Ten Tips for Reprioritizing Life

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As I start this week, I am a little baffled as to how to make it through, but I know that I have a Savior who can work all things out for good. In this next week, I will be completely rearranging my life. You see, I am a get-things-done, have-to-have-things-in-order, and put-too-much-on-my-plate type of woman. I go crazy — when I don’t have things to do, I create them. I work hard, don’t take time to rest or relax, and most of all, as much as I want to have my kids be top priority in my life, the things  that “have to be done” crowd my kids out. So, why is it in normal everyday life it’s so easy to leave our kids behind, when they should really be top priority?

Each day that goes by, I am realizing what a precious gift I have been given with my extended family, husband, and kids. It’s becoming more and more ingrained in my mind that the only thing we will be able to bring to Heaven with us is our relationships. So, let’s stop a minute and look at why Christ died for us.

Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” “The joy” is the chance of having that relationship with us. Wow! What a powerful thought. Jesus died for me, just to have the chance of having a relationship with me. That puts a huge emphasis on relationships. With that said, how much emphasis do I put on relationships? Am I really making my relationships the main focus in my life? I don’t spend much time investing in my relationships, and I really want to make that a priority in my life.

As I have been pondering this for the last couple of weeks, I have been learning and thinking about ways to build my relationships, not only with everyone I normally interact with, but with the ones that matter most — my kids. You see, parents have a huge impact on their kids. The kids learn how to have relationships, how to focus on what matters in life, and how to organize themselves by watching their parents. They also get their self-worth, their courage, and their willingness to serve from us. Out of all of that, I want to be sure to pass on to my children that relationships are the most important thing that can be focused on.

Growing up, my mom was really busy. I don’t remember a lot about my early childhood. Most of my memories at that age are more of my dad. I know my mom was pretty young when she had me. My dad and mom got married when my mom was exactly one month from turning 18. They had known each other from ages four and seven. Dad was best friends with my mom’s older brother, and mom was good friends with dad’s younger sister. She had me when she was 20. Dad was laid off quite often, due to the young industry of stainless steel, and Mom ended up going to work in order to help all of us financially. When I was four she was going to school full time (in nursing), working as a CNA, and studying and cleaning when she was at home. I remember that she used to get sick, and I would help with the house work while she sat down and told me how to do the job. What I learned from her example is to focus on the tasks at hand. My parents did the best that they could in every way in order to raise us, but while kids are good at perception, they are really bad at interpreting the perceptions that they get, and I mistakenly interpreted the instruction I had received. I unknowingly took on the mindset that tasks need to be done before play can begin.

The first thing I learned about relationships is they are either growing or dying; there is no in-between. So, how do we keep them growing? We keep them growing by using a “love” banking system. In this system there are positive and negative deposits. If you are making more positive deposits than negative deposits, your relationships will be growing. If you make more negative deposits than positive ones, your relationship will start dying. Start keeping track of how many positive and negative experiences you have with each other. My goal is to have double the positive experiences as negative experiences. It is a goal we are working toward in our family.

Second, put more encouragement into life. This life on earth is really hard. It is challenging not only to be adults in the world as it is today, but to be children. It is so hard these days to truly see the path to walk in being a Christian. The devil has become so sneaky with how he deceives, tempts, etc., us, and it’s only through the Holy Spirit that we can see his temptations in our lives. As each day goes by, we need to encourage each other in our walk. The more I have been applying encouragement to interactions with my kids, the more I find them encouraging me.

My favorite author once penned this quote, and it is one of my favorites: “Give the young and struggling a word of encouragement when you can. You would not leave those plants in your window boxes without water, nor refuse to open the shutters that the sunlight might fall upon them; but you would leave some human flower to suffer from want of appreciation or the sunlight of encouragement. There are a few hardy souls that can struggle along on stony soil, shrubs that can wait for the dews and sunbeams, vines that climb without kindly training; but only a few. Utter the kind word when you can see that it is deserved. The thought that ‘no one cares and no one knows’ blights many a bud of promise. Be it the young artist at his easel, the young preacher at his pulpit, the workman at his bench, the boy at his mathematical problems, or your little girl at the piano, give what praise you can,” Signs magazine, Sept. 14, 1882.

Praise is different than encouragement, and I think that we need to be sure to clarify the meaning of each. Praise builds ego, and encouragement builds behavior. I want my kids to have self-worth by knowing they have skills to do what they need to do, but I don’t want to have my kids puffed up or prideful. I want them to be humble, loving, and kind. Praise is focused on the person. “You’re so smart” or “You this, you that…” Encouragement focuses on an action. “I like the way that you are ____________.” “I appreciate the hard work you are doing ____________.” “Please keep up the good work doing ___________.” With that said, we also need to be sure that our kids know that they in themselves are important, and are special for just being them. They need to know that God made them special.

Third, practice “The Pause.” Before responding always pause a few seconds to let your brain catch up with the conversation. It gives you an advantage by assessing and being able to give a reasonable answer. It also allows us to calm ourselves down if we are having a frustrating interaction with someone we love. James says to control our tongue, and using the pause makes that much easier.

Fourth, “live in the moment.” When I’m busy around the house and I am doing chores or whatever I have to do that day, I am learning to put things down when my kids come running to me excited about something. I am learning to take that moment and spend it with them — get excited about what they are doing. Often I have found that a quick stop in the chores sends a little ray of sunshine through the rest of their day. It’s not about getting things done as much as it’s about sharing most of the little moments with them and being excited about what they are learning and playing. They want more then anything to get our approval. I am learning this even with my hard-to-handle, hyper, five-year-old son. He does so much better with me encouraging what is right versus me correcting what is wrong. Don’t get me wrong, we still need to correct the incorrect, but we need to do it in a loving way.

Fifth, we need to be gentle not only with our children, but with ourselves as well. The more gentleness we possess, the easier it is for people around us to listen to what we have to say, and the easier it is to correct each other. Gentleness makes it easier for our children to come to us when they have made mistakes or have sinned. There are always things that need to be corrected in us. We are all human and we all fall. The base word to discipline is to disciple. We are not to discipline (in harsh training or in roughness), but to disciple them, to train them and teach them how to grow up into Christ. “Love wins love.” It is our gentleness with mistakes, with each other, and with ourselves that reaches people. (I really need help with this as it requires an empathy and patience that I don’t have.)

Sixth, work on communication. Communication is the biggest key to relationships. Without it there is no relationship. Some friends can go years without talking to each other and then pick right back up when bumping into each other, but does that mean that they had a good quality of relationship the years they didn’t talk? No, most of the time they got along really well when they had a friendship, and it just took off again when they saw each other.

I sure have had instances where I have wanted to ring my hands and say, “I give up on you son. What are you thinking? What is wrong with you?” But, in those times I practice James’ advice and hold my tongue. Just a slight pause, and then I calmly ask, “Son, I’m not understanding why you would do that. Do you mind explaining that to me, because its not making sense as to why you would think that is okay to do.” Most of the times when he explains it, I am shocked as to his conclusions, but they actually make some sense. As he explains it I don’t feel quite so upset about it because I can find the flaws, and then I can correct the flaws in his thinking, which then corrects the behavior.

Seventh, teach our children to identify the issues in their hearts. Teach them to identify the cause behind their behavior. What is the heart issue that is causing them to behave the way they are, as behavior is a heart issue? And, the more we identify the real issue and we bring our children to Christ and teach them to submit and to repent, the more we will see their behavior change.

Eighth, take play time with each other. We need to take the time to teach our children the ways that we want them to act, to speak, to work, and most of all to witness. But, we should also take time to play. We all need some time to play and be able to relax and rest. It is often in these times that most kids really learn to connect to others. Play is so important for kids. They often learn their life lessons through their play, and as they play it allows them to process what they are being taught. It also allows us to see the issues in their hearts that we need to work on. My son gets angry, and when he plays, as much as we have tried hard to prevent it, he is fascinated by guns. I guess it’s just a boy thing, but it just doesn’t go away. If he doesn’t know how to deal with a certain situation, he starts “shooting.” As I have been changing my parenting skills and giving the kids more respect and love, I see in my son’s play more love and respect toward not only his playmates but also us. I am also seeing a dramatic decrease in his shooting. Praise the Lord!!! It’s been a burden in my heart I have been praying about. Our children look up to us (even though they may speak the opposite), and they really do want to please us in spite of their protests. Also, often when we take breaks with our children, we actually find that they are picking up on the lessons we are teaching them and applying them in their lives. And then, as we see them practicing, we can encourage them in those skills. If you are like me, I get so busy with life that I really don’t even see anything that they are learning.

Ninth, find hobbies that you can do as a family. It is very important to have individual hobbies, but it is also very important to have family hobbies. Our God is a God who delights in our individuality. He is not a God who demands that we are consumed by only Him. He gave us a job in the Garden of Eden, and that was to garden. He didn’t demand that everything is “Him and Him only.” Yes, He desires our worship, and because we have an “enemy that is walking around like a roaring lion, seeking those who he may destroy,” we are forced to have Christ as our constant companion and to constantly be in prayer and communion with Christ, but that was not in His perfect plan for our lives. He came to visit Adam and Eve, and left them to do their job. In this world our job is to witness to others, but He still wants us to grow our talents, and that is something that takes time.

Tenth, sacrifice. There is a saying “You only love as much as you are willing to sacrifice.” In every relationship there is sacrifice involved. Often times it is very hard but it is a necessary part of our christian experience. It is a real challenge as I tend to always sacrifice and no one seems to notice or appreciate my sacrificing. Be encouraged, even if no one on this earth sees the sacrifice, God does, and that is what matters. One day your children, husband and others will appreciate all of the sacrifice you did and then you will be glad that you could do it.

So many blessings in this upcoming week, as we all learn to apply these principles into our lives!

 

Keeping Special Needs Children Safe

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This blog post is not a warm and fuzzy one. It is not comfortable, and it is not easy, but it is life-alteringly important. In light of the recent arrest of an Adventist school principal in my state for raping and molesting two young girls, I decided to tackle this very hard subject in respect to my special needs child. I do not like feeling helpless, and my job as mom to this special boy is to learn how to protect him.

My question going into this was simply this: How can I keep my child with special needs safe when it is so hard to keep ANY child safe?

This question catapulted me into a search that has lasted for days. I wanted answers, techniques, and strategies. I wanted to tackle this issue head on with my own special needs son, and I decided to share with you what I learned.

  1. Children with disabilities are three times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse. It is our responsibility as adults to recognize, react and respond to signs of sexual abuse in all children. There are some specific do’s and don’ts that are especially helpful to keep children with special needs safe. (scanva.org)
  2. Although about 80 percent of women and 60 percent of men with developmental disabilities will be sexually molested by age 18, only three percent of their attackers go to jail (Hingsburger, Press Release CP Wire, May 2002). We have to stop living as though this does not happen. We have to be proactive in protecting our kids and teaching our kids how to protect themselves.
  3. Children and youth with disabilities are more at risk for sexual abuse and assault because of the following:
  • They often need assistance with personal care and hygiene

  • They may find it difficult to report abuse because of communication difficulties

  • They are often taught to comply with authority, which may make it harder for them to recognize abuse

  • They may be targeted because of their lower cognitive functioning

  • They may not be believed when they report abuse

  • Lack of knowledge about sexual issues

  • Misinformation about sex from peers, rather than books or other reliable sources

  • Lack of intellectual ability to understand the changes happening to their bodies

  • Misplaced trust in others due to increased dependence on others for assistance

  • A tendency to be overly compliant, particularly those children requiring a high level of support

  • Lack of assertiveness training or skills

  • An overprotected lifestyle and limited social contact

  • Lack of assertiveness training or skills

 

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Body Education

It’s not easy for us to tackle this issue, even with our neurotypical kids. Sex education, or as I refer to it, body education, acquaints our kids with the proper names for their body parts. This gives them the language with which to report abuse. Many people with disabilities who have had no body education or poor body education have failed to learn about love, warmth, caring, and pleasure, and therefore cannot distinguish that which is good from that which is wrong. This is dangerous in relation to abuse. They need to know what is good and healthy so that they can discriminate what is wrong and bad. Decide what is appropriate for your child to know and understand. Take into consideration their age, development, and environment, and then remember to revisit the issue often throughout every year. Repetition will help them remember what they learned and give them an opportunity to disclose if anything has happened to them.

 

  1. Think ahead — be proactive (“pre-teach”).

  2. Be concrete. Talk about the penis or vagina, not the birds and bees.

  3. Be consistent and repetitive about sexual safety.

  4. Find someone of the same gender and who is 100 percent safe to teach the basics of safety and hygiene.

  5. Be sure to address the social dimension of sexuality, as is appropriate.

  6. Strongly and positively reinforce all appropriate behavior.

  7. Redirect inappropriate behaviors. For example, if a child is likely to masturbate in public, give him something to carry or hold, etc.

Some of the documented benefits of body education for young people with an intellectual disability:

  • Increased social skills

  • Improved assertiveness

  • Greater independence

  • An ability to take greater responsibility for their sexuality

  • Reduced risk of sexual abuse, STIs, and unintended pregnancy

  • The language to report an incidence of abuse

  • Changes to behavior, such as adopting more acceptable expressions of sexuality

  • Healthier choices

  • Less chance of risk-taking behaviours

(betterhealth.vic.gov.au)

Here are some resources for easy to understand body education:

http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/healthybodies/boys.html

http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/healthybodies/girls.html

The Care and Keeping of You, Book 1 (ages 8+)

The Care and Keeping of You, Book 2 (ages 10+)

The Boy’s Body Book (ages 10+)

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Privacy, Personal Space, and Boundaries

  • Teach your child about private body parts. It is often helpful to define “private” body parts as the parts covered by a swim suit or underwear. Use pictures or instructional dolls to show what you mean. The more concrete the experience of learning, the better they will remember.

  • Teach your child about privacy and how some things are only done in private. Help your child define private spaces in the places where he spends time. For example, your child’s bedroom with the door closed is private, as is a stall in a public bathroom. Help them to learn how to ask for privacy. Be consistent in helping them give you privacy as well.

  • Model respect for your child’s personal space and physical boundaries by asking permission or declaring what you are going to do before touching him. Sometimes we inadvertently teach children to be helpless, passive, or compliant by doing things and making decisions for them. We help children learn healthy boundaries when we allow them some independence and input on decisions affecting them.

Touching

  • It can be challenging to teach children about touch, especially when caregivers, therapists, or medical personnel touch them in ways that might not be welcome, but that are required for their care. Sometimes touch that feels “bad” (for example a shot) is a touch that is necessary and therefore “good.”

  • Advocates recommend using concrete concepts like “red flag” and “green flag” to help children understand touch that is okay, or “green,” versus touch that is not okay, or “red.” Start by specifically addressing genital touch and when genital touch is okay (e.g. when getting help from a parent or caregiver with personal care or when being examined by a doctor), and when genital touch is not okay (e.g. when someone asks your child to show his genitals or asks him to look at or touch their genitals).

  • Use the touch situations your child experiences regularly to define specific touches that would be considered “green flag” as well as those that would be “red flag.” For example, a “green” touch would be when your child’s caregiver helps him to wipe his bottom after using the toilet, and a “red” touch would be the caregiver rubbing your child’s bottom when he is not using the toilet.

  • Once you’ve helped your child define specific touches as “green” or “red,” look for opportunities to practice determining whether touches are “green” or “red,” and how to respond to “red” touches.

  • It is very important for children to understand that touching rules are for everyone. Just as it is not okay for someone to give them a “red” touch, they should not be touching others with “red” touches.

Sexual Behaviors

  • It is common for children of various ages to engage in sexual behaviors both alone and with playmates. Use your knowledge of your child and of developmentally expected sexual behaviors in children to recognize sexual behaviors outside of what is commonly expected in children at similar developmental stages.

  • When you find your child engaging in age-appropriate sexual behaviors, for example exploring his own body or playing “doctor” with another child, calmly acknowledge what you’ve seen and set clear expectations. “It looks like you and Janie are comparing your bodies. Now get dressed. And remember, we keep our clothes on when we’re playing.” Remember your lesson on privacy? This is a great chance to reinforce that boys and girls do not go in each other’s rooms, or that we do not go under blankets together.

  • When you recognize concerning behaviors, you may need to be clearer or firmer in defining and enforcing your rules. Again, adapt your expectations to how your child responds to rules and expectations in other areas of life. Do not be afraid to use very specific language.

  • If you are seeing a pattern of concerning behaviors in your child that doesn’t respond to clear and repeated directions, discuss this with the professionals on your child’s care team, and consider seeking help from professionals who are experienced working with children who have problematic sexual behaviors.

Safety Skills

  • Saying “no” is an important safety skill. Teach your child to say “no” in lots of different ways. Help him communicate his “no” through speaking, shouting, shaking his head, stamping feet, making faces, etc. Have fun practicing his “no.” Share your child’s way of communicating “no” with his care team and your family. Ask them to respect your child’s “no.” This includes allowing your child to say “no” to hugs, holding hands, etc., when they don’t want to.

  • Help your child prepare to ask for help from a safe adult. Identify people in the various places your child spends time whom he might turn to for help. Consider the particular aspects of your child’s personality, his communication skills, and his ability to recognize concerning situations, and use role playing or practice scenarios to help him prepare for situations he might encounter.

  • Talk with the people you and your child have identified as safe adults. Explain that you and your child have made a plan for how your child will approach them if your child needs help. Ask them to agree to support your child when needed.

  • Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise. Surprises are joyful and generate excitement in anticipation of being revealed after a short period of time. Secrets exclude others, often because the information will create upset or anger. When keeping secrets with just one person becomes routine, children are more vulnerable to abuse. Explain that adults should never ask him to keep a secret, and, if an adult does, to tell you or another safe adult.

Talking About Sexual Abuse

  • Children need to understand the range of behaviors that are considered sexual abuse. Be explicit about what is not okay for someone to do or ask your child to do. For example, “It is not okay for people to show you their private parts or to ask you to show them your private parts. It is not okay for people to touch your private parts or ask you to touch their private parts. It is not okay for people to say or write sexual things about you or your body, and it’s not okay for you to say or write sexual things about other people or their bodies.”

  • When talking about sexual abuse, use examples that include people your child knows, including caregivers, relatives, peers, siblings, people in authority, etc. This is important since more than 90 percent of the time children are sexually abused by someone they know. It is important for children to understand that even people they know and like can be inappropriate and not follow the “rules” about touching children.

(Adapted from http://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/tip-sheet-9.)

So, what else should you do?

Be proactive in safety planning for your child, and don’t be embarrassed to ask questions or intervene in concerning situations. Take the time to plan for safety, talk and listen, and voice your concerns.

  • Ask questions of your child’s daycare, school and recreational activities. Every organization that cares for your child should have policies to prevent abuse, including background and reference checks for staff members, professional training for preventing sexual abuse, and rules regarding unsupervised or one-on-one time between adults and children.

  • Let people know you are aware and observing. Drop in unexpectedly on your child’s activities from time to time to ensure your other caregivers know you are watching. Safety is increased when everyone around your children knows that you are an active and observant caregiver!

  • Decrease isolation. The majority of sexual abuse cases occur during one-on-one situations, so limit the time that adults or older youth have alone with children. And, be aware of children and families who may be especially vulnerable, such as children with disabilities or families in high-stress situations.

  • Speak up when you observe concerning or inappropriate behaviors, even if the person exhibiting these behaviors is a member of your family or an older youth. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable having difficult conversations, but remember that a child’s safety trumps our own discomfort or embarrassment. If you feel you can’t have a conversation with someone who is being inappropriate, find someone who can and who will help you intervene.

  • Report anything you know or suspect might be sexual abuse to the child abuse hotline: 1-800-422-4453. It is never easy to report abuse, especially if it is someone you know. But remember, it is our responsibility as adults to speak up and keep our most vulnerable children safe.

(http://www.chicagocac.org)

Finally, Trust your intuition. Many families have reported that they felt something was wrong but they kept ignoring that voice in the back of their head. God gave us instincts, and we have to learn to trust them. Following your instinct just might save your child from harm. Learn the signs of child sexual abuse so that you can be aware of your child’s reactions. You are your child’s voice; do not be afraid of speaking up.

If you learn about any type of physical or sexual abuse at school, at church, at therapy, or anywhere, demand that the proper authorities are notified immediately and that an incident report is filed ASAP. If you suspect physical abuse, take pictures of the child and document everything that you notice. You are the expert on your child. Trust yourself.

This is not an easy issue to deal with. However, this is a vital issue to be aware of because it is one that can be so easily swept under the rug, especially for moms and dads who are just trying to keep our kids’ therapy schedules and homeschooling schedules in line! I do not pretend to know or to have presented all the vital information on this issue, but I hope that I have given us all a good start in thinking about the sexual safety of our kids who do not always have a voice for themselves. Please feel free to give feedback, ideas, and thoughts so that we can all learn together how to best protect our children.