Aha parenting moment

A few weeks ago I picked Ben up from group therapy. He was in a state. Kicking and screaming and refusing to leave. The therapist normally can calm him down and get him in a good place before he leaves but sometimes it doesn’t work in the time frame allotted. In this case another kid was waiting for his session. Our therapist asked me to finish for her and gave me a piece of parenting advice that was so valuable I just HAD to share it.

It was so simple and I’d seen it so many time in therapy that I was kicking myself I never put the steps together. Three simple steps that can be used over and over again in almost any situation!

1. Acknowledge. When Ben tells me he wished I would go to sleep and never wake up, I should not take that personally. I should not wish he would fall asleep and never wake up back, or tell him how difficult his life would be without me, or guilt him into feeling that one day he’ll regret those words. Even though truthfully, those hurtful words make me think all these things in my head. Instead, I should put aside the hurt. I should not take it personally. I should look at him and say, “Sounds like you are really mad at me, Ben.” “Wow, those are strong words.” or “You must really feel hurt.” Keep ACKNOWLEDGING the feelings until he feels calm and heard. Pretty soon he will start saying things like, “Yeah, you made me angry!” “I’m so mad!”

2. Ask Questions. Next, I should ASK him, “What made you so angry?”. Perhaps it’s something I or someone else did wrong, or something he perceived someone did wrong to him. Or maybe it’s just a completely outrageous reason like Aaron is wearing his shoes and he doesn’t want to share, even though he is standing in Jack’s shoes at that very moment ignoring Jack as Jack is standing there, equally upset that Ben is in his shoes.

3. Find a Solution. Whatever the reason, do not get angry. Do not roll your eyes. Do not dismiss his feelings even if you think that are absolutely ridiculous. Do not yell. Do not name call. Do not punish. Just say, “Okay, how can we FIX THIS PROBLEM for next time?” Find a solution that works for both of you. Offer suggestions. Work together. Occasionally you may have to put down a rule and say, “I know you are upset by this, but it’s dangerous for your body to do that so I can’t let you.” You can offer a suggestion of what he can do next.

By the way, this piece of advice is good for all your kids. And your spouse. And your parents. And your co-workers. And anyone you come across at all in life. It’s just such a good little nugget. Try it out today on someone. You’ll be amazed by the results!

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More on Sensory Processing Disorder & Food Dyes

It’s been two weeks since Ben started his therapy.

Some of you may be surprised to see me blogging about this again. I was surprised people’s reaction to my previous blog. My family, for the most part, thought it was unbloggable material. Some cited that fact that Ben probably wouldn’t want to have this information out in the public later in life. Others felt it was a family problem that should be kept just to family.

Personally, I respectfully disagree. Well, maybe Ben will be angry about my blogging later in life, but honestly, anyone who knows Ben knows that there is no way this disorder can be kept a secret. And I feel doing so would be a disservice to him. The more people who know, the easier it will be for them to help and interact with him. And maybe, just maybe I can help some other mother who is out there at her wits end wondering what the hell is wrong with her child.

I think part of the resistance I felt from family members is due to the fact that Sensory Processing Disorder is a relatively new discovery. (I had never heard of it before we started this journey with Ben.) I don’t think my family members fully grasped what this meant.

They were surprised to learn it is something that is recognized by the medical community. That therapy is supported under insurance (partially!). That it is a disorder “on the spectrum” just like ADHD or autism.

I’ve been talking to my friend Jennie, an occupation therapist who first tipped me off that perhaps Ben’s problems were sensory.

Let me tell you what Jennie explained to me. Because now I understand it all so much better. We are ALL on the spectrum. Some of us are just outlying more than others.

She asked me how the sessions were going. I said I felt bad because it’s like utopia in there, that Ben is so happy for the attention and as soon as we leave I’m yelling at him to stop running in the street or some other thing. I also said that I never knew how much anxiety Ben suffered from. That I didn’t notice it in every day life. I mean, I figured his opposition to transition stemmed from his anxiety but in therapy it’s very apparent.

Jennie explained that sensory processing disorder basically means that a part of his brain is either underdeveloped or developing wrong. That part of the brain is called the vestibular system and it is responsible for maintaining balance, posture, and the body’s orientation in space.

She explained that the reason I’m observing so much anxiety during OT is that it is the therapist’s job to exercise the vestibular muscle (kind of like how a physical therapist exercises muscles to strengthen them) in order to help fix it. She has to push this system to the limit, causing anxiety, then bring him back to normal again.

She had a lot of helpful suggestions for me, but the most unusual one was to cut out all food dyes from our diet.

She explained there was a definite link between food dyes and behavioral problems.

I thought I was a fairly healthy eater, but I did a check of my kitchen and found ALL THESE PRODUCTS with food dyes (or other banned substances like BHT, a preservative known to cause cancer) in them…DSC_0187

Pickles? And Nutra Grain bars?

I completely freaked out and started crying when I saw that all the gum we buy at the store has food dye. Ben’s behavior is getting worse and worse every month. In the past year, because of his sensory disorder and need to put everything in his mouth (yesterday he didn’t have gum and he was licking the hand railing outside Jack’s school), we’ve let him chew lots and lots of gum every day. Would he change when I eliminate these things?

And after I had a complete freak out about those products, I found even more…DSC_0188

Yeah, even Motrin!

Other countries governments have banned these substances from their food!

I’m imposing a dye free zone in the Calisoff household for the next week. Other people on the internet say it only takes a few days to see the difference, so I’m excited to start right away.

I’ve sourced a dye free gum to help Ben and stuffed anything I thought Adam would be upset about losing in the closet so I wouldn’t accidentally grab it and give it to the kids.

Here is a list I got from Die, food Dye! with possible side effects of food dyes…

1. Hyperactivity: Can’t stop moving, runs most of the time, constant movement of hands and feet.
2. Lack of attention: Cannot focus either at home or school – without affecting all areas of life all the time (not ADD).
3. Sleep problems: Has a hard time settling down for sleep, or has sleep disturbances throughout the night.
4. Mood swings: Unexplained emotional problems, hours-long tantrums, inconsolable crying, paranoia, and meltdowns over tiny things or schedule changes.
5. Violence/Aggression: Biting, spitting, growling, hitting, kicking, and uncharacteristic mean talk.
6. Lack of impulse control: Increase in risky behaviors, excessive talking at inappropriate times, loud talking, disruptive, interrupts people a lot, hard to transition from one activity to another, does not adjust behavior in response to discipline.
7. The Ickies: Headaches, stomach aches, and vomiting.
8. Bed-wetting: This includes daytime wetting, well past the age of toilet training.
9. Skin ailments: Eczema and hives. Her daughter had eczema and cradle cap before they eliminated dyes.
10. Breathing problems: Some kids require an inhaler due to dye-induced asthma.
11. Compulsiveness: Pulls out hair, eyelashes or eyebrows, picks at skin, repeats certain actions numerous times.
12. Not consistent: This is the single most important clue to watch for. Can you give your kid sugary treats without problems some days, but then other times, they freak out? Their clue was their daughter’s hyperactivity after eating sugar-free pudding that they later discovered had red dye.

Ben does not display all of them, but I’d definitely give a nod to 3, 4, 5,6, 9, and 12. Let’s just see how they change in a week’s time. Stay tuned!

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Coping Skills

I can’t tell you how many times people hear or see me with my four kids and say “how do you do it?”

It has occurred to me that some people actually can not understand how I do this every day. It seems unfathomable.

Well, over the years I have come up with some coping skills that help me get through the day without wanting to slit my wrists.

1. Lower your expectations. Ideally I would have no expectations, then everything good that happened would be a gift! But unfortunately I don’t live that way. I expect the homework to be done. I expect messes to be cleaned up. I expect people to keep their hands to themselves. Sometimes these things don’t happen, and sometimes they never happen, but I do expect them. I have, however, lowered my expectations greatly from the time before I was a mom. Before I was a mom I would look at other mothers talking on their cell phones while pushing their babies in strollers and judge them for ignoring their kids. When I became a mom I realized that was the only time to talk and I lowered my expectations on the amount of attention my kid needed. Now that I have four kids, I envy the woman who can push one kid and talk on the phone. My stroller time now has nothing to do with me. Usually I’m pushing two kids and running with one while yelling at the other to keep up.

2. Ask yourself is it harmful or hurtful?. When my parents come to visit, they are constantly tut-tuting all the naughty things my kids do. They can’t believe I let them dump all my tupperware every day and clean it up at night without going crazy. But you see, if I let every annoying habit disturb me – the twins throwing food, coming downstairs every night after another long day to see the couch has been turned into a fort, being asked for the millionth time the SAME EXACT QUESTION, I would be in a mental institution right now. Sometimes when I feel the hairs on my back starting to stand up, I stop and think, “is it harmful or hurtful?”. Most things are washable, or replaceable, or clean-up-able. So unless they are climbing somewhere dangerous, trying to plug things into the outlets, or choking someone, I try to let it go. This does not mean I won’t have them clean up a huge nest they’ve built on my bed of every stuffed animal, blanket and pillow they have, but I’ll let them make it and enjoy it before I start yelling for it to be cleaned up.

3. Prioritize. Just this morning we were doing the morning dance, the one where the parents rush around trying to throw jackets on various kids, pack school lunch, and get everyone’s teeth brushed while the kids pull their shoes off, decide they have to find an obscure miniature toy RIGHT NOW or they can’t possible do anything but lay on the floor and scream, and someone decides it’s a good time to poop. You want to avoid the tardy pass? Figure out what needs to be done and do the rest later. Poop? Yes. Bring the overflowing hamper of laundry down to start it? Later.

4.  Just do one more thing. In order to keep this house from turning into shambles, I often think at the end of the day, Nikki, just do one more thing. Sometimes I’ll organize a single drawer, or I’ll mix a batch of muffins up to be put in the oven the next morning, or I’ll lay out the gloves, hats, jackets and shoes. If you do just one more thing a few nights a week, you can be more calm when the next fire comes along. Then you don’t have a fire and a long list of things that might turn into fires out there too.

5. When it gets too overwhelming, make a change. The older boys are fighting over the iPad, the twins are fighting over toys, and your husband just text to say he’s coming home late. When things seem to be going all wrong and all you want to do it just lock yourself in your room and put a pillow over your head, make a change. Often when everyone is snarky I will stand up and announce a dance party, a race to the other end of the house, or a game of hide and seek. Changing it up will change everyone else’s mood too.

6. Find the silver lining. A few months ago the boys pulled every piece of clothing from our closet onto the floor. It’s okay to reprimand them and tell them that is not acceptable behaviour. And cleaning it up was super annoying. Still, I can’t help think how good my closet looks these days. Because of the mess it’s much better organized and I found a bunch of clothes I had been looking for.

People, this is not to say that I’m walking around like Pollyanna, all jolly hockey sticks. I still scream, and yell and fail. But occasionally I remember some of these tricks and it really helps. I hope it helps you too! Great skills, for anyone really – kids or no kids.

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Iphone Breast Feeding Apps

I’ve been having a lot of trouble keeping track of the twins feeding schedule. Especially at night. I’ll hear them cry out and wake in a state of panic, disoriented and wondering if I’ve just fed the one that is crying or was it the other one? Sometimes it’s just gas! Also,

  • I want to make sure I’m feeding equally from each breast.
  • I want to make sure that each kid is switching sides regularly in case production is uneven.
  • I want to stretch Aaron’s feeds to 2 and 1/2 to 3 hours each. He has a tendency to feed for a small amount of time and often, which makes him gassy and cranky.
  • I want to keep track of Sam’s formula top ups. After putting Sam on the breast I will give him 2 ounces of formula is I feel he is still fussy.

iBaby Feed

Baby Connect










I’ve been trying out two different applications. The first one was an app for $.99 called iBaby Feed. I like how easy it is to track feeds, either entering it manually or simply just starting a timer when you start feeding. You can also analyze the feeds based on average feed length, time between feeds, and total feed time. However, it doesn’t take into account two kids.

So I downloaded the very expensive (for an iphone app) Baby Connect. At $4.99 you can do it all. Keep track of feeds, log in diaper changes, sleep, mood, activities, medical records and much more. Most importantly, it keeps track of more than one baby. It’s the mack daddy of record keepers for your infant. I don’t have the time or interest to track the babies every movement, but for a first time type A mother, or perhaps a nanny this package would be great.

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Snoring & Behavioral Problems

We recently visited the dentist for Jack and Ben’s 6 month cleaning and check up.

Adam was worried about Jack’s upper teeth. He has already lost his bottom front teeth and we assumed his top front teeth would be next. However, he has been complaining about the tooth next to his front tooth, which for some reason has gone askew.

The front teeth look so small now. We weren’t sure if it was because he grinds his teeth at night or just the mere fact of him growing bigger makes the teeth seem small by comparison.

After the X-Ray, here is what we found…

X-Ray of Jack's Teeth - March 22, 2012

Jack’s front permanent teeth are so big they are knocking out four baby teeth. Those choppers are going to be massive.

The dentist noticed that Jack was breathing through his mouth. She also took note that he was a teeth grinder. She asked if he had a bed wetting problem. (Yes, most nights). Did he snore? Sometimes, not much. Did he sleep walk? Well, there was that incident where we found him peeing on Adam’s shoes…

In the end we answered ‘yes’ to about half of the questions in her survey about snoring tied to kids’ risk of behavioral problems. Apparently Children’s hospital sends kids to our dentist to widen their mouths. This helps the children breath better at night and hence helps with their behavioral problems during the day.

I don’t think Jack is a candidate for this. I wouldn’t say he’s an angel most days, but I think most of the naughty stuff he does is pretty normal boy stuff. But it did freak me out for an afternoon until Adam came home and talked me down.

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A Spanky Butt

For some time now we have been using a “Responsibility” chart to get Jack to do things. When he fills the chart he gets to go pick out a new toy.

Jack's "Spanky" Chart

This works surprisingly well for getting kids who don’t like to take orders. The responsibility chart was mostly Adam’s job. Somehow the little circles on the chart got named as “Spankies”. Which was fine with me, call them whatever you want as long as they get the job done!

It did make for some embarrassing moments, like being in a crowded, public place and having Jack turn to you and say, “Mom, you forgot to give me my Spankies today.”

But nothing topped yesterday. I asked Jack to get dressed. Adam offered him a Spanky for the task. He disappeared into his room for some time. When he came out, he still hadn’t managed to put his pants on. Instead he walked out in his shirt and Scooby-Doo underwear. Grinning up at me and said, “Can you guess what’s in my underwear?”

I pulled open the back to find all the little circles in his underwear. A Spanky Butt.

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Phosphate Free Dishwasher Detergent

Has anyone noticed their dishes getting more and more spotty as the year goes on? Are you finding yourself examining each dish and putting the white-streaked ones back in the washer, hoping they will be cleaner next cycle?

I’ve been having this problem for months now. Finally I called our service company. We have a great service company for high end appliances (we own a Bosch) and when I rang for an appointment, my favorite service guy, Charlie showed up.

Apparently the State of Illinois has banned phosphates in dishwashing detergent, at least in household use. It’s the stuff that gets your dishes really clean. It’s also bad for the environment.

He told me that unfortunately there is no great solution. He didn’t have a suggestion for detergent replacement. But he cleaned everything out all the clogged sprayers and suggested a monthly vinegar wash (put a half-filled coffee cup of vinegar upright in the top shelf of the washer and do a cycle).

Afterwards we threw our Cascade out. All the other soaps in the store were also phosphate free so we switched to Finish. It said it was recommended by all the high end dishwasher names. So far so good, although it could just be that the dishwasher is clean now and over time we’ll once again see residue built up.

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Third night in the bunk beds and already we had our first night of success. Both kids slept until morning in their own beds. I hope writing about it doesn’t jinx it!

Anyway, the reason I’m thinking about the bunk beds is because I wanted to pass a little mom tip onto people with bunks or beds with sides. Get Huggers!

We got ours from Olive Kids, but if you search google for comforter huggers they are everywhere.

Look how Nicely They Tuck in!

Fitted AND Reversible.



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How Not to Do Bunk Beds

Not sure what the proper way to integrate a 2 year old and a 4 year old who sleep in separate rooms to bunk beds. All I can do is give the advice on what NOT to do.

1. Besides measuring if the beds will fit, keep in mind what is on the wall and the floors as well. This way you will not get your new bunk beds installed and say, for example, now be turning on and off the light with a chopstick.

2. Transition is a slow process. Perhaps in hindsight I should have transitioned my 2 year old, Ben, from a crib to a toddler bed, then a toddler bed to a real bed. Because now as it stands he thinks this new arrangement is a big sleep over party and is keeping everyone up. Of course, I have no where else to put him…

3. Wednesday is not the best day to have your beds delivered. The best day to have your bunk beds delivered is a Friday. It’s already hard enough to get the used to the new sleeping arrangement. Don’t add a ‘school night’ bed time to the stress of it.

4. If both your kids wake you up all night, don’t assume throwing them in the same room will end your frequent night waking. They are of no comfort to each other. And when I finally got them both in the same bed, Ben woke up and tried to wake up Jack as well!

The New Bunk Beds!

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