I’ve had to do a ton of reading this year on brains. On the surface I think all the stuff about the brain is pretty cool- it’s this ugly looking thing that does so much. And we only use like 10% of it. Crazy! And different parts of the brain control different parts of us, our movements, our feelings, our learning. It’s like Atlantis- this whole unknown city.
I can almost hear you snoring at your computer screen upon reading my nerdiness. Soz.
One of the things I’ve had to do some reading up on is this whole thing about Growth Mindset. What the hell is that? Well, you know how they say IQ is fixed? This fancy little number that gets spat out at you when you do a series of ridiculous tasks that you’d never do in real life? Well, according to Carol Dweck, it’s not fixed. And the way we approach things, based on our mindset, will determine how well we actually do. We can literally grow our brains. Huh? I know.
Just when you thought I was done with monsters, eh? Here’s the last one in our series. A wily little fucker that can come in a few forms for little ones. We normally associate eating monsters with teenage girls, but you know the eating monster can hit even our younger cherubs.
In what ways can the eating monster screw with our kids? Well we have the more well-known eating issue of refusing to eat, in its extreme version we know it as anorexia. With the eating monster, refusal to eat can lie on a spectrum, from your garden variety pain-in-the-ass “No! I’m not eating that!” to a full control over what they put in their mouth. Anorexia can actually happen in children as young as 7 or 8. At that age it seems to have a bit to do with the sad monster or the worry monster (with obsessive compulsive features), and is hard to diagnose. The refusal eating monster also needs to be distinguished from the sensory eating monster. Some kids just will.not.eat certain things because of the way it feels to them, or the sensation of eating it. And some kids will not eat due to the worry monster leaving them with a fear of choking, or possible trauma around food.
Ahhhh the old Silly Monster. A crowd favourite with kids, an arch nemesis of parents and adults alike. What is the silly monster? Is it what happens to Mummy when she’s had one too many wines and thinks that singing karaoke and staying out partying until 5am is a good idea? Not quite. That’s a monster of a different kind I think (hello alco monster, I hope to meet you again in a matter of months….).
For kids, the Silly Monster represents that little part of us that can get a little too active sometimes. At the wrong time. Not understanding personal boundaries, not picking up those subtle cues that people might be getting a bit put out. Getting so excited our little brains get a bit scrambled and we can’t really put our impulse control or regulation skills into place. It’s not that we don’t know what to do, but the act of putting it into practice can get short-circuited by this Silly Monster. Sometimes the Silly Monster is just a by-product of excitement, or over-tiredness, or sometimes it can be a symptom of something bigger. Anxiety, ASD, ADHD can all feature the Silly Monster.
There are so many monsters lurking around, isn’t there? We’ve looked at the worry monster, we’ve looked at the sad monster and we’ve seen what little bastards they can be. But what about the angry monster? What’s the deal there?
The angry monster is a little different to it’s previously mentioned cousins. The angry monster can pop into any kind of difficulty a child is having. It’s not necessarily a ‘disorder’, but the angry monster is a main player on the kidlet scene. The angry monster can mean bigger things, like anxiety, depression, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), or it may just be a function of testing boundaries and learning their place. It’s a tricky minx, the old angry monster.
So what does an angry monster look like? Prickly, loud, breathing fire maybe? Possibly. Seething, quiet and contained? Could be. Our angry monsters can look different depending on the situation we’re in, and depending on our personalities.
The angry monster can be hard for parents to negotiate. And even harder for kids to manage. It’s tough. But it’s not impossible! It’s really about helping kids to understand what’s going on for them, what the angry monster is, and why it might be popping up at this time.
The biggest message to share with our kids about the angry monster is that anger is normal! Anger is common and we all feel it. What’s not ok though is when we let our anger get the better of us and it takes over. Normally the angry monster is at the surface, while another monster bubbles below. So when we explain the angry monster to kids we need to be able to let them know they are allowed to feel angry, but letting the angry monster make them aggressive is something else entirely.
How do we explain the angry monster? Try a little something like this:
Let’s have a look at what’s been going on for you lately. Seems like things have been pretty tough. Maybe you’ve had a visit from the angry monster, do you know much about the angry monster? Well, it’s a monster who can get really annoying and LOUD. And when an angry monster gets loud, it can make us loud. Yelling, screaming, stamping and stomping. So much noise! That’s the work of the angry monster. They hit our bodies, our minds and our actions. They do things like make our fists clench, grind our teeth, get all our muscles tight. They can make our cheeks feel hot, our eyebrows frown. The angry monster is tricky like that. And then when our bodies are all tight, they start telling us all sorts of things, like “it’s not fair”, or “I want that toy!” or “they can’t do that to me”. If you think things like that, how do you think you’ll be feeling? Pretty darn angry! Aha- the angry monster is working! So when we think angry, we feel angry. And when we feel angry, sometimes it can come out in not-so-nice behaviours. We can get aggressive- hitting, throwing, yelling, breaking things. Sometimes we can get so aggressive we can hurt others. And that never feels good, for anyone. Before we know it, our angry monster has us all twisted up, and we don’t know how to get out of it! Why does the angry monster visit? Well there can be many reasons. We can find something unfair, we can feel like we’ve been hurt by others, we can actually be scared or sad about something, and it feels so yuck the only way we feel like we can get it out is by letting the angry monster take over. So we need to be detectives, get to the bottom of why the angry monster is visiting us, and learn ways to shrink the monster down so we can shine again.
Sadly with anger, we inadvertently paint it out to be a bad thing, and something we need to hide away and not express. Anger is a valid emotion, and both ourselves and our kids are allowed to feel it. It’s all about how we deal with it that’s the issue though, and what we want to upskill our kids on. With kids, particularly younger ones, anger is the go-to emotion when they’re struggling to understand or express what’s going on for them. So it’s always helpful to try and educate them on anger, and get them to understand what is happening, and why they might be acting in such a way. A lot of the time, once we can see what’s going on, our anger tends to simmer down.
Got concerns your cherub’s anger is over and above what is appropriate for their age? Chat to your GP. More complex issues like Oppositional Defiant Disorder do exist, but the prevalence rates range from 2% to 10% (Maughan et al., 2004; Costello et al., 2003. Source). Some sessions with a psych might help give you some tricks, and enable further support for your child.
One resource that is great for explaining anger is the book “Mad isn’t Bad” . And all the cute series of “When I’m feeling…” are really useful too. You can often pick them up from Kmart. For children with Aspergers, a fantastic book to help them understand is “The Red Beast”. And if you’re stuck on how to deal with misbehaviour (because we’re all about the anger being ok, the aggressive behaviour is not though) here’s some strategies on disciplining kids that we’ve looked at before. But truly it’s about helping your child uncover what is driving the anger. And not having them beat themselves up for it. That’s what we have monsters for!
How’s your anger monster travelling? Are you all over it, or does your angry monster get the better of you sometimes? I tell you, without my wine, my angry monster has a little too much spunk. Must remedy that. In a few months.
Next up in our monster series is the very good friend of our little (or not so little) worry monster, the sad monster.
Sad monsters are pretty common, although while it’s easy to spot in adults, it can be really tricky to spot in kids. And for poor cherubs, an attack of the sad monster can be the absolute worst. It’s a serious issue that we need to address sooner rather than later. In the past we thought that children couldn’t get depressed. I mean, really, what’s there to be sad about when the biggest decision you need to make in a day is whether to eat from the blue plate or the yellow plate, right? Sadly not quite. Although it is less common in younger children than it is in adolescents, there are some studies that propose that 4% of preschool children show symptoms of depression and 10% of children aged 6-12 years deal with persistent feelings of depression, and 2% of those children go on to develop serious depression. Once you hit the age of 12, the stats rise, until you get to 16 and depression is now one of the leading causes of death in young people. Horrific to think, isn’t it? (See info here and here). It can even impact babies if they’re not given enough nurturing contact and develop a positive attachment. Babies can become apathetic, unresponsive, suffer from failure to thrive. All through depression. Not cool.
Hello! It’s that time again, where I come here and waffle some crud on some stuff and hope it makes sense. Sounding really profesh, right? I know. I have no faith in me too after that glowing introduction. Anyways, let’s push ahead, shall we?
Last week we chatted about our monsters, and I wanted to know what your monsters were like. And then my manic monster took over and I haven’t even had a chance to respond to your comments yet. Noice. I promise I’m going to. My ‘sir paranoid a lot’ monster will make sure of it.
We know there’s lots of monsters out there, but the first cab off the rank is one of the biggest monsters, we and our kids often face. The dreaded worry monster. I’m going to talk about anxiety in worry monster format, in the hopes that it might help if you have a cherub who is currently afflicted with said monster. Because sometimes as a parent (or as a teacher or anyone who deals with kids!) it’s hard to put into words what anxiety is, in a way that kids are going to grab a hold of, and most importantly, not blame themselves for.
So no doubt by now you’ve probably heard the whole Belle Gibson (founder of ‘The Whole Pantry’ app) saga. And if you haven’t- what rock have you been living under? Can I come join you please? Anyways, to get you up to speed- see here. I’ll wait for you.
Read it? Shaking your head in disbelief? Welcome back. Bit cray, isn’t it?
On the surface it seems so incredibly outside of the realms of possibility to actually be true. Could someone spearhead such a huge deception? How could she live with herself? Is she just a cruel, manipulative person who has taken many for a ride? While understandably a lot of people are confused, hurt, and very angry at her, another question has been posed. Could she have Munchhausen Syndrome?
Munchhausen Syndrome is a mental health issue, whereby a person feigns illness in order to seek attention and affection. Also known as Factitious Disorder, it’s not for any financial or medical gain, it’s more a complex issue fueled by irrational and clearly unhealthy desire to get the sympathies and focus of others. It’s not about some jerk egomaniac who wants to hog the spotlight, or some evil person who loves to manipulate others. They tend to believe their own lies, or the payoff for telling such lies simply fuels them to go further. In a way, Munchhausen is a form of self-mutilation. Pulling oneself down, sometimes even hurting oneself, to make the appearance of being sick ‘realistic’.
Monsters. They’re little fuckers. They tend to be upsetting across the board. From storybooks, to hiding under beds, to jumping out of cupboards, it’s hard to find a good one these days. They can even follow us into adulthood.
We all have monsters. For most of us, our monsters are pretty tame, they’re small and occasionally flare up, but mainly we’re in control of them. But sometimes our monsters get big. Like, really big. So big that they block our ears and cover our eyes. They jump up and down like a toddler denied the last chocolate biscuit in the pack. They suck balls when they get that big. And they can have a huge impact in our lives
It’s been a while since we’ve taken a look at the other side, and this is a rather apt post, given our chat about food and mood. When we get extreme with stuff, it can really muck with us. Eating disorders strip our gut of our happy juices, strip our minds of stability and sense, they are insidious. And when they happen to someone you love? I cannot begin to describe the helplessness that is felt. It’s like you’re trapped outside the glasshouse. You’re screaming, beating at the glass. You can see what needs to happen for the person inside, but they can’t see you, nor hear you. Instead you just watch on as they destroy themselves, without realising they’re doing it.
My experience with eating disorders doesn’t just come from a professional aspect, it’s been a personal issue I’ve seen too. One of my dearest and closest friends battled courageously for years and years, and has recently begun to come out the other side. But it’s never over. Never ever over. She graciously agreed to share her story.
Mindfulness. It’s this new ‘buzz’ term going around these days. And by new, I mean it’s actually thousands of years old and utilised all.the.time in Eastern philosphies. But us Westerners have now grabbed on and yelled ‘well golly gosh! Look at us clever Western folk! We’ve found a new way of being!” Facepalm.
Anyways. I’ve always liked the idea of mindfulness. But… the ‘feel the peace’, kumbayah stuff? I.cannot.do. I giggle without fail at the mere hint of an ‘ommm’. But I so want to be on that mindfulness train, I do. Zen, come at me. So if you’re a bit like me and want to be mindful but don’t want the hippy children-of-tomorrow shit, then read on.