Monday, December 20, 2010

FWIW, it's my opinion. Keeping holiday meltdowns to a minimum!

Over the past 3 and 1/2 years, I have learned a few things. Some of these things have worked to help  Genea remain on the planet during times of stress and I thought I would pass them on. With holidays coming up the kids can easily go haywire and stay off track for weeks, even months. I try to knock as much of The Crazy out ahead of time as is possible. In no way does this mean I know what I am doing. I actually debated with myself..... should I put this up? Will I seem pushy? Know- it- all- ish? And I thought, Self, after all this time you have a few hints to pass on. People can take them or leave them. Okay.

First and foremost, be mindful that your RADish will probably not emerge from the other side of the holidays in good condition. Work from the position that expects problems and makes the effort to contain them before they blow. Anticipate. Think to previous years and plan.

RADishes do not like change!
My RADish (affectionate term for a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder) does not like change. She thinks there should be a law against all change and the rest of us should have to comply. So you might think that a holiday like Thanksgiving where my little food hoarder/sneaker can eat all she wants would be a positive. It is. However, the overriding feeling will be anxiety due to change in schedules, locations, people and rules.

Anxiety always comes out.

When your child starts up with provoking behavior, constant demands and does bizarre things it may mean she is feeling unsure and unsafe.

So what do you do? You talk it through at every opportunity. I would describe every single thing I could think of to Genea ahead of time. We are going to Grandma's house.We are taking my car. It will be a long car ride and I want you to bring a few books. We will try to drive straight there without stopping. When we get to Grandma's, remember her 2 dogs will bark at you at first. We will not eat right away, it will be about 2 hours after we get there. These are the foods she will have. These are the people who will be there.

But wait! Do Not tell her too far ahead of time because then she will freak out anticipating the day. For Genea, usually the night before a big event is good. Sometimes, the day of. Seriously, rarely more notice than that. Where you have anticipatory anxiety you have your  Wango Tango. Simple.

Do what you have to do to keep the chances for failure at a minimum.

My child cannot control her urine when she is stressed. Even though she is 7 and fully capable, unfortunately her continence is one of the first things to go. We use night time underwear style diapers at the homes of other people. Nancy Thomas can come and get me, and bash me over the head with a diaper genie. If Genea doesn't need the back up, she doesn't need it but if she does it will not ruin the whole day, her clothes, or the furniture of others.

Know your child's signs of stress and look for them.

Genea can look perfectly calm, even happy, on the outside. I know she is feeling anxious because her pupils dilate. That may well be the only sign at all that she is internally dysregulated. And where does all that go if left to fester? After all, she looks good on the outside, why not take that for the truth? Here is why. Because the Wango Tango will always come out somehow. Maybe not at Grandma's for Christmas, but the next day? The next 7 unstructured days at home without school? Oh yeah, you will feel it!

Check in with your child often with physical contact.

I am always amazed when I casually hug Genea and I can feel her heart beating out of the chest cavity. Another cue she is feeling stress! I make her sit  next to me and I firmly hold her. Not forcefully but as the adult in charge. We might discreetly work on breathing or counting. I will have her place her hand on her chest to feel her heart beat and work on slowing it down (I call that biofeedback for the poor, lol). We might escape to a bedroom and close the door and do some strong sitting in quiet.  We can do quick brain shifts now that she is getting older and can do some academics. I might ask her to spell "frog" or do basic addition. The answer doesn't matter in the slightest- it will shift the brain out of panic and fear and away from fight/ flight/ freeze. Other ideas- ask her favorite color, favorite tv show, etc. Think of it as driving a car with a manual transmission (good God, why do those things still exist). If the car is in 1st gear going 45 miles an hour you are going to wind up with a messed up car. You have to shift to bring it into safety.

Other things that have helped Genea and I survive:
  • Keep visits to other homes short. Short short short.  Short as you can.
  • Plate your child's food for her. A buffet style or family style meal is going to overwhelm and freak out your little loved one.
  • Keep as many rules from home as possible. Example- we have a rule that you have to try everything on your plate with one bite, then you can decide not to eat it. Awkward and annoying to keep that rule at another persons home, but rules are reminders that someone is in charge and the child is safe.
  • Try not to "let it go because it is a holiday". I have wound up with 2 ungrateful overstimulated brats on many occasions thinking I was giving the gift of fun and freedom from structure. Not. Good.
Get over the idea that this is your holiday too and you should be able to have some fun. Maybe you will, maybe you won't. Yes this will all be a lot of work. No, it probably isn't fair.

What about pushy relatives?

Those that are sure your RADish needs a fistful of crackers and you are just being too strict, you know them? They spend half the holiday trying to convince you that you are too hard on the child, you need to loosen up. Or the other where your child runs off totally out of control and just needs a good spanking. I have two lines that I have found will stop all opinions, second guessing, and unwanted "help".

1. Say this with your head tilted to the side and try to look tragic.
"You know, she will just never be totally sure that we won't leave her somewhere. No matter how long it has been she still doesn't quite fully believe we will bring her back home. Our rules may seem odd but she functions so much better with them".
Without fail, the "helpful" relative will make sad clucking noises, quickly look off into the distance, and wander away. I think the comment helps kick open the door that reminds people, we are not working from a regular box of chocolates.

2. Looking helpless or a little doubtful, shift the focus (blame) off of yourself.
"Mmmm hmmmm, her therapist (insert whatever professional you want) says we have to 'blank' for her to be emotionally healthy you know, after all she's been through". Around my relatives that will move immediately into a discussion about all this feelings crap in society these days, psychiatrists are nothing but drug pushers and the Big Pharmaceutical Companies are running the world.  Clears the room. Get out with everyone else.

note- I realize the above idea may turn you off completely. Do what works for you. This is what has worked for me. 

Now, on to gifts!

Around here, my kids get a lot of gifts. What a problem, right? No, it's not something I complain about. However with my children, too many new things at one time overwhelms them. Then they wind up playing with a box or an old cat toy from way under the couch. Spread it out.

We will do our family gifts on Thursday, 2 days before Christmas. That will give the kids most of Friday to play with their new stuff. Santa will come early the night before Christmas because.......

For the past 2 years my little neurotypical child has become so excited about Santa Claus that she vomits. She works herself so far up into a tizzy that she gets a fever going and cannot keep food down. We have had to reschedule the extended family party both years. So, Santa will come early the night before, like 7pm,  instead of Christmas morning. Does that just seem not right? Kids are supposed to wake up Christmas morning at 4 am all excited and flipping out about Santa! Well, that may be how it is in all the stories but if the excitement is too much for your kids than how much fun is it going to be? Do what works for your family.

note- I had a recent epiphany about this. I wonder if Teena gets all worked up because she is wondering if Santa will leave her gifts or a lump of coal. Not quite sure if she has made the naughty or the nice list.

Anyway, like I said, these are the things that have worked for us. You may have already tried every single thing on the list and none of it worked. For me, it's about maximizing the fun and helping my RADish be successful and that may mean my day sucks. But I would feel worse if she managed to ruin the day for a bunch of other people.  We will absolutely still have fallout but if we try to work at the problems ahead of time and have a plan for the other stuff, it helps.

So, opinions? Suggestions? What has worked for you and your family that is not typical? Fill me in, I will take all the help I can get!


  1. i think those are all good tips. even though we don't have RAD we have a lot of other stuff and this applies to that as well. I totally agree with the too much at once stuff...

  2. Great advice---thanks for sharing what works for you. I'm trying to get out of the "I hate Christmas" mode.
    So far, my coping mechanism has been hoping that maybe we will all get the flu and then we'd be sick and shucky darn, no trip to Grandma's (where all h*ll breaks loose, either while there or at least immediately upon the return home.)

    I like the idea of spreading it out. We have gifts from an out of state relative under the tree. It's driving the kids bonkers. Why am I so staunch about them NOT opening them early? Because I'm stupid sometimes. I'm so going to be the Best Mom Ever today and let them tear into them after school. But man, I hope there's toys that they can play with (giving me peace and quiet) in those boxes . . .


  3. You are a braver woman than I am. We don't go anywhere during holidays! Relatives and anyone else who wants a piece of the RAD pie can come over and see us. :-)

  4. Girl, I am SO in agreement about all of this. Mom stays in control of everything.. the plate, the rules, the seating, everything. Because V NEEDS it. She is just a spinnny spinny machine all season long. She can't make all of those decisions. She can't handle all of that excitement. She can barely handle a NORMAL day.

  5. I love this list. I love how you understand your child and advocate for her and make the rules bend to fit her. Thanks for sharing. I'm sending my friends here. This is a great list.

  6. This is a great list. This has been our first holiday season with a child who has attachment problems. Wow! Talk about an education....

    The one thing that we've found useful so far is that she does better when we start out a situation with the "strictest" level of control in place (like we tell people not to make eye contact with her!) and we run that way for awhile and gradually loosen up if she's maintaining. We've found that works so much better than cutting her slack right off the bat and then doing damage control for the rest of the visit.

  7. I LOVE the brain shifts- that I haven't tried.

    Also love the pushy relative sidetrackers. I use the "the therapist says..." all the time.

    We only do the Christmas things that I or Buddy (my older neurotypical) really, really want to do. Nothing else is worth it. And that way I don't feel stress out, or like my fun is being stolen.

  8. Teena may very well hurl because she thinks she's going to get a lump of coal. Kids take that naughty/nice stuff SERIOUSLY! And really, even the best-behaved kid on the planet has probably done something out of line at least once in the past 12 months.
    My eldest thought the geode we gave him one year as a stocking stuffer was a lump of coal. It looked like a brown rock and you were supposed to crack it open with a hammer to expose the glittery cavity in the center. Well, son #1 had never seen real coal, having been born long after the Depression when every kid worth a darn scavenged coal from beside the railroad tracks to burn in the furnace and help keep the family from freezing to death.
    Being a Modern Kid he thought the geode was a lump of coal and he hid it under his bed! We found out about if a couple of weeks later when I remembered that I hadn't seen the geode anyplace and I asked him if he'd smashed it open yet.
    So yeah, I get the anxiety thing. He didn't vomit but he said he had a few scary hours after finding the geode/coal in the toe of his stocking.

  9. I'm going to copy and keep this. sage advice.


  10. Wow! Fantastic list. If only I'd had it 8 years ago! Those holidays, especially before diagnoses, were horrible. And I felt so much guilt for not enjoying Christmas with my kids. I, too, endured way too much helpful advice from those who simply didn't understand RAD. Incredibly hard.

    Thankfully, we have worked through a ton and I am here to say that there is life on the other side of RAD. Not to say that group gatherings are easy for my girl (age 15) but she has learned to cope beautifully and engage with the people present. It took me almost 8 years, but I can now enjoy a gathering with her present. And what a joy it is to watch her have fun instead of hide.

    Two things to add to your fantastic list:
    We would often set up a quiet place where she could go when feeling overwhelmed. A familiar book, blanket or doll was there waiting for her.
    Secondly (and this I did not do but so wish I had), explain to close family members about RAD so that they will understand a bit about what is going on. May not work for everyone but I think it would have helped in our case.

    Anyway, keep up the fantastic work with your girl. They can overcome this and leave their radish ways behind. And oh, what a blessing that is.

    Merry Christmas!

  11. Maybe it is s good thing that we don't have any relatives!

    Nowhere to go; nothing much special to do. It is me who gets depressed, frankly, because there is this EXPECTATION that every day should be special!

    Back in the day - when we did have more doting relatives (crazy ones who wanted to buy love with gift overload) we celebrated the Twelve Days of Christmas. Good from a "churchy" point of view, and really MUCH more fun than Christmas day overload. One gift a day, often a new toothbrush or school notebook, but the "cute" kind we don't ordinarily buy, and all the gifts from godparents and relatives, spaced out. And, that also meant we could get them their "big" gift on sale because they'd get that on Epiphany. With four and no relatives to help, we've not kept that up, but it worked for a lot of years with the oldest two.

    With Anastasia, I can tell she is dysregulated because she won't let me touch her. She's like a porcupine with invsible quills. When she gets REALLY dysregulated, you get too close and she'll administer these little slaps.... ostensibly "funny" - but, no.

  12. Thank you for the great reminders! We are spending Christmas with my in-laws in Green Bay this year, and every single one of them refuses to acknowledge any issues with my daughter. I love the two comments you suggested. They should shut them up pretty fast! Thank you, thank you! And Merry Christmas!

  13. Great post. Dont ever be afraid of being "pushy". You live it every day so you have every right to share what works for you. I absolutely love the "not working from a regular box of chocolates" line. So, so true. My kids have yet to understand that it is OK to wake us up on Christmas morning...that they dont have to stand quietly in the livingroom or in their rooms when they wake up. I demand that they coming flying into our room yelling "Its Christmas!" They dont need to be afraid you said "not a regular box of chocolates"..chocolates come in all different varieties.

  14. Well said and completely spot on! I LOVE it when people share what works...and also what doesn't. I always get new ideas to try and new things to consider when I read posts like this. As all of us who are parenting hurt kids know, we don't just need a standard sized parenting tool box. We need an arsenal of weapons at our disposal because what works today might not tomorrow, and what works with one might not for another.

    One of my biggest things is stay home on Christmas Day. Do all the visiting with Grandma and Aunt Gertrude before Christmas Day. Then take it slow. Take it at a pace that works for you and your family. If people want to come and visit you, that's fine, but have it be just a short visit.

    Then, starting the day after Christmas, let the holidays slowly die. Try to pull some structure together, and start putting things away (and cleaning out the old and replacing them with the new.) We usually take our tree and other decorations down a few days after Christmas and this year we're bowing out of the family New Year's Eve party. We'll do a fun little party and movie night of our own at home, but we'll keep it fun and familiar and safe and the kids (and probably us, too) will be tucked snuggly in their beds long before midnight.

  15. Hi I am one of lmgnyc's friends, and I have two foster to adopt daughters that we adopted at ages 4and 6. We have had issues around the holidays and I always thought it was just us. Thank you for posting some of your tips. I wish I could send this to family and friends so some of them would 'get it.' Seriously, I think some of the comments you have received I have. Esp from a MIL who thinks that she knows what she is talking about and she has no clue.

    I love how intune you are with your children, because I can relate to it. Seeing your child's pupils dilate, you know she's upset. Seeing our kids go off the deep end when it was time to go to grandma's etc, I can relate to all of that.

    I think for us I am just trying to keep most of the stimulation to a minimum, and to keep the routines the same.

    I will be back to read your blog and hear how your holidays went (if you post the fallout, etc.).


  16. Stopping by to wish you a Merry Christmas!!

  17. I'm late. Oh well.

    This is a great list. I don't have a RADish, but I do have a child that hits some of the anxiety/trauma markers of a Radish. It means that we glean really great tips from the amazing parents who are parenting radishes.

    My kiddo does the heart beating fast and pupil dilation thing. She is also a master of going dissociative. She used to not want me to touch her, but now I can hug her, hold her, rock her, no matter how bad it is. Yippee.

    It's been 4 years since coming home and I look at how far we've come and it's amazing!!! Children's capacity to heal is phenomenal.

  18. A couple of other "brain shifters" from our developmental pediatrician (;> ) are to ask if they smell something (What do you smell Grandma cooking? Do you smell brownies?) or to name things.

    No radishes here, but ptsd requires a lot of similar tactics.

  19. A lot of what you said works for my anxious kid, too. When are you going to write a book about how to add a Radish to the family salad?


I love comments! If you agree or disagree, comment away! However if you are a butthead about it, you may be excised.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...