately asking them what you can do to help.

Distraction

In my experience, when none of the above works, sometimes a struggling child just needs a distraction. For some, it can be a sensory toy or fidget. For others, it can be asking him to hand deliver a note to the office secretary. (I know of one set of teachers that have a “purple folder” system worked out. When a child is clearly having a hard time in class, the teacher asks her to be a dear and deliver this important work to one of the other teachers. When the receiving teacher sees the child with the purple folder, she spends a little bit of time thanking her for her help and encouraging her before returning to class. Then, she might do the same later with another child in her own class. Brilliant!)

The same can be done at home. Stopping school to cook a meal, take the dog for a walk and even go for a drive and listen to an audio book can be a great way to get learning back on track for the day. 

The reality is that these techniques require much more of us as parents, teachers and therapists. There is no way around it. But the truth is, behavior charts may seem easier, but they really do nothing to effect the behaviors of a struggling child. Again, they can actually make it worse.

These alternatives promote a much more long-term strategy – one of mutual respect, developing and learning skills at a pace that is individualized to the child, and most importantly, in a way that protects and fosters a child’s growing sense of self. 

Do you have any alternatives to behavior charts that you would recommend? Please share them in the comments below or in our discussion over on Instagram.


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Is There Anything I Can Do To Really Help My Anxious Child?

I stumbled across an old journal last week.

It was for the year 2010 when my oldest son was six and my youngest, three.

I read through it and smiled at all the cute sayings and sweet moments, grateful I had taken the time to record them. (I had completely forgotten that my little guy said “Betty” instead of “belly.”)

I also read through a year’s worth of fears, concerns, and prayers.

All year-long, for both of my boys, I wrote about their increasing levels of anxiety and worst of all, my seeming inability to help them.

My heart hurt, reading my own words, remembering the crippling separation anxiety, and near constant anxiety fueled meltdowns.

The truth is, as much as I wrote about these concerns, I operated as if their anxiety was something they could easily control and manipulate. Seven years later, I know better.

Seven years later, I wish I knew then what I know now.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Really Help My Anxious Child?

 

Those little guys are growing up. 

Seven years have brought too many therapists visits to count, a haze of school related anxiety and pressure, numerous diagnoses, and even a couple of prescription medications.

I am happy to say that I don’t feel quite so helpless (as least not as much).

I am overjoyed at the progress they have both made.

I am relieved to see anxiety being slowly replaced by confidence and joy.

But the reality is, that anxiety is still here. It doesn’t go away, at least not entirely, no matter how many therapies we employ or prescriptions we fill. It’s worse some days than others and in some seasons than others, but it is always here – an undercurrent in my boys’ lives.

Over the years, I have received advice from so many well-meaning people, many of them experts.

“If you give in to him, he will just do it again next time.”

“It’s healthy for him to have some time away from you.”

“If you ignore it, he will stop doing it. He’s only trying to get attention..”

Over the years, I have blamed myself and my children for so many things that I can see now are far beyond any of our control.

And over the years, after so many failures and so much trial and error, I have slowly but surely found some things that help.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Really Help My Anxious Child?

Is There Anything I Can Do To Really Help My Anxious Child?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on the relationship between what we think, how we feel and what we do. It’s not “talk therapy” nor does it focus on anything from the past. It deals primarily with what is currently causing anxiety, encouraging self-discovery to find what works.

While there are conflicting opinions about whether or not formal CBT really helps younger children (CBT requires active participation and motivation on the part of the patient), there are many ways we can implement elements of CBT at home and with helpful results.

Introducing Concepts

The first step in this approach is to introduce our children to the basic idea that feelings, thoughts, and actions are all connected. For my son, this hastily drawn visual has been the most helpful in explaining this concept.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Really Help My Anxious Child?

Normalizing Emotions

I have also found it helpful to encourage my boys that everyone feels anxious at times. Helping them see that anxiety is actually a normal emotion, and something that we can learn to feel without being totally overwhelmed, has been important in their overall development.

Strategizing Options

In the past, I tried to tell my children what they needed to do to calm down. (Incidentally, no one every actually calms down just because someone tells them to calm down. And yet, I still find myself saying it all the time. ) Ownership breeds confidence, and confidence is critical in helping our children manage their overwhelming anxiety.

For both of my boys, it seems that strategies for calming down fall into three basic categories –

Relax

Distract

Act (move)

Knowing this, I want to ask them what they need and what they think may help when they are feeling anxious.

What Helps Me Relax?

What Are Helpful Distractions?

What Gets Me Moving?

Important Note: I ask these questions when my child is completely calm. A child already feeling anxious and in “fight or flight” mode will not have the presence of mind nor patience to consider any solutions.

Here is an example –

Is There Anything I Can Do To Really Help My Anxious Child?

Once my child has thought of some things that he thinks will help him calm down, we go back to the initial diagram and talk through stressors, feelings, thoughts, and actions. I do this part after thinking of solutions because it helps my child feel calmer and more confident when discussing the more difficult stressors and feelings.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Really Help My Anxious Child?

Completing these types of exercises regularly (and casually – the last thing an anxious child needs is more pressure) has been instrumental in helping my children cope with often crippling anxiety. It gives them tools to cope. It gives me tools to help them cope.

When I see my child’s anxiety escalating, I can say, “Oh no, this is making you feel angry and anxious. Let’s think about some of the things you said help you. Remember when Harry Potter fought Snape with his mind? That’s what you are doing right now. You are as brave as he is. You said art was a good choice. Would you like to do some chalk art while you calm down a bit?

Sometimes, my child will easily transition into an activity, but honestly, most of the time he resists at first. I stay close and calm, referencing the options and eventually, he settles enough to transition to a self-identified calming activity.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Really Help My Anxious Child?

Other Resources

Depending on the age of your child, you may need to change the activity a bit. When my youngest son was six, this conversation happened at the park and did not involve a worksheet. We just made a big list of all the things he loved and then put it up on the fridge.

If you are interested in learning more, there are several workbooks and resources I have used and would recommend.

The Anxiety Workbook For Kids

 

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety

Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents

If you think CBT might be a good next step for you child, I would encourage you to look into providers in your area. Although these exercises at home are incredibly helpful, I have also worked off and on with professionals when needed.

 

Most of all, I want to encourage you that you are not alone in this and your child is not the only one. Yes, anxiety can be devastating in our daily lives and in the hearts of our children. Please, let me encourage you, small steps, taken one right after the other, make a significant difference over time.

You know your child best. You see what works and what doesn’t work.

It is my hope that in providing this overview, you can take that essential, mom-only knowledge and help your anxious child in ways that are practical and meaningful.


 

A Creative and Flexible Approach To Language Arts

I filled out the educational questionnaire for my son’s therapist with a growing sense of dread.

Does your child understand the basics of grammar, including parts of speech?

Can your child articulate the differences between active and passive voice?

Is your child able to complete an essay outline?

Um, no.

Because my dyslexic son has struggled for so long with basic reading skills, it has been difficult to find ways to teach him the other fundamentals of language arts. 

Grammar, vocabulary and even spelling have felt like a luxury to teach, when he continued to struggle with the most elementary reading. The truth is, I am not even sure I care that he can articulate specific names and grammar rules so much as I want him to be able to express himself well.

A Creative and Flexible Approach To Language Arts

Please know, although I was compensated for my time in writing this post, I only share programs that work well for my family. This is in hopes it might work for yours, too.

Now that my son is gratefully is making some progress in reading however, I have been looking for ways to incorporate in more formal language arts instruction, without it feeling super formal. 

Knowing him and what works best for my family, I knew that I needed something that would peak his interest, incorporate in a bit of hands-on learning, and somehow work well with what we are already learning.

It seemed like a daunting task and one that I was a little reluctant to take on. Fortunately, I found Pathways from Kendall Hunt RPD.

Pathways 2.0 If You Lived Here

Pathways 2.0 is a comprehensive elementary reading program with integrated language arts

Here is their introductory note to parents:

As a parent, you strive to find the best educational products that will meet the needs of your child. As a publisher, we strive to bring inspiration to the lives of all students. We are committed to meeting this goal by providing quality, easy-to-use, and enjoyable educational products to your family. We understand that homeschooling is a lifestyle and is interwoven into all aspects of daily life. Many of the products are faith-based and help to provide moral connections that strengthen the development of the whole child. The best thing about our products is that they are flexible, and you and your child can progress at your own pace.

Impressed with the idea of integrating this type of language arts instruction into a more comprehensive book study, I decided to give it a try.

Pathways 2.0 If You Lived Here

We chose Pathways 2.0 – If You Lived Here as our initial study.

The study includes the beautiful hard cover trade book – If You Lived Here as well as a comprehensive Teacher’s Daily Lesson Plan Guide.

Take A Look at this Digital Brochure to learn more about all the books offered

Pathways 2.0 If You Lived Here

Pathways 2.0 If You Lived Here offers a complete and comprehensive four week study of the book with lesson plans that include:

Word Study (including spelling and vocabulary)

Grammar Exercises

Comprehension Questions

Reading Response Activities

Writing Activities

The book itself, If You Lived Here, takes the learner around the world to different dwellings. It was fascinating for all of us – even my high schooler got into the book and our discussions.  For instance, we were shocked to learn that more than 45 million people are still technically considered cave dwellers in the world today. 

Starting with an engaging book is always going to be a win around here. 

Pathways 2.0 If You Lived Here

A Creative and Flexible Approach To Language Arts

Here is why I am so impressed with the Pathways 2.0 If You Lived Here study.

Learners read, write, and talk about ideas.

The daily lesson plans are beautifully written to encourage not just reading and writing about the book, but reflective discussion as well. For me, it is also super helpful to have a teacher’s guide. Although I know it can feel constraining for some, I find a lesson plan gives me new ideas, a fresh approach and honestly, just makes it a lot easier than coming up with all of my own activities!

It’s easy to progress at your own pace.

Although this is designed to be a four-week study, the lessons are so robust, it could easily take you an entire quarter to complete. The good news is, the program is designed in a way that is flexible and allows us to proceed through the learning at a pace that makes sense for our needs. 

Hands-On, Multi-Sensory Activities Are Included. 

I LOVE when a formal curriculum provides opportunities for multi-sensory learning. Our lessons plans included spelling and vocabulary word cards to cut out and use in hands-on activities and practice. 

The lessons promote critical thinking and application to real life.

The best part about this book study was how it inspired my son to really think about the different dwellings around the world, and what it is like in other cultures. Yes, we learned some basics of grammar and practiced spelling words, but we did it in a way that was so much more meaningful than standard language arts drills. 

 

Want to learn more and see all the book studies Pathways from Kendall Hunt RPD has to offer?

Download this digital brochure to learn more 

 

A Creative and Flexible Approach To Language Arts


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