December 6, 2015 was (up until now) the day I hit rock bottom in parenting. Out of utter exhaustion and self-disgust, I behaved toward my family in a way that completely goes against the mother and wife I aspire to be. I was cruel and irrational. I was filled with shame and remorse, even as I unraveled out of control. That was the day I decided that December 5th was to be my last drink.
I wasn’t drunk when I fell apart. I wasn’t even hungover. I drove my 11-year-old son to the skating rink, knowing my verbal trainwreck had deeply wounded him. I apologized and admitted that my behavior had been completely unacceptable and shameful and any fury that left my mouth was a reflection of my own weakness and self-hatred, it had nothing to do with him. He is such a sweet, loving, tender soul and he swiftly forgave me, excited that I was about to skate with him. During this drive was when I decided. ENOUGH.
As I write this, I am on day 24 of sobriety. Not many people know of my decision, as this is the first time I put it out anywhere public. Typically, this has been people’s reactions: “Are you abstaining forever?” “Wow, nice timing to quit drinking, right before the holidays!” “Are you going to AA?” “Wow. That’s a big decision. Did you go on a bender?” “That’s awesome. My own recovery journey is the best thing I’ve ever done. I have met the most amazing people.” “Do you think you’ll be able to have a drink now and then?” “Wow. Maybe I need to do the same thing.”
Quite frankly, I don’t know if I’m going to abstain forever. It’s not like I come from a family line of disordered drinkers (though on my mom’s side everyone has or has had an eating disorder). It’s not like I would consider myself a stereotypical alcoholic, in fact I don’t think I drink any more than most moms. I do have that thought cross my mind every day now – no more wine? Ever? What about my trip to ----- or ------- event or when I hang out with -------? As soon as I have those thoughts, I immediately think, One day at a time.
“Abstaining sounds demanding and inflexible, so people assume that they’re Moderators, even if they’ve never successfully followed that strategy. But counterintuitively, for many people abstaining is easier… Cravings are more provoked by possibility than by denial.” - Gretchen Rubin
Timing is always the interesting thing, when it comes to any changes in life. I often say that timing is EVERYTHING. Whether or not a relationship works out, or a lesson sticks, or an opportunity presents itself, so often has to do with timing. Choosing to begin my abstention during the holiday season may to many seem unusually poor timing. I won’t lie, it has impacted my holiday experience this year. I love egg nog and coquito and I haven’t had any. Wrapping gifts is less tedious when accompanied by a couple of glasses of wine. Socially, I am sure I have been less available (I skipped one party because I wasn’t going to arrive until after 10pm and I didn’t feel like dealing with people who were a few cocktails in). This week we have a couple of holiday/New Year’s Eve gatherings and the part of me that loves hedonistic behavior now and then pops up and says, hey! What about me?!
The thing is, I don’t think of myself as an alcoholic. I think of myself as a Slippery Slope Drinker. I will set rules for myself: no booze Sunday through Thursday. When I do drink, max 2. No drinking alone. And then… there is an occasion. There is a special meal. There is a stressful day. There is a happy day. And the part of me that is The Justification Queen joyfully takes over and the journey down the slippery slope begins. A bottle of wine can’t be re-corked with a glass still in it, may as well polish it off. So what if it’s Tuesday. You only live once! When you have the guts to sit and think about when the last time was that you didn’t have a drink for a few days, you realize it’s been a long time, but JQ (Justification Queen) reminds you that you love to enjoy life, your health is great, so-and-so drinks at least as much so it must be okay, and so on. When people say, I need to make ---- change but I’m going to wait until after the holidays/my birthday/my trip/my anniversary/my divorce/my grief/etc – well, let’s just say that my JQ totally gets that. And it’s part of the Slippery Slope journey. The timing is never right to let go of something that numbs discomfort and do the work it takes to be healthier.
I am a life coach, and I teach mindful living, I help people embrace new, healthy habits, I coach running and triathlon, I teach Poga. I am considered someone who walks the walk in health, positive parenting, compassionate living. When I had my crise de conscience on December 6th, my self-hatred came from that part of me that recognized that I was not living with integrity. My body and mind had become toxic. Alcohol had affected the quality and quantity of my sleep. Physically, I was bloated. I cherish authenticity in my interactions with others, and I recognized that I far prefer to run with someone than to drink with them, since alcohol gives the false impression that you are being less inhibited therefore more authentic, when really, it is just giving you a false sense of confidence.
While I have not been to any AA meetings, I have explored the Smart Recovery website, and been reading their handbook and working through their exercises. I am reading The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery. I read Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, which reinforced my decision to abstain (versus moderation), and gives some great advice on making and breaking habits. I downloaded the smartphone app, I Am Sober, which keeps track of how many days, which milestones I hit, and how much money I am saving by not drinking. I have rekindled my love of knitting and crochet, and I realized a couple of days ago how powerful this simple activity has been for my sobriety. (I even had a thought – should I bring my knitting project to parties? Happy hour?) Once the kids are back in school I will probably check out an AA meeting. I fully believe in the power of a social network when we are creating change in our lives, especially when it comes to something counter-cultural.
Much of my drinking had been mindless and habitual. Cooking a good meal – "requires" a glass of wine. Friday night – pour the wine. Home from ultimate Frisbee – open a beer. Once I committed to a Day-By-Day Abstention, these habitual traditions often trigger an urge, but as taught in mindfulness practice, urges are feelings, and feelings are always temporary. Rather than pouring spirits, I brew a tea or pour a probiotic-rich Kombucha, and before I know it, the urge is gone. On the times that my mind is crossed by self-doubt, or “what a bummer,” I quickly remember the list I had made when doing the Cost-Benefit Analysis worksheet with Smart Recovery. The benefits of my abstention far outweigh in quantity and meaning, the benefits of consumption. The mental clarity I now have, as that warm haze no longer dulls my senses, the sense of self-control, the satisfaction of knowing that when I put my kids down at night my breath doesn’t smell of alcohol (do you know how much that stinks?!), are just some of the benefits I listed. I also feel more joyful and optimistic, since I no longer am consuming a depressant.
When thinking of the timing, with the holidays, I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that Christmas time was the perfect time to be present (ha!). If I am not buzzed, or regretting a buzz, or planning a buzz, I am more present for my family.
“I don’t want habit to deaden me to Jamie’s presence. I don’t want to take him for granted, to listen to him with only half my attention, to look at him without seeing him. I want my habits to help free me to pay more attention to him, and to everything else that’s important to me.” – Gretchen Rubin
So, this is how I’m entering 2016. I will continue, indefinitely, to abstain. Abstention does not solve all our problems. In fact, for many people it makes life much harder, at least at first, because no more mental haze means facing certain feelings and thoughts they’d rather not. I still say and do stuff I am not proud of. Removing that layer of toxicity has not turned my life into rainbows and unicorns. Having more clarity and presence means seeing one’s self, relationships, and overall direction in life without a filter like the ones everyone uses to beautify their mediocre photos. On the other hand, it also means a new awareness that those filters are not real, and are not as helpful as we may think.
In the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course I took at the beginning of this year, our instructor said that mindfulness must be practiced regularly and consistently, because then, when you find yourself in a situation of extreme stress of any kind, your mindfulness muscle will be ready to kick in and support you. Indeed, having a pretty good practice of deep breathing, of grounding myself through body scan meditations, of uplifting myself through loving kindness meditations, of losing myself in mindful, solitary runs, of practicing self-forgiveness and compassion, have been an enormous source of support for me.
I hesitated to post something publicly about my decision and my still-new journey in abstention. There is the vulnerability factor – this is very personal, after all, and people may be shocked that a healthy role model was a fake all along (actually, that's harsh - but I think all leaders fear being discovered for who we really are). Admittedly, knowing that some people may have that reaction and knock me off the pedestal and high standards they held me on, is actually a relief. Then there’s the self-doubt, the “is this going to be some passing fad for me? I don’t dare make myself so accountable to others by putting this out publicly, especially when it’s so new!” Yes, that’s a risk I am taking. In Rising Strong, Brené Brown talks about how our culture loves the victorious hero, yet we don’t really tell or share stories until they get to the part where the obstacles have been overcome. We gloss over the messy middle part, to avoid discomfort and awkwardness, to avoid the fear and anxiety provoked by the acknowledgement that success isn't guaranteed, and many times the outcome may be unpredictable. That’s the part I’m in, and a part of me wants to wait until the Hollywood moment of “hey, guess what, I’ve been abstaining for --- years!” Well, this is my Rising Strong blogpost and I am sharing it because I suspect a lot of you may relate to something in this story and I hope it helps you to feel more self-compassion and to know you’re not alone. I hope that the resources I linked here may help you. I also hope that I am giving you permission to let go of habits, and perhaps even relationships, that are only feeding your toxicity.
“Life was too solemn, too splendid to be frittered away in such trivial concerns. But while concentrating on my habits might seem small-minded, in the end, mastering those habits would allow me to put these questions out of my mind, to transcend them. I could turn all my attention to worthier matters, and yet be assured of the solidity of the architecture of my everyday life.” - Gretchen Rubin
Here is to a new year. A new day. A new chance. A new, fresh, delightful breath.
As I ran my six miles this morning, through the fog, I tried to pay extra attention to the world around me. It was a hilly run, so it was easy to notice the landscape under my feet, and the fog made the woods and the front yards and the occasional farm especially picturesque. In the final mile is when I hit the steepest, longest hill, and my thoughts turned to the issue of discomfort.
As I stated in my blog entry from a few days ago, about traumatic grieving, as humans we naturally do our utmost to avoid discomfort. We are on the lookout for pleasurable endeavors, so we can run toward them, and for unpleasant situations, so we can run away from them. There’s a biological reason we humans are programmed for this, as a matter of survival. Avoid danger.
Today, December 14th, is really awful, at least here in CT, for obvious reasons. It’s, as one of my Facebook friends, whose daughter died in the Aurora CO shooting, called it - the tragiversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Many of us are well aware of the pain and suffering and horror and anger and all sorts of unpleasant emotions that were unleashed three years ago today, and show up in full force for some, at times, but for most usually simmer somewhere under the surface.
It is uncomfortable, to say the least, to anticipate and then experience a tragiversary. Most of us have probably experienced loss in some way, and may have strong feelings toward an upcoming milestone – it would have been my dad’s 67th birthday; my mom is missing her only granddaughter’s wedding; and so on.
Today is the third tragiversary of an extremely traumatic event that, if you are a parent, most likely devastated you, caused you to draw your children in closer and question whether or not you could go on living if this had happened to your family.
“It feels like I am intruding on the grieving families when I say that this is a difficult day for me. I mean, it was their child who was killed. And yet – I put myself in their position and I can’t stop crying.”
What do we do?
“I feel like, going to work on such a heavy day is such a trivial thing.”
I recently read of a village (sorry, I can’t remember where), where, when somebody experiences a death in the family, while the family is in their home grieving that night, the entire village goes outside and changes something on their own homes. Something noticeable and sometimes quite drastic. When the grieving family emerges the next morning, they look around and see that nothing looks the same anymore, to them, or to anyone else in the village.
Three years ago today, Friday morning, 20 families sent their sweet, beautiful first-graders to school as usual. Six adult educators went to work as usual. Their school and place of work is five miles from my house. Three years ago was the day that their families’ lives were ripped away from them. Nothing will ever be the same for them. Monday is December 14th, the date that this happened in 2012, but it was this Friday.
This Friday. December. December 14th. 2012. The sound of fire engine sirens. Of helicopters. The word, firehouse. The words guns, shooting, shoot. How many times have we heard those sounds, uttered those words in casual parlance – “I’m shooting for a 7:30 mile” – now, we may hear it differently. We may cringe at our careless words, and start to practice a new, less violent and mindless vocabulary.
Last week I had the privilege of attending the Love Wins Mental Health Conference organized by The Ana Grace Project. I wrote about it in this previous blog entry. But I didn’t write about the second breakout I attended: Treating Traumatic Bereavement, by Dr. Laurie Ann Pearlman. I chose to write a separate entry on this session and subject, because it is the one that challenges me and resonates with me the deepest. It deserves its own essay.
According to Dr. Pearlman, traumatic bereavement is “the persistent experience of trauma and grief following the sudden death of a significant other due to unnatural causes.” Typically, “the survivor has not yet accommodated the death; the trauma and grief interfere with the survivor’s ability to live life fully; these effects are persistent and pervasive; most therapists and counselors aren’t prepared to help this survivor population.”
I did not know any of the 26 families whose loved ones were murdered, but I have become friends with a few of them. Through running, my Poga classes, and/or shared faith, I have had the privilege of getting to know them, help them with the foundations they set up after the shooting, help them in any way I can.
In the week after the shooting, when I felt as helpless as I think millions of us did, like I wanted to help but had no idea how, I became aware of a gut feeling (God speaking to me?) that once the first responders and public circus moved on to the next show, I was going to be part of the healing journey. It sounds so melodramatic, but it was a clear feeling that came over me, along with the urge to be patient, to stay strong and focused on building my experience in mindfulness.
In some ways, it is not easy being friends with someone whose child was so abruptly and violently taken. As Dr. Pearlman pointed out (and she’s an expert on the subject), most therapists struggle with helping people with this sort of loss. So imagine how many missteps we can make as friends. There is no handbook that tells you how to act, what to say, what not to say, if you want to be an empathic, supportive friend and helper. Do we talk about our kids? Post photos of them on Facebook? Do we ask how they’re doing or is that annoying? Do we let them stay in bed all day or go over and drag them out? Do we replace their wine with seltzer or join them in a binge? Do we share our own, far less awful and more frivolous problems with them?
When someone is experiencing this type of bereavement, it is much more complicated than if they lose someone due to illness or other more natural, less abrupt cause. There is something unique about losing a loved one to a violent event, especially when it is caused by another human being. Often, the griever will also suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). As Dr. Pearlman pointed out, they may be plagued by “intrusive images, sounds, smells, flashbacks;” they may try to avoid memories and reminders; they have “changes in beliefs and mood;” they may experience physiological arousal (insomnia, irritability, startle response” or dissociation (zoning out). These are different from typical grief symptoms, which they may also be experiencing, such as “yearning, sorrow, anger, numbness, suicidal thoughts.”
One of the hardest parts of this, is the fact that the world is no longer the place they assumed it to be. They may be experiencing difficulty accepting the loss; they may feel guilty; they may obsess over how much their loved one suffered; they may be consumed with wondering about or assigning blame – revenge; depending on where they were on the faith spectrum, they may be questioning it. They may be “grappling with meaning” – why did this happen??? – and if they get stuck on this search, it will be hard for them to move forward.
As I listened to Dr. Pearlman, I felt relieved and validated. What she was saying was true. I felt new clarity, and I wished that everyone could attend a talk like this or read her books. I felt a deeper understanding into my friends, who are experiencing and expressing their grief in different ways – they have had different life experiences, have different personalities, and typically, your gender also influences the way you cope. I better understood my missteps, why something may have been the inappropriate response on my behalf. I also understood even more deeply, how gracious and loving my friends are, as in their grief, they are still able to grant me grace, forgiveness and trust.
There are lots of great essays out there about what to say or not to say to someone who is grieving a loved one, or the loss of a child. I hope that every time you see one linked on a Facebook post, you will read it. It is so very hard to know how to express our best intentions in an authentic, loving way, which is I think what most of us want to do. I think that the best thing all of us can do to support our friends, in person and in social media, is to be mindful – mindful in our postings, so if we are posting festive photos, etc., perhaps we can, before pressing “Post,” pray for those who no longer take joy for granted. Mindful in our vocabulary – perhaps we can replace certain words with less violent ones (yesterday my daughter was telling me that at sports practice at her new school, they refer to a certain brutal workout as “shuttleruns” not “suicides”). Mindful in our interactions – what I have learned is that a griever cannot be fixed, and it isn’t my job to fix them. When they become enraged by something they saw online, or become fixated on a series of torturous thoughts and images, the best way for me to support them is to put myself in their place, imagine having those thoughts and memories, and crying with them. It is much more helpful to say “that f-ing SUCKS” than it is to say “well, just turn it off.”
Actually, the best thing to do is to ask your friend, how can I best support you? For most of us, this is unchartered territory and it’s okay, and healthy, to say “I don’t know how to best help you. Can you help me help you?” This does, however, require a certain level of trust to already be there. It is not appropriate to go up to a grieving mother when she is shopping and for one moment, her dead child is in the background and the price of kale in the foreground, and then you interrupt her to ask her if she’s the mom (because you saw her on TV), and you’re so sorry. Now the mom has to figure out how to handle this, plus comfort you in your distress.
Please, let us remember. We spend most of our lives trying to escape pain and discomfort, and run toward pleasure. But perhaps, especially during this time of year that is celebrated as joyous, while for so many in our midst, only magnifies a big, wide, painful void – perhaps we can really practice love and compassion by taking a few moments to remember. Remember the Sandy Hook children, adults, and their families, by going to this website to see the amazing work their families are doing to honor their memories. Sit, focus on our breath, and then imagine the pain these families are experiencing. Put a filter on your view of the world, your loved ones, your daily habits and routine, all that stuff you take for granted – put a mindfulness filter on even if just for a few portions of your day, recognizing that for these families, all of those little, insignificant moments in their day that they once took for granted, they now cling to. The stuff they once didn’t think twice about – getting out of bed, picking up the phone, going through the mail – now takes a Herculean effort.
Let’s be like that village and change something, to honor the fact that for these dear, fellow human beings, nothing will ever be the same. Let us be the change. Thank you.
Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Love Wins Mental Health Conference, organized by The Ana Grace Project and hosted by Western Connecticut State University. The keynote speaker was Dr. Bruce Perry, and after his incredible presentation, we had the opportunity to attend 2 breakout sessions (from a choice of 6). If you don't know who Dr. Perry is, he is basically a rock star in the world of child trauma. I cannot recommend his books enough (though I have only so far read The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog - which I believe should be required reading for all therapists, social workers, teachers, coaches, anyone with contact with children). The two breakout sessions I attended were Traumatic Bereavement in Adults (taught by Dr. Laurie Pearlman) and Collaborative Problem Solving - Working With Challenging Youth (taught by Dr. Stuart Ablon).
The audience was a mix of educators, brain health professionals, parents, faith leaders, community volunteers. It was incredible. My head is still reeling from the all of the information, and the excitement of knowing that we are part of something extremely important in terms of changing the way society as a whole approaches what is essentially human suffering. I wish all of you could have been there yesterday. Many points were made that I found validating, about what I know either through my obsessive research, or through what I have personally experienced with my friends and clients, and the kids I have worked with over the last 5 summers at the ACHIEVE/Race4Chase Youth Triathlon Camp in Waterbury, CT. Many points were made that I hadn't considered before, and I wish more people knew. I will try to summarize some key points here, which I hope you will find helpful. The unfortunate reality is that we are all surrounded by people, children and adults, who have experienced trauma, so the more we know, the more effective we can be at lessening their pain and preventing further violence. (Please note that I am only summarizing the keynote lecture and one of the breakout sessions; my next blogpost will be about the second breakout, by Dr. Pearlman, on traumatic bereavement. Also, please note that I am not an expert note-taker and I am definitely not doing justice to experts' teachings).
Dr. Bruce Perry's Keynote Presentation
1. When we create memories, what is happening is information is coming in through our senses and our brain is interpreting this information. The memory is stored in all parts of the brain (until recently it was thought it was the hippocampus that did this job) - and events that provoke a strong emotion tend to create a more vivid memory. And here's the thing - memories are also stored in every biological tissue in your body.
2. Your brain is sort of a hierarchy, with the brainstem at the bottom of the totem pole and the cortex at the top.
3. When something happens, your body kicks into its automatic stress response, basically shutting down the biological processes you don't need and superpowering those you do need, to protect you in the situation. This will affect your breathing, your heart rate, digestion, ability to sleep, appetite, metabolism, etc. Stress is not bad, since its purpose is to protect us, but the challenge is when it becomes our new normal.
4. The lowest parts of the brain can't tell time, but they can still form associations. So, if you know a child who for some reason is disruptive in, say, Mr. Russo's class, and Mr. Russo is a perfectly nice teacher but he has an earring and a buzz cut - it may be that the child witnessed his mother being beaten by her boyfriend, when the child was 5 years old, and the boyfriend had an earring and a buzz cut. The child may associate this look with violence, even if he's unable to articulate it or cognitively make the connection. The lower part of his/her brain doesn't realize that Mr. Russo is in the present, which is safe; instead, the body's stress kicks in because on some level the child is now back to the terrifying experience that happened 3 years ago.
5. Two types of reactions to stress are Dissociative and Arousal. Dissociative means, inescapable helplessness. It is characterized by basically checking out, being meek, being "compliant." Arousal means, action, having an active role. It can show up as springing into action, being combative, being loud. The younger you are, the more likely you are to dissociate during a traumatic event or series of events (eg abuse). Females are more likely to dissociate, as are those undergoing torture or pain. Those who observe or witness violence are more prone to arousal.
6. The kids we send to the brain health professionals are typically the ones who piss us off; the ones who fall into the arousal category. We tend to ignore the ones in the dissociative category because they are “compliant" - so we are happy they are peaceful and don't realize they are deeply hurting.
7. Sexual abuse typically leads to the dissociative response.
8. Kids who love to read and play video games, very popular dissociative activities, may be victims of trauma. They often have good grades EXCEPT IN MATH. Math builds sequentially, so you can’t dissociate (tune out) without missing key foundations.
9. Resilience comes from stress, but it’s the controllability and dose of the stress that will determine the level of resilience, the amount of sensitization and tolerance.
10. We now know that the brain is constantly changing and we can to some extent guide the change, which is a relatively new belief (with plenty of science to back it up), and it’s called neuroplasticity. It is easier to change a dynamic system if it is moving faster, which is why it’s easier to change a child than an adult.
11. You create change with Specificity. If you want to create a new response, habit, skill, you need to activate the specific neural network associated with that new change, and you need to do this with the right frequency (pattern). If, for example, you want to learn to swim, you need to do it, not just watch someone else do it. In behavior, this also applies. We can model the correct behavior for a child, but they won't make it a conditioned response until they do it themselves, and practice it often.
12. We can change a child’s behavior, by engaging in therapeutic, meaningful interactions even if it’s in 2 second spurts on a frequent basis.
13. The way to build resilience is to activate the stress response in predictable, moderate and controlled ways.
14. While therapy certainly has its place, the most important factor is relational milieu. A meaningful interaction lasting 2 minutes can be more therapeutic than a 45 minute appointment, especially for reluctant children.
15. ACE (adverse childhood experience) scores are important predictors of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes 2, depression, etc – but relational scores (i.e. the extent and depth of your social support network) are actually more important when it comes to resilience. Relational poverty is more toxic than high ACE scores.
16. Our culture is becoming so compartmentalized and screen-based that most kids are experiencing a fraction of needed opportunities to get healing or protective benefits because they’re living in communities that are relationally impoverished.
17. The typical American kid spends 11 hours/day on a device.
18. A trauma victim needs to learn to self-regulate; having a meaningful interaction with another person is a significant way to promote physiological regulation.
19. Our schools and parenting typically go about it all wrong. If Billy can’t read, we get him a tutor. Instead, we should get him a running coach, because first he needs to become physiologically regulated so that his cognitive (thinking) brain can go to work on learning to read.
20. The achievement gap isn’t about the color of your skin – it’s about your regulatory health.
21. The cortex isn’t fully developed until age 31.
22. A developmentally traumatized kid can’t engage in therapy until s/he is physiologically regulated. In other words, if the child is dissociated (tuned out) or in an aroused state (combative), they are completely incapable of thinking and learning.
23. To regulate kids, you need to replicate the experience of being in-utero, the main part being to simulate the rhythm of the mother’s heartbeat. This can be done with an activity that involves a pattern of repetitive rhythmic activity, which regulates people and provides access to the cortex. Music, dancing, physical activity/sports. (Unfortunately, the traditional brain health model is to sit the child down and order him to be quiet or to talk – which only makes things worse).
24. Self-care is KEY to anyone who is a caregiver or a helper to survivors. Exercise, sleep, spend lots of time with loved ones, eat well.
Dr. Albon: Collaborative Problem-Solving (CPS)
25. CPS Philosophy: Kids do well if they can. (Unfortunately, the way we parent and teach kids is that they do well if they want to).
26. Conventional wisdom is that kids are challenging because of poor parenting. We assume that kids are “good” because they want to be.
27. “Discipline” means “teach” but we take it to mean “punish.”
28. Consequences (rewards, punishments, ignoring) teach basic lessons and provide outward motivation. But they do not teach complex thinking skills, build relationships, or help kids stay regulated.
29. “If you give a dog a name, eventually he will answer to it.” (Dr. Ablon’s grandfather used to say this a lot). Most kids who challenge us go through life being told and treated as if they’re no good, and that’s what they become.
30. Traditional school discipline measures don’t work because 90% of the kids don’t need it and the 10% that do get hit by them aren’t helped, they just get worse.
31. These kids can’t do better because they lack the cognitive skills: flexibility/adaptability, frustration tolerance, problem-solving. They effectively have a learning disability (not a “discipline problem.”)
32. The key to CPS (Collaborative Problem Solving) is to maintain authority and compliance via collaboration rather than power and control. When we react by imposing threats and punishments, we are becoming part of the problem because we are merely furthering their stress response - chances are, their trauma was at the hands of someone that held power and control over them, so our "solution" is actually perpetuating the problem.
33. Kids need to be assessed the way they are with any potential learning disability, based on 5 areas:
· Language and communication
· Attention and working memory
· Emotion and self-regulation
· Flexible thinking
· Social thinking
34. After the assessment, CPS involves 3 steps:
· Empathize – clarify the child’s concern
· Share the adult concern
· Collaborate – brainstorm, assess and choose a solution
35. Teach the new skills through real problem solving. You have to activate the neural network you are trying to change. Trying to teach skills by e.g. simulating a scenario in a computer game will not change the behavior. Real life problem solving is the only way to do it, and it needs to happen frequently.
36. If the child’s behavioral issues occur in a certain setting, such as the classroom, then the teacher needs to at that instant use the opportunity to teach the child the skills s/he needs – rather than sending the child to the school counselor. The teaching needs to happen every time the incidents arise. The resulting behavioral improvements will make the 2-10 minute “interruptions” to do this teaching worth it because it will greatly reduce the amount of teaching time that is lost because of “classroom management issues.”
37. In schools we already have differentiated instruction for learning disabilities. Why don’t we do it for behavior?
If any of this speaks to you, I hope you will click on the hyperlinks I provided in the beginning of this blog entry and learn more. Read their books, sign up for their courses, present it to your principals and superintendents. Thank you so much for reading this. Please visit The Ana Grace Project to see the amazing stuff that is being done, borne out of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012. As Nelba, Ana Grace's grieving mom, pointed out during the conference, the big shootings are the ones that create the sensational news, while violent acts are occurring every single day and not deemed newsworthy. The information and inspiration provided by this conference is the stuff that, when acted upon, alters the course of the world. We don't have to wait for the useless politicians to enact the necessary policies - we can be instruments of change RIGHT NOW. Just do it. LOVE WINS.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.