Tag Archives: Barbara Huff

Drop the darn house, will you!

May 22nd, 2016

lollipop guild wizard of ozYou walk into the therapy session and know that your child is going to do whatever is needed to get that compliment or sticker afterward. When you have a child like mine, they go all out to get even more:  a reaction or someone to tell them that they don’t deserve it.  This is the one who challenges you into thinking that the mayor of munchkin city is the one that should be able to rule the whole office.

Parents like me know the reality of having over 5 different therapists in a single year who give up on a 4 year old. Other therapists are not really sure what to do and that, too, can turn out to be a nightmare for everyone. Reality hits home when people in the waiting room see you coming and tell their children to stay away from the “little” monster coming in.  Do you know what control looks like from a little one all of 4 years old?

The developmental stages of children are used a lot to explain a child’s behaviors to parents.  But they don’t explain that being super bossy and taking charge of other kids your age, or even older, can create social issues. Nor do they explain that if you are telling lies, you are not just “cute” or have a strong personality.  They don’t make it clear that when your  4 year old starts to push kids off swings and take control of the playground, well that’s not about social skills.   I remember telling our therapists these stories when my child was 4 years old.  I kept insisting that these things were not age related and definitely not developmental.  The therapist would say,” It all gets better by observing and following your example.”

What do you do when your child is 16 and it isn’t? What do you do at 18 and it isn’t? Where do you go and how do you explain it now?

Well, the lifesaver is that parents find other parents.  Sometimes it is not the local baseball team or soccer club or even the PTA in your town. Parents like me usually find other parents who are not even in their community, dealing with the same challenges while trying to figure out what to do next.

Did you know what when you try to be the parent you wanted to be you quickly find out that you have to change and adapt to your child’s needs? And while you learn about  trauma, emotional and behavioral health while experiencing it all at the same time, it feels like a never ending tsunami?

I enjoyed the article by Richard Donner that looked at the way parents of children with mental health challenges react to  “Welcome to Holland”  a poem by Emily Perl Kingsley. The poem compares the experience of becoming the parent of a special needs child with landing in Holland, when you’ve planned a trip to Italy.  You have to learn to accept the lovely things about Holland and accept you are not going to Italy after all.

In the article, Barbara Huff, the first director of Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, reads the poem and says, “I’d be relieved to know I was going to Holland or anywhere for that matter, but the reality is that the plane I’ve been on hasn’t landed yet and I don’t know where we’ll land. There aren’t any guidebooks and I don’t know what phrases to learn. About the time I think I know where we’ll end up, something happens. I would be happy to land anywhere if somebody would tell me just where.”  Her experience, the article says, is shared by many parents whose children have mental health needs.

It really is very different to wake up and walk out of your home with a child and you cannot figure out what is happening and the reasons on what is happening..

I remember times when I tried to explain to people what was happening and I needed to get them to understand that how my child was acting wasn’t because I was a bad mom.  I wasn’t a mom who did not care or want better for my kids. I remember people telling me that parenting classes would teach me what I needed to know.  Or they’d say that I needed to be more strict, or even put him in daycare with rule.  Yes, that would be better.

Really? I have gone to so many classes and continue to try and try just to get it right.  Sometimes it works for a bit then it shifts . It shifts for the same reason.  My intelligent kid figured it all out.  Even when I was consistent or strict, it didn’t seem like the answer.

So, as Richard Donner wrote, for parents whose children have mental health challenges it’s not as easy as adjusting to Holland.  Even when you plan, a disaster can appear – a runaway roller coaster, a tsunami, or maybe a tornado touches down in my back yard for me.  So, just drop the house and change our lives so that the mayor of munchkin city can be happier and not as stressed and most of all have lots of friends.

Meri Viano is our guest blogger.  She is the parent of two sons and a daughter who continue to inspire her blog posts.

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Getting To “Culturally Comfortable”

January 16th, 2011

When programs strive to be culturally competent, the result should be that families are “culturally comfortable.” Most parents and youth can tell you whether it is easy and comfortable for them to be connected to and involved with a program. Feeling culturally comfortable helps families decide how they view a program, a worker or a service.

I first encountered the term “culturally comfortable” in the guide, Working with Families of Children in the Juvenile Justice and Corrections Systems. As Trina Osher and Barbara Huff note, some families may require a boost to become involved with their child’s services or program. They list some key strategies to provide that boost and providing culturally comfortable settings is a priority.

The term “culturally comfortable” has been cropping up in health and education settings for a number of years now. Many urban health centers have changed how they practice, finding new ways to share health information and deliver care. Some ask patients how they think a condition should be treated before offering their own recommendations. One pediatric practice in Virginia explored creating a “culturally comfortble” medical home. Some preschool educators have also been strong proponents of ensuring that their classrooms are culturally comfortable. Beverly Gulley and Nillofur Zobairi write that educators need to “know and understand the family’s cultural orientation to make a child feel comfortable and secure, and provide a sense of continuity.”

While cultural competence is a core value for both wraparound and creating a systems of care in children’s mental health, the notion of “culturally comfortable” settings or practice has yet to show up. I think it’s about time. Cultural competence is a rich, complex yet formal standard and most parents and youth would be hard pressed to say how close a setting or practice is to getting there. Yet they would be able to judge whether it was culturally comfortable. Feeling comfortable or uncomfortable is something we are all familiar with. Culturally comfortable settings, dialogues and practice make families feel welcome and respected.

Increasing cultural competence in the delivery of mental health services for children can help reduce disparities and increase access. But these results are frequently unknown to families, especially if the changes are gradual. Changing a setting, practice or dialogue so that it becomes more “culturally comfortable” is something that families can notice and determine for themselves. Determining whether that change is happening can empower parents and youth. Early in the family movement, parents often judged whether materials, programs or approaches were family friendly and later family dirven. So, too, can parents and youth figure out if materials or programs today are culturally comfortable.

Building an approach that is “culturally comfortable” starts with communication and awareness. Find out what the family values, who its members are, what the concerns and goals for its children may be. Ask families what matters to them. Find out what is private in a family and what is easily shared. Culture influences parenting and family behaviors, including meals, sleep, how to dress, interaction with both adults and other children, health care, how to show affection and respect, ways of celebrating and what occasions to celebrate. Many different family configurations are out there. Celebrate moms, dads, grandparents, extended family members, siblings, and others important to children. Model respect and show that customs, languages, cultures, and physical attributes different from your own are important and to be honored. Diversity in our society should be valued and enjoyed, not considered a threat to the values or lifestyle of any group.

Catherine Stakeman, Maine NASW, said that “becoming culturally comfortable between all cultures is a journey, and there is always room for improvement.” To make it happen, it must be everyone’s responsibility.

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