Don’t Forget to Listen

I had a conversation with a parent the other day regarding some struggles they were having with their child. The first advice I give to parents, caregivers and educators is to ask their child/student. Talk to them. Ask them what they are struggling with and what they feel they are doing well at. What are their likes and dislikes? What makes them happy and what upsets or angers them? Especially as a teen, it is good to let them know that you see they are struggling and you support them no matter what. The question, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me? I’m here,” can go a very long way sometimes. Instead of us telling them what they should be doing (don’t get me wrong, I feel like I’m telling Gracie all the time how to do things), we can ask them what they feel they need right now. In this very moment. Just letting them know that you are there for them, and allowing them to make some of their own decisions (as long as they are safe) empowers them to make the right choice and you just might be surprised! All of those things you’ve been harping on your kids for, might just sink in. We tend to forget sometimes that our kids, no matter what age, can be very insightful to what they need. Obviously this is more difficult for some. Some of your kids may be non-verbal, or give you one word answers or a grunt. They may say things are fine when they aren’t. But just letting them know you are there for them, can open up the doors to communication. If you child is non-verbal but can point to yes and no or nod their head, get creative and come up with some things you think might be triggering them. Look at what they are playing with or what they are watching. Sometimes if your child is watching the same episode over and over, it might be on topic with what they are going through. Sometimes the answer is right there in front of us but we are too busy to really see it. And don’t feel bad about that! Just remember, the answer could be the knowledge your child/student already has. They are pretty amazing.

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Thankful for the Little Things…

It’s been a whirlwind since Aaron and I got back from our trip a couple of weeks ago. My hubby’s appendix burst and he’s been in and out of the hospital since. Turns out he had two abscesses (infections the size of a couple golf balls) that were taken care of and now he is home and on the mend. Today has been the quietest and least busy day since we’ve returned home. Today is a day I am able to take a breath and reflect on all that I have to be thankful for.

Many of you are dealing with challenges every day and it can be hard to feel like you have anything to be grateful for at times. Life is hard. Yet, life is precious. When things are going well, it’s common to take those moments for granted. But when someone you love gets ill, (even if it’s minor) you start to realize all of those things that should not be taken for granted.

Today, as I have some quiet time to reflect, I have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my husband and all he has provided for us. I am thankful for my children who rallied together to tidy, clean up after themselves and set the house up for their dad to be comfortable in. I’m thankful for my parents who held the fort while I drove kids here and there and stayed with Aaron when I could. I am thankful for family and friends that are always there, just when you need them. I am thankful for this quiet moment to come to the realization that Gracie was worried about her dad because to her, any surgery is serious. She’s never seen her dad in an unhealthy way. I realize every one of my frustrations with her came out because that is how she deals with her anxiety, and I couldn’t see that. And I realize, I need to give the kid a break. So what if she left all the frozen fruits on top of the fridge instead of in it. So what if she asks me a gazillion questions a day that she knows the answer to, or sits/stands a foot away STARING at me. Non-stop. So what, if she is obsessed with food and constantly asking to eat, especially the sweets. So what if she is always there. Always. I need to get over it. I need to remember how far this girl has come!

Today I am grateful our family is healthy and happy. We have a roof over our head and food on the table. We have family and friends and teachers and EAs and coworkers who we are blessed to have in our lives.

What can you be thankful for today? If you don’t have family or friends around, or feel like you don’t have anything to be thankful for on this day, please know you have a wonderful group of parents who are living a life similar to yours. The special needs community is a fierce one! We are there for each other. You are not alone! If you are feeling that way, please head over to our Facebook group and join our crew! Just click on the Facebook icon at the top right of this blog. Send me an email and we can chat. We are here for you. I am thankful for you. And if you haven’t heard this in a while, you are loved.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving day. xo

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Is This Our New Normal?

I’m tired. Tired of wearing a mask. Tired of not being able to hug those I love or even those who just need a hug. I’m tired of knowing how many students are going to struggle with the changes this year and tired of not being able to go out in public and enjoy life the way we used to. I’m tired of knowing there are many people I love and many people I see at work who are on their own, isolating and living by themselves.

Today as I write this, I’m just feeling a little blah about it all. Tired. I want the life we had back. This is getting emotionally draining.

But… I know others have suffered so much more due to Covid and have lost loved ones. I know others are struggling to put food on the table and pay their rent. I know small business owners are working their butts off just to keep afloat. I know so many others are struggling with loneliness and mental health.

That doesn’t mean to say that my feelings aren’t justified. It just means, in the grand scheme of things, we are okay. I don’t know if this will be our new normal, but I do know it is our new normal for the time being. I know I am feeling blah at the moment, but in a few minutes, I’ll be grateful and feeling joyful for this Saturday spending time with the people I love.

Look for the things that bring you joy. Look at your child and smile because you know they are loved. Give someone in your close bubble a hug. Have a cup of tea (or other cool drink) with a friend. Look up at the sky and see the stars. Cozy up in your favourite blanket and watch a good movie, especially one that makes you laugh. Ask yourself, what are some of the small things that you can be grateful for in this moment?

Sending you all a big virtual hug!

xo

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Declutter Your House, Declutter Your Mind.

Everything off the counters!

I once heard someone (can’t remember who but would like to give credit) say that what the inside of your home looks like is just a representation of what is going on inside of you. I read that quote while laying in bed one night with a pile of laundry in a basket beside my bed that hadn’t been put away, some items on my dresser which just looked cluttered, a bag of clothing that hadn’t been unpacked from god knows how long before, and a pile of books. Some odd socks, a t-shirt or two, dust and more books under my bed. That quote really resonated with me at that time! I was overwhelmed and feeling burnt out. Struggling to balance home life with work life all while my health was suffering. I felt like I was drowning in a mess when I got home and I didn’t know where to begin. Yes I have 3 teenagers and yes they need to do more. And yes, I need to make sure that happens. But in all honesty, I find it’s just easier to do some things myself. They each have certain jobs, but definitely need more. At least that’s what I had been telling myself yet, feeling so drained with all that had to be done, I still didn’t get on them to help more. Thank god I have the husband I do, because he takes on A LOT of responsibility. Kudos to you single parents! I know it’s not easy! We’ve always had our own jobs that we just kind of started ourselves, but when I am not well, he takes my jobs on as well. Which adds to my guilt of not being a good wife, mom, housekeeper etc. To be honest, as parents we also have the role of counsellor, teacher, nurse and taxi driver to name a few. It can be overwhelming! And let me just say, my house was a perfect mirror image of what was going on inside me. 

Covid sucks. I don’t deny that. It has hurt more families than I like to admit. But throughout the chaos going on around me, I always try to find the positive in it. Yes, my room (house) was messy, but I had a very cozy bed and roof over my head with a beautiful family to fill it. As for covid, well it allowed us to share family time with my teens that normally would never have happened without it. We were together for 2 whole months or more, just the 5 of us. Or 7 when my parents were at home. We had family dinners and hikes, conversations and movie time. We even built a fort inside and slept in it! The house was tidier and I felt I could balance life just a bit more even with working part time out of the house and part time from home all while homeschooling Grace. 

Life was simpler. And calmer. I missed my students and still miss them greatly. That makes my heart sad. But being home part time has made me healthier. Physically and emotionally. What I began to realize was that I wanted to feel like this all of the time. When work started back full time, (I took a leave from the school to do crisis work in our ER at the hospital), I wanted to come home to a clean and tidy house. I wanted to feel peace when I walked through the door. I wanted an empty sink and clean counters. So, I signed up for Joshua Becker’s 12 week Uncluttered Course and over the past few months, I’ve decluttered so much out of my house. Several bins of garbage and recycling and donations. I still have a spare room full of donations to give away but with Covid, things were closed. 

I have to say, I feel so much lighter! Our kitchen now only holds the necessities. Ever been to a resort with a kitchen? It has everything it needs and nothing more. Easy to find, easy to clean. My bedroom no longer has items that belong elsewhere. Having less stuff has actually given me more time. More time for the people and things I love.

I want to share anything I can that has helped our family. Not just what has helped Gracie but also what has helped us as her parents. We need to take care of ourselves too in order to take care of our kids. And decluttering our house has decluttered our minds. We feel so much more calmness these days. It’s still a work in progress. I currently have a family room downstairs full of bins with christmas decorations and seasonal boots, etc. waiting to be put back in my newly cleared basement storage area. I’m still trying to create better habits (and encouraging everyone else) to clean up after themselves, wipe the bloody crumbs off the counters and wash your dishes and put them away! But we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

If you are interested on learning how to live with less to give you more, keep reading.

Here are a few quick tips (from Joshua Becker) to get you started:

  1. Go around your house with a garbage bag and fill it with stuff you know you don’t use and get rid of it. Donate, recycle or throw it out.
  2. Clean out one drawer or shelf at a time if that’s all you can do in a day.
  3. Check out Joshua Becker’s website
  4. Also check out Project 333! This has really helped with laundry! No more piles! I still have to get my kids on board with this one! lol But the idea is to just take care of your own things. The rest of the family members will hopefully see and feel the difference you are making for yourself and want to make their own changes. So don’t worry if your child struggles with parting with things. You don’t need to worry about their things for now. Take care of yourself on this one.
  5. Take a look at the FlyLady system baby steps for developing new habits. Best one so far…get dressed all the way down to your shoes first thing in the morning. There is something about wearing your shoes that makes you think you need to go somewhere. And you do! On a tidying up mission!
  6. If you prefer videos, check out the Secret Slob on YouTube. She follows the FlyLady system and will walk you through it.
  7. Lastly, if you are looking for more decluttering tips, watch The Minimal Mom.

I hope this helps you mamas and dads out there. Grandparents and caregivers too! Happy Decluttering! xo

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Developmental Age Is My Saving Grace

Patience. We either wake up with it or we don’t. Some say we choose it or we don’t. I like to think I’m patient, but I know I run out of it sometimes. I’m only human. As parents we have a lot going on in our lives. Regardless of whether we work full time, are a single parent or if we are a stay-at-home mom or dad. We all have our own busy lives.

The last post I wrote was on our child’s developmental age vs. their birth age. That post had more to do with how to teach and treat our children. One thing I didn’t add but wanted to share was how seeing your child’s developmental age can help us as parents, caregivers and teachers to have more patience.

Gracie will tell me she loves me a hundred times in a day. Seriously, I use a counter to track how often sometimes! It feels like a million times! She wants to hug me just as often. She wants me home. She follows me around. She is learning but still interrupts conversations to say what she wants to say. She gets excited over the smallest things. Christmas and Santa and the Easter Bunny and all other magical beings are the most exciting times in her world. She loves candy and anything sweet and always wants the first and biggest piece of cake. She wants to cuddle (and would get on my lap if I let her). She watches Treehouse TV and cartoons galore. She is completely innocent when it comes to sex, drugs and alcohol. She is emotional at times. Up until recently, she had meltdowns like a toddler. Imagine that in an adult body.

On the flip side, she listens to rap music. Has her sister do her makeup some days. Is able to have very mature conversations at times. She is very tall and grown up physically. She says swear words (limited to her bedroom only). She deals with all the same hormonal changes girls her age go through. She likes some name brand clothing and wants to fit in with others (although she seems to have gotten past that and is happy in her own skin). But, she posts selfies, some that include that duck face pose and likes the comments she receives! She has a boyfriend and best friend. She wants to be like every other teenager in the world.

Now here is what I mean by “her developmental age is my saving grace”. When I look at Gracie as her young 4-8 yr. old self, when I see the child inside her, I have much more patience when dealing with certain things. When I see her developmental age instead of her birth number or size of her body, her symptoms make complete sense to me. When I don’t realize that, it makes it much more difficult for me to understand and be patient with what she is doing. So give it a try. The next time you are starting to lose patience with your child or student, try seeing them at their developmental age and see if it makes a difference to you. How would you react to a 3 yr. old vs a 13 yr. old?

As I just explained to Gracie, she is a teenager but still has that “small kid inside her”. One that she is so blessed to have! How many of us have grown up wishing as a child to be an adult? We couldn’t wait to grow up and our parents would tell us not to rush it. She has the luxury of growing up, but still has the innocence, excitement and magic of a child we all wish we still had. That is something she is so fortunate to have! And we as her family and friends are so fortunate that we get to see life through her eyes. Her excitement, energy and belief of magic is contagious. Holidays will always be exciting because she will always hear that bell ring, because she will always believe.

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What is Your Child’s Developmental Age?

What is your child’s developmental age compared to their birth age? This is something that I think is important to be aware of and remember. They usually aren’t the same or in our case, Gracie is 17 in birth years, 17 in some developmental stages, yet can seem as young as 4-8yrs of age, give or take a few, in other developmental stages.

I know I was taught in College to treat everyone I worked with at whatever birth age they were at. To make sure they didn’t stand out and help them fit in as best they could. To hide their visual schedules in a binder or even more creatively in a CD case, back in the day. We were also told to not let them carry around their favourite stuffed animal in high school or as an adult out in public, and so on. But is this really fair to them? How do we balance teaching them to be proud of who they are and wanting them to fit in and not be made fun of? It’s a tricky thing. But over the years, I think we’ve managed to balance both ways. It certainly hasn’t always been easy. Gracie loves certain things that most teens her age wouldn’t enjoy or would be very embarrassed for anyone else to know about.

I remember when Gracie first started listening to rap music as a teen. Her playlist included songs with bad words that made me cringe and the next song would be The Wheels on the Bus! She was in this middle stage that we all go through of wanting to grow up and yet not wanting to lose the innocent things that bring us so much joy. She was made fun of in elementary school for liking Treehouse TV. Which by the way, she still loves and watches to this day! (She did give me permission to share this with you and I’m so very proud of her for getting to this point of loving herself just the way she is). She still does struggle with the fear of someone making fun of her for what she loves. But she holds her own, and doesn’t hide as much as she used to.

I think part of the reason Gracie has accepted herself is because she allowed herself to get to know others who have special abilities and they accept her for who she is. I think I’ve mentioned before that Gracie didn’t want any part of the special ed. department at school or the people in it when she first got to high school. She wanted to hang out with the “popular” kids. But she just couldn’t keep up with their conversations, couldn’t fit in and couldn’t be herself. After talking to her about the great qualities many people have and what it takes to sometimes be popular, and the importance of being herself, her whole life changed. By accepting the other kids in her program, she began to accept herself. The friendships she developed are filled with acceptance and this unconditional love that I’ve never really witnessed before. And I have to say, she is extremely popular at school!

I believe what my professors taught me was what they thought was best at the time 20 years ago. We are constantly learning and finding new ways to teach our kids and students. The way some things were done many years ago, we wouldn’t even attempt today. But if we teach with a kind heart, open mind, creative ideas and most importantly, accepting our children/students for who they are and allowing them to be themselves is the most important gift we can give them.

I find that seeing Gracie’s developmental age helps with my patience level as well. I’ll write another blog post and link it here when I do to explain more of what I mean. But for now, ask yourself what your child’s developmental age is. Can you meet them there? What are your thoughts on this? We’d love to here from you! Feel free to share in the comments section.

Wishing you a wonderful night!

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Don’t Think Your Child Will Be Able to Camp? – Part 2

Part 2 is on practicing the skills needed to camp, especially for those families who are pretty certain this will never happen. That may be true. But I urge you to read on if there is even a tiny thought that your child might enjoy camping if they could just handle some of the challenges they may face. Obviously I don’t want you to traumatize your child. Go at their pace and read their body language and listen to their words or gestures. Camping isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. You just don’t want them to miss out on it if they too want to join the family but just don’t know how.

First off, you know your child best and if you are 100% sure that they will NOT handle the sensory experiences or sleeping in a tent or trailer (or anywhere else other than their own bed), don’t rush it. But why not give it a shot? It will just take some time and practice. Think about each activity you might do when camping and practice each one, little baby steps at a time if you must. You can start with having a campfire in the backyard roasting s’mores one night. Then on another day take a few minutes to go to the beach. Some of you might be thinking “Are you kidding me?! My kid won’t let any sand touch him!” or “My child hates the smell of a campfire!” There are many many things that deter some of our children from the joys of camping but it might not be impossible to get to the point where your child can join in on the fun.

I’ll jot down below some possible concerns with some strategies but if your child struggles with something I haven’t mentioned, send me an email at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com and I’ll see if we can help you out. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so just take a look at the bold sentences and choose to read what applies to you.

My child won’t sleep in a tent – if your child is too afraid to even go inside a tent, let alone sleep in one, put the tent up outside and leave it open with some pillows, sleeping bags and some of your child’s favourite stuffies, activities and food in it. I’m sure they will take a peek inside no matter how frightened they are and may develop the courage to go inside. If your child won’t go outside because the tent is there, try putting up a small tent inside your house. Or, build an indoor tent with sheets, play and sleep in it together. Keep the tent up as this may take several days/weeks until your child feels comfortable with it. If the child’s first step is playing inside the tent, when you feel your child is ready, try pretending to sleep in it during the day. Instead of playing house, play camping. Then extend that to sleeping in it at night. If your child doesn’t make it through the whole night, that’s ok. Keep trying and hopefully your child will stay longer and longer until they finally do it for an entire night – I would reward my child the next morning with going out for breakfast to their favourite restaurant, take-out or favourite dish made by mom or dad!

My child HATES the smell of campfire – I’m not a big fan of this either so I make sure I wear my least favourite clothes to a campfire. Clothes I won’t mind getting smelly or burnt by the small ashes that sometimes land on me. Help your child pick out some “campfire clothing”. Again, I would start small. Have a very small campfire outside. (If that’s still too much, I would make a “campfire” out of yellow and orange tissue paper on logs and pretend to roast marshmallows). You don’t need to sit around it just yet, but have it burning so your child can get used to the smell. If your child won’t even come outside because of the campfire, I would place a sweater near the campfire and bring it in the house and drape it over a chair in an area that your child is frequently in. It won’t be as strong as the campfire but it might be faint enough where he/she can handle it and slowly get used to it. If you need to hold the sweater over the campfire for 5 seconds the first round, then 30 seconds, then 1 minute etc. to make the scent slightly stronger each time to gradually increase their tolerance to it, then that is what we do. Eventually, the goal is to get your child outside around a campfire.

Would your child be willing to wear a mask to the campfire to block out some of the smell? With Covid, there are many places and people making masks. You can find one with their favourite character or even a pattern with campfires on it that is meant to wear only at the campfire. Add some essential oil under their nose to help drown out the campfire scent. Lastly, grab a plastic bag that is labelled (campfire only). Your child can then change out of their campfire clothes which will go directly into the campfire bag and sealed tight until it is washed. They can have a shower or bath if needed to get the smell out of their hair. There are many ways to gradually increase your child’s tolerance level to just about anything, we just need to be creative.

My child only eats certain foods – This is where you will have to do a lot of planning ahead. You may need to spend a weekend baking your child’s favourite breakfast muffins, waffles or pancakes that you can cook ahead and just drop in the toaster when camping. Cook up that favourite noodle dish or stockpile their favourite cereal. I highly recommend investing in a good plug-in cooler. The ones that can also be plugged into your car. This will allow you to bring milk, eggs and meat without worrying about keeping ice in it or the food getting soggy as the ice melts. That is a nightmare! Precook, pre bake, preplan! It can be done.

You can also make the campfire more exciting with s’mores and wieners and these fun and easy foil packet meals from Little Family Adventure Blog. There are tasty treats like eclairs, popcorn and cone s’more packets and meals for the child who prefers to eat like a king or queen. Something for the picky eater and something for your foodie!

My child can’t handle loud noises & fireworks – we never leave home without our noise reducing “protection” ear muffs. They are the ones people wear in construction or to concerts where the noise is so loud it can do damage to the ears. You never know when loud noises will appear! You can pretty much guarantee there will be fireworks on long holiday weekends, but honestly, I’ve been hearing fireworks almost nightly this summer and July has just begun! Bring the headphones with you everywhere so you will be quick to place them on their sensitive ears! If you’ve never tried them before, buy them ahead of time so your child can try them out at home and get used to wearing them. If they don’t like the feel of them, you can try different brands out, or desensitize your child to it by trying them on for 5 seconds, then 6 seconds, then 10 and so on. They were a lifesaver for us when we went to see the fireworks or concerts or amusement parks. You can also wear the small ear plugs that squish into your ears if that helps. Another option is to go to a campsite during the week when there are less crowds. Many provincial parks and private parks have certain areas of the park that have reduced hours where noise is permitted. Just do your research. Even calling ahead to the campground and explaining your story a bit so they can direct you to the most quiet and most secluded area for you and your family. Especially if you don’t want to be near the water as that might be too hard to keep your child away and too dangerous.

Not having a routine will be too hard for my child – No matter where we go, I would make a visual schedule for Gracie. Our weekend or weekly camping trips would be fully scheduled. We would keep her routine as much the same as possible, such as meal times and quiet time. But I would research the area we were going to and plan each day out accordingly. Keep in mind the weather when you are scheduling something. If the day needs to be sunny to experience an activity, you may have to include IF IT IS SUNNY on the schedule and what you will do instead IF IT RAINS. Always have a back up plan. Check out this link from The Inspired Treehouse on how to make a visual schedule.

My child wakes in the night. How do I keep her safe? – Tie some bells to the zipper of the tent so you know you will hear them if your child tries to leave. You can even get zip ties or twist ties and zip tie yourselves in there but have scissors easily accessible only to you (most tents have little hanging pockets) so you can quickly cut it off if you need to. ** This is not meant to “lock” your kids in a tent while you are sleeping in another one! I just mean that if you are so worried that you might not wake up if your child tries to leave, even if they have to climb over you to get there, that you could potentially use a zip tie or twist tie on the zipper and a tie back loop if needed to make it more difficult for your child to open it and leave. **

If you have more than one tent, make sure an adult is with the child who wakes in one tent and another adult (even a friend or family member if you are a single parent) sleeps in the other tent with the other children. If your child normally wakes in the night but you know he/she is safe at home and you are still able to sleep at home while they are awake, this obviously won’t be the case when camping. So keep your camping trip short. Even if the first time is just one night. Although two might be better because it might take your child a full day and night to understand what this camping thing is all about. Call the campground ahead to make sure you are not located near the water or pool. Better yet, borrow or rent a trailer so you can lock the door! You might want to test the waters before buying your own. **If you don’t think this will be safe, don’t go camping! Safety comes first!**

My child doesn’t like public washrooms – This is something that is pretty common. Think about all of the sensory experiences in a public washroom. Loud flushing. Large line ups and crowds. Extremely loud hand dryers. Crying babies. Awful smells. Using a public washroom will be a skill in itself that many of our kiddos will have to learn. Again, start with baby steps. Go to a public washroom where there is just a one room washroom to start. Most areas have a “handicap washroom” or family washroom where there is a one room option. Start there. Marinas have single washrooms with showers etc. in them. I’m sure if you asked to borrow one on a regular basis to teach your child the skill of using a public washroom, including the shower since that is what you will find at campgrounds, most would be open to the idea.

Here is an explanation about what I mean when I say break EACH activity down into small steps:

Take the washroom for example. There are several challenges just to using a public washroom. One out of many sensory experiences in the washroom is loud flushing noises. Start there. If your child won’t even flush the toilet at home because the noise is so loud, try using ear plugs or noise reduction earmuffs. If that still doesn’t work, have your child stand outside the door while you flush the toilet for them. Explain that you are going to be helping them get used to noise. They can cover their ears while standing outside the door or even down the hall. Then work your way closer to the washroom. And even closer until you are standing right in front of the toilet. A further step would be to record the toilet flushing so your child can listen to it at a quiet volume and you keep increasing the volume as they can handle it, until they can flush the toilet themselves. This is a great idea for the loud hand dryers as you have no control over who will start it and when. Using a recording at home in their safe space is a good place to start. Practice this daily. Some children are scared of the water twirling and going down the bowl. A simple fix for that is to close the lid before flushing.

Now look at each thing your child despises about the public washroom and break each one down like I did with the toilet flushing. This post is getting too long to do each one, but I think you get the idea. Work on each skill one at a time until they’ve mastered all of them. Then you can attempt a public washroom with many stalls once you think they are ready.

Obviously, there is a lot of prep work to be done. Lots of skills to teach. It might be a lot of work and this isn’t going to be a relaxing holiday for you as the parents/caregivers. It will be exhausting and you will probably need a mini vacay after this family vacation. But if you go into it with no expectations and just the hope that you will have even the smallest success, it will be priceless. Just remember that this camping trip is for your child/children to learn and grow and experience. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Patience. Time. Baby steps. Practice. That’s all you need. And remember, all of the skills mentioned above won’t just be for camping. They can transfer these skills to other areas in their life. Yes, you might have to practice these skills in other areas as some of our kids have a hard time transferring a skill they’ve learned to somewhere else, but you’ve got the hardest part down!

Good luck! I wish you and your family a safe and memorable summer! xo

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Don’t Think Your Child Will Be Able To Camp?

Neither did we! But boy were we wrong. That’s why I never like to assume G can’t do something. We have had some great family camping trips and some did have a few challenges along the way. But it sure was worth it!

I will always have great childhood memories of camping with my family in Honeymoon Bay. Days spent swimming, fishing, creating fantasy worlds in the forest that surrounded us, finding “furniture” and homes within the shapes and grooves of the granite rocks and cooking over the campfire. The whole family including grandparents, cousins and pets would be there. These were memories I hoped to make for my family. That reality became a little more challenging when the kids were young and Gracie struggled with meltdowns and sensory issues more than she does today. But most importantly, how could we be sure she would be safe when she was known to take risks when she didn’t understand the danger?

Well we did manage to go camping several times and make memories I hope they will cherish like I did. It wasn’t always easy though and there was a lot of preparation to make the trips a successful one!

I still remember the time Gracie was about 10 years old and having a doozy of a meltdown. We didn’t want the entire campground to hear her or have her siblings embarrassed because all eyes would be on us. So I managed to get her in the car and drove around the campground and parking lots. I can’t even remember what it was about. But boy did G scream! She screamed and kicked the windows, kicked my seat, tried to hit me and tried tearing off her seatbelt (she was too distraught to think clearly enough to remember to just click the button) but that is why we stuck with the camp roads and parking lots. I don’t know how long this went on for but it seemed like forever. She finally stopped and we went back to our campsite like nothing had just happened. Emma and Josh were still having fun with their dad and grandma and the other campers were still going about their business. I asked Gracie if she was all done and ready to try again before we got out of the car. She said yes, got out and joined her brother and sister. Now I’m sure this meltdown was about something she wanted, when she wanted it as this was usually the antecedent. So if she asked again for whatever it was she had to scream about, the answer still would have been no. We need to be consistent with her or the meltdowns would be 100 times worse. She would’ve realized that I wasn’t changing my answer and moved on or if she started with another meltdown, we’d get straight back in the car and start all over again. She obviously didn’t want to do that again so she chose to move on. A few hours later, when she is fully calm, is when we talk to her about what happened, how she reacted and what she can do next time she feels that way.

During that same camping trip we visited Ottawa and Quebec over Canada Day weekend. We saw fireworks, made s’mores, visited museums and saw concerts. There were crowds and noises and chaos. But we managed. And even though the meltdowns and tough times are still remembered, it’s the good times that stick with me the most.

I share this with you because I know many of you have these same sort of challenges plus some, that might make you believe there is just no way you could ever go camping! But no matter where your child is in life right now, you can still provide the experiences of camping one way or another. Whether that’s at a campground or in your own backyard.

I realized sharing this story and adding in some specific strategies can make for a very long post so I decided to make this a 2 part blog post. Click here for Part 2 if you would like to keep reading on how you too can have a successful camping trip.

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Summer of 2020! What Shall We Do?

No summer camps, no respite, no daycare, no summer school, no community living teen groups. Is this what the summer of 2020 is going to look like? I don’t know about you, but this summer is going to look much different for us than it usually does. We’ve already had 3 months of constant family time! Don’t get me wrong! It’s actually been pretty great! And much better than expected! I seem to have had more patience even with homeschooling. Which brings me back to those moments when Gracie was younger and having major meltdowns. It seemed that the bigger the meltdown, the more calm I became. Anyone else ever feel that way? It’s like when there is something traumatic or frightening going on and you just go into “fix it mode” and then crash when it’s all said and done. That seems to be what has happened in our family. Everyone stepped up, and thought about each others feelings and needs. But let’s be honest, it’s starting to wear thin on everyone.

Summer is a time for fun and friendship and outings. Campfires and boating, swimming and camp! The biggest challenge for Gracie is not getting to attend Camp Kennebec this year. Every summer she meets up with friends for a week or two and has the time of her life! Other than Christmas, Camp Kennebec is the highlight of her year. A place where there is no judgement, she can be herself, try new things and make memories that will last a lifetime. But this year is different. And those of you who have children who struggle with the word “different/change/transition” know what I am talking about. It’s hard enough to have the small transitions and changes that happen on a daily basis, but something as big as this with a lack of understanding about Covid19 makes things a little more complicated.

For the most part, the tough times of having to explain to our kids about Covid has come and gone and I’m hoping most of you have gotten into some sort of routine. But I know it hasn’t been easy.

This summer will be different. But that can also bring on some creativity. Whether I want to be creative or not, I need to figure out what this summer will look like so my daughter will still keep up her social skills and have some good memories. Out of the 8 weeks of summer, Gracie is usually in an overnight camp and day camp for a total of 4 of those weeks. So for HALF of the summer, Gracie is entertained by someone other than myself. Now I get to entertain her for 8 whole weeks!!

Here are some things that we will be doing to help make this summer go over a little better:

We have an AMAZING friend who has 3 children on the spectrum. You want to talk about Wonder Woman, this is her in the flesh! She parents her 3 children (all who have different likes and needs) in a way that I aspire to be like! Every time we go to her house, she has activities planned and THE best snacks for the kids. Now I’m not saying you need to do all of that. I’m just letting you know how fantastic she is because she definitely deserves a shout out! So does her hubby Marc who helps her out!

This fierce mama has invited a small group of kids to her house weekly so they can see each other, go for a swim and keep up their social skills. We have worked so hard to teach our kids the social skills they need (and we keep teaching them) so this isolation stuff has been hard! I am so grateful for this family and their kindness. Do you have a friend who might like to host if you aren’t able to? Now is the time to not be shy. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. And these are trying times where we really need our village to help us out!

Swimming: the beaches are now open in our area. And I hope they won’t close any time soon! As long as everyone is respectful and keeps their distance, we should be good. We will head to some smaller beaches and secret spots we know about. We were even thinking of getting a small above ground pool for the summer, but that’s still a discussion to have with the hubby! Lol Although now that the weather is so hot, driving down the road to the beach is welcoming!

Walks: There are many trails in our area. Can you find a quiet trail to take your kids out for a walk on? Check out these trails in our own back yard, Awenda Provincial Park There are also several around town. And don’t forget about the Wye Marsh! Their trails are open with a limited capacity.

Zoo: The Elmvale Zoo is now open so that might be a nice place to take the kids for the day. Easy to keep your distance and some interesting animals to see. The Toronto Zoo is now open but you have to book your tickets online only and there are time slots. For those of you who have children that would never walk the distance of the Toronto Zoo they now have a Scenic Safari where you can stay in the comfort of your vehicle. It is a 90 mins. tour. I’m hoping they keep this as an option because I think it would allow MANY families to attend who normally wouldn’t be able to.

Camping: We hope to get out camping. At the very least, my hubby and I are going to go one weekend as the kids aren’t as interested in that anymore. But remember that awesome mama I mentioned above. She has a daughter who would struggle with camping, so they improvise! They have camping in their backyard with tents and a campfire. They enjoy all the activities of camping you can imagine and when night falls and it’s time to hit the tent, this mom and her daughter head inside so her daughter can sleep comfortably in her bed and their dad stays outside in the tent with the other two. So awesome!! And still SO.MUCH.FUN! I will do another post just on camping and will link it here when I do.

I was going to keep writing and adding some summer activities. But I’m going to be honest with myself and with you. We will be at home A LOT of the time. I’m not big on going out. I work full time. I’m tired a lot of the time. I have great ideas of all these exciting things we can do, but if I’m honest with myself, we don’t get to half of them. We like our alone time. Our down time. And honestly, I’m not going to feel bad about that anymore. We’ll do what we want, when we want, and when we can but we also need to keep up with our responsibilities and our own needs too. I’ve learned to not feel bad about it anymore. I’m a good mom and I do my best. Even if my best means taking some down time for myself so I can keep parenting my kids the best way I know how. So please, to those of you who can’t get out or do a single thing I mentioned, don’t be hard on yourself! You are doing what you can at this very moment! Your kids will remember the love they feel from you much more than the memories of camping or going to the zoo.

For those of you who are interested in more ideas for things to do with your kids this summer, click on the link below and check out the photo where you will find some great ideas.

Edventures with Kids I like the bucket idea…you’ll see what I mean when you click on the link.

I found this picture on Pinterest. I would like to give credit to the person who spent the time to create it but it was on a few different blog links. Obviously we won’t be able to do some of them because of Covid and closures but there are several that can be done. I hope you enjoy some of them if you can!

So to all of you families out there, enjoy your summer, whatever it may look like!

Wishing you a safe, healthy and happy summer with as few meltdowns as possible!

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Study Tips!

Exam time is upon us! If you have seen Gracie’s video on Facebook about being stressed and you aren’t alone feeling this way, you know it’s a pretty stressful time in our household. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you follow us on Facebook at Well Balanced Life.

Here are a few study tips from Gracie and I:

Make or buy cue cards. Write the word on one side, definition on the other. If your child is a visual learner, write each card in a different colour. They may not only remember the definition but the colour it was written in! (The colour helps them remember).

Take your child’s favourite song and change the lyrics to teach them the topic! You don’t have to be a great singer!

Use bitmojis, favourite characters or whatever they are obsessed or fascinated with and be creative! How can you incorporate the one thing they think about the most into a learning experience?

Practice writing a test. Don’t forget to include, and teach if needed, the different types of questions – multiple choice, matching, short answer and essay questions.

Here are some things to think about and discuss with the teacher:

Does your child need extra time, less questions or a quiet space to write?

Can you chunk the test/exam into shorter “mini tests” and write it over more than one day?

If your child/student gets overwhelmed just by seeing so many questions on one page, can you cut the paper into strips and allow them to do a few at a time, with short breaks in between if needed?

Does your child do better writing their answer, having someone scribe for them or verbally giving the answers?

Can they write with their favourite writing tool whether that is a pen, pencil, markers, technology, crayons, etc?

Can your child have an open book or “cheat sheet” for more difficult tests?

What happens if they fail or do poorly on their test/exam? Can they have a rewrite opportunity?

If your child is creative, can they do an art piece to show what they know?

If your child/student is able to get their knowledge known to you, does it really matter how they present it?

If you are unsure what works best for you child/student, ASK THEM! If they can communicate… ask them! Some kids are great at knowing exactly what they need and how they learn best.

And if the school can’t accommodate them, ask them to create an IEP (Individual Education Plan). If they already have one, go over it and gently remind them what needs to be accommodated or modified.

Wishing you all the best on your studying and exam writing! As Gracie says “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” And as I say “YOU GOT THIS!”

Mel & Grace

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