Immanuel’s Strong Suitcase

My seven-year-old son struggles in the fall. The rest of the year Matthew’s busy ADD brain can be a challenge, but we have skills and strategies in place to stabilize his behavior and help him focus. We have observed profound changes when we practice relational brain skills such as quieting and appreciation, utilize neurofeedback to optimize his brain, add exercise into his routine and monitor his diet. The math is simple: as long as we remain proactive, he stays grounded and the results are glorious.

However, when August and September arrive, things spiral out of control. My son’s hyperactivity increases. His ability to listen and follow directions fly out the window. The frequency of his emotional meltdowns increase. Suddenly, EVERYTHING becomes harder.

Since Matthew’s seasonal allergies also kick in this time of year, I am confident the two are connected. However, I have not figured out a way to turn my hunch into a practical solution. In the meantime, my husband and I continue to explore strategies to help him when things get tough.

The other day Matthew landed in trouble for not following through on something I asked him to do. As a consequence, he lost an expected privilege. There are times my husband and I allow our sons to earn back lost privileges, so when this happened, I decided to try something new. I reminded him it was important to know what Jesus thinks about our behavior. I then mentioned how fun it would be for Matthew to talk with Jesus about his behavior, and listen to Jesus’ response. I said, “If you do this, and share with me what you feel Jesus says, then you can earn back your privilege.”

Matthew responded to this plan with excitement, because, after all, he simply needed to do something he already does, which is interact with Jesus. [1] I then sat next to him and asked him to tell me something he appreciates. Next, I suggested he ask what Jesus wants him to know about his behavior. I reminded Matthew to “turn on his listening ears” to notice what Jesus might say.

At first, Matthew’s mind wandered a good bit. He struggled to focus. Not surprised, I then suggested Matthew ask Jesus to help him focus, and check if Jesus wanted Matthew to know anything about focusing. A moment later Matthew’s face broke into a wide smile. Seeing this response, I asked, “Did you have a thought or a picture from Jesus?” Matthew told me a picture came to his mind. He saw an image of Jesus with a large suitcase, and he saw Jesus packing up the “extra thoughts” in Matthew’s head that were distracting him so that Matthew could better focus. When I heard this my face lit up. Matthew and I then rejoiced together that Jesus wanted to help him with these distracting, busy thoughts that were flying around.

Next, we returned to the first question and Jesus showed Matthew that He was sad when Matthew had trouble listening. Matthew went on to report that he felt like Jesus said He was glad to be with Matthew and wanted to give him a big hug, even when his listening ears aren’t working. Hearing this reminded me that I need to work on giving Matthew more grace in these moments, rather than respond with frustration.

After our interaction, Matthew’s focus and attention improved for the rest of the evening and our peace  levels increased. We have since been able to return to the “Immanuel moment” when Matthew struggles to focus. We ask Jesus to, “bring the suitcase and pack up the extra thoughts” so that Matthew can better focus without being distracted by fluttering thoughts.

A busy mind can be hard for an adult to quiet, much less a child. I feel encouraged that Jesus wants to help us and our children in our struggles. Thankfully, He is able to do something about the things we feel powerless over. I bet you have a few things in your life that you are struggling with today. I would encourage you to start with some appreciation, then talk with Jesus about what is on your mind. Like Matthew, be sure you, “turn on your listening ears” to see what He might want to share with you!

[1] We call this an Immanuel Interaction. Learn more with The Immanuel Approach by Dr. Karl Lehman, Joyful Journey by Kang, Loppnows and Wilder and Share Immanuel by Coursey and Wilder.)


Discipline that leads to rest

Both of my boys have been extremely hyper today. It is clear their little brains have been spinning which causes their behavior to spiral out of control. They keep getting into trouble which means a lot of time spent in quieting practice. In case you are wondering what quieting practice is, I would like to tell you about this sanity-saving opportunity designed to reset their boisterous brains.

A couple years back my husband and I changed how we handle discipline. Around the time we discovered Matthew exhibited symptoms of ADD/ADHD we knew we needed some useful solutions. Matthew was very hyper which meant he was in constant motion, incredibly impulsive, unable to focus or calm down and he ended up in trouble because he did not listen, stop or obey. Timeouts and other discipline techniques were not working. My husband and I felt like we were spinning on an out of control merry-go-round!

We realized, ultimately, one key skill was missing because my son was not able to effectively quiet himself. His inability to “down-regulate” and calm down was impacting every one of his relationships and every single interaction. In many ways, it is like trying to walk when you have a leg cramp. This is no easy task, and for my son, his brain was in a cramp and he needed some relief!

For children with ADD or ADHD it is much more difficult to quiet. Some brain regions are working too hard while other areas are not working hard enough. This means children need more practice to learn how to calm and quiet as well as learn to use the skill effectively in life and relationships. Even when children have learned the quieting skill we parents must help our children find the motivation to use the skill. Learning a skill and having the motivation to use a skill are separate issues and each requires purposeful effort and clear guidance.

Now back to how we handle discipline issues. Instead of a “Timeout”, we frequently tell our boys to take a “Quiet Practice.” This means they must go to a designated chair and sit quietly and take some deep breaths to calm their body and thoughts. They are not allowed to talk or play with toys. We usually wait until they have been still and quiet for about 2 minutes then we release them. If they talk or interact the time starts all over. If they “sit and stew” or look enraged all the while sitting still, the 2 minutes does not begin until it is obvious they are trying to calm themselves. Their designated seat is usually somewhere in the room with me, so I can see if they are quieting, but if they are both in quiet at the same time and interacting with each other, we send them to their own separate rooms so they no longer interact.

Sometimes Matthew and Andrew argue about going to quiet or, if they are angry, they will do something destructive or mean while walking to their quiet moment. This leads to what we call a “punishment” or “consequence.” In the past, when they did not obey, I would take away television privileges or toys for the day, but the problem was it was such a big consequence I did not have additional options if they further disobeyed. We had to find a small enough consequence that I had enough options when they would rack up 10-15 on the way to their quiet destination! We have defined a punishment as 5 minutes without toys though, when we first started this process, we started with 2 minutes while they were getting used to the new system.

While there are still occasions when we use other kinds of consequences for behavior, this is our go-to system. What I enjoy about incorporating quieting into their consequences is this: no matter the reason they end up in trouble, they will benefit from quieting whether they are sad, mad, overwhelmed, or frustrated. While this is especially helpful for Matthew with his ADD, it is also very effective for Andrew as well.

I am thankful to say that the day has improved after the boys spent much of their morning in quiet. They better regulate their emotions and are staying kind with each other. They are more grounded than before and the day has not spun out of control like it would have in the past. Now that they have practiced this skill for some time, I often say to Matthew, “You are getting hyper, go calm yourself or you will end up in a longer quieting practice” and he is able to calm down his energy levels before he needs a formal consequence. All of this has gone smoother because my husband and I first practiced quieting ourselves and spent a lot of time quieting with the boys when they were infants. Quite simply, every one of us benefit from some much-needed rest.

Discipline is a hot topic today because there are many strong opinions and different camps on what’s appropriate – or not. This can feel overwhelming. Additionally, many of us parents feel hopeless trying to find what works for our children. I find it helpful to remember that discipline is not so much about getting results rather it is about guiding our children to learn how to manage and return to joy from distressing emotions, learn to stay themselves while feeling upset and learning right from wrong. These are gifts we can give our children and a rewarding investment in their future.



Peaches and rest

“Mommy, you look like you need some peaches”, my four year-old tells me at the breakfast table this morning, which prompted me to take a deep breath. “Why did he say this?” You ask. Let me tell you about our family code words.

About a month ago our oldest son Matthew had croup cough. He also has ADHD, so the oral steroid the doctor prescribed transformed my son into a super-hyper energizer bunny. On the first day of the medicine, I sat down with him and explained that his medicine was going to make his brain even more hyper for the next week, so he was going to have to work extra hard to calm himself and take moments of quiet when he starts to spin out out of control into “hyper land”. Matthew was not sure he would realize he was getting hyper, which I expected, so we talked about having a code word that I could use when he needed to pause for a moment, take a deep breath, then quiet himself. Anything he finds silly adds more credibility, so I suggested whenever I say “strawberry” that he would know to pause and take a deep breath. Since strawberries are his favorite fruit and he thought having a fruity code word was fun, he instantly liked the idea. Over the next week we used the code word frequently. I was encouraged to see how much this helped him lower his energy level whenever he was starting to spin out.

This plan worked so well we decided to keep the code word, and not simply use it when he was getting hyper, but anytime a little calming would go a long way, whether he was becoming frustrated with a project, angry at his brother, or starting to overwhelm those around him. Matthew decided the rest of the family should have code words as well, so everyone’s code word became their favorite fruit. My favorite fruit happens to be peaches.

So fast forward to this morning. Chris left town at 3am to lead a retreat out of state. When he woke up my sleep was interrupted. Because my sleep was thrown off, I ended up oversleeping so my sons and I were late getting out the door for preschool. Neither of the boys were exactly cooperating to get out the door, and with my fatigue I felt cranky and began snapping at them. At the breakfast table I was telling Matthew to put his shoes on in a less than ideal tone of voice. It was here when Andrew turned to me and said, “Mommy, it sounds like you need some peaches”. Surprised by this, I paused, took a deep breath, then laughed as I said “Andrew, do you think Mommy is getting a little snappy and needs to calm down?” In his four-year old wisdom he grinned and responded with a, “Yeah.”

That moment of quieting helped me calm down and patiently gather my crew to get out the door. The neat thing about quieting is, well, we all need it! When we are well trained in quieting and recognizing overwhelm in ourselves and others, we will do this automatically. We do not need reminders. However, for many of us, we need to do some remedial work. For those without mastery of these relational skills, those around you can recognize your overwhelm well before you can. In my case, it was my four-year old who recognized it before me. While there are moments it may be hard to swallow, I am grateful my kids have a polite and silly way to ask me to “calm down.” This process is also teaching them the importance of recognizing overwhelm in themselves and in others. Andrew recognized that I was overwhelmed, that I was snapping at them. He was able to call me on it and this changed the tone and direction of the morning.

Chris and I are working hard to pass on these skills to our children, even the skills that need more work and require additional practice. We find it encouraging to see the moments our boys “get it.” We want Matthew and Andrew to be experts at quieting and calming themselves when we point it out. More importantly, we want them to master the harder task of automatically recognizing the need for quiet in themselves and other people when overwhelm levels increase. Visit our YouTube channel here where you can watch us practice these important skills with our sons.