Rethink that Comment About Ferguson-Part 2: 10 tips on How to Validate Others

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about recognizing the impact of our comments about Ferguson, MO. While most of the feedback I received was positive and encouraging, some seemed to miss my point.

The point of the original post was not to debate facts, put anyone down, place blame, or call anyone racist. It was a call to THINK about what others might FEEL when they read your remarks. It was about VALIDATING to the experience of the potential readers of the comments, not shaming the writers of the comments. It was about LISTENING to people’s perspectives who might differ from yours.


As a relational therapist I talk about validation frequently. It is an important relationship skill for used in families, workplaces and especially when talking about controversial topics like what is going on in Ferguson. It occurred to me that I asked people to validate  others without actually explaining how to do it.

Sometimes looking at “What not to do” can be a good way of learning “what to do” when it comes to validation. John Doe submitted the following invalidating comment. Warning: while it’s a great example for learning about validation, it may be offensive:

beccjoy, you have a good heart, but and it’s a big but, the reality is you are part of the problem. You are making excuses for behavior that is not acceptable. It must stink to be pulled over for being black. Hassled for walking down the street. But you know what? Many,  many blacks have suffered that indignity went to school, got a good job, and bought the house next door. Oh yea the guys in Fergusun would call them Uncle Tom’s .The problem is in the black community. Only they can fix it. X% of population. Y% of children born out of wedlock. Abortion % way above any other. Crime same. If you say these things you’re shot down. Until the black community faces their own problems this will keep going on. By you and others making excuses, talking about “slavery” (150 yrs ago) It will never fix. The victim mentality only perpetuates. White privilege is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard. That’s just more white guilt from self loathing whites. The worse part is the rest of America is fed up. I’ve been blogging 5 yrs and I have my finger on the pulse, and I’ve never seen the comments all over be so negative and nasty. You reap what you sow. Good luck, I hope you find an answer. I really do.

-John Doe

I have identified 10 rules to keep in mind if you want to have productive conversations.

The Rules of Validation

  1. Acknowledge the parts of what the other person is saying that you agree with or find helpful. Don’t get caught up in a small detail that you disagree with while ignoring the greater point.
  2. Replace the word “but” with “and.” The word “but” negates the positive thing you just said. An example from family therapy I hear often is “I love you but…” which usually doesn’t end in the person feeling loved. Try the word “and” instead.
  3. Avoid accusations and name calling. These things often lead to defensiveness and defensiveness kills conversations and often relationships.
  4. Stay on topic. If you are responding to someone, respond to the actual content of what they said or wrote without bringing up other related topics.
  5. Avoid an argumentative tone. Have you ever been in an argument with a person you actually agree with? An argumentative tone can create unnecessary fights.
  6. Speak for yourself. An easy way to do this is to start your sentence with the word “I” rather than “you” or “they.”
  7. Don’t belittle others, or their causes, even if you don’t care about them or the cause.
  8. Don’t pass the buck. It is easy to identify what other people should do or change, although it isn’t usually effective. Take ownership and responsibility for what is in your control to change.
  9. Be specific about encouragement. If you have something nice to say, it is more likely to believed and taken to heart if you are specific.
  10. Validate everyone. People and their stories deserve to be heard, valued, acknowledged, and believed. It doesn’t matter if you think they are bad, wrong, lesser, whiny or anything else. They deserve to be validated no matter what.

Below I apply these rules to Mr. Doe’s comment, line by line:

beccjoy, you have a good heart,     Thanks (rule 1)

but and it’s a big but,     The word “but” negates the earlier positive comment  (rule 2).

the reality is you are part of the problem.     Accusations, true or not, tend to put people on the defensive. Defensiveness makes people less likely to listen to your message (rule 3).

You are making excuses for behavior that is not acceptable.     Try to keep the content focused on what the other person actually said. This comment was a reply to my original post, which didn’t mention unacceptable behaviors, nor give excuses for them (rule 4).

It must stink to be pulled over for being black. Hassled for walking down the street. But     again, the word “but” negates an attempt to be empathetic about these experiences (rule 2).

you know what? Many,  many blacks have suffered that indignity went to school, got a good job, and bought the house next door.     I’m glad he noticed that multitudes of people have overcome unfathomable oppression (rule 1) and (rule 2) I don’t think the argumentative tone is necessary (rule 5).

Oh yea the guys in Fergusun would call them Uncle Tom’s.     The point of my post was making sure our comments validate others and are considerate of how comments might be perceived. This remark does neither, and is a little off topic. If Mr. Doe lives in Ferguson, or is friends with a lot of the guys there, then, this comment would make more sense (rules 4 & 6).

The problem is in the black community. Only they can fix it.     If everyone points to someone else as the problem, rather than taking ownership for our part, change will not occur. A more helpful response would be to model taking personal responsibility and asking for others to follow suit (rules 3 & 8).

X% of population. Y% of children born out of wedlock. Abortion % way above any other. Crime same. (I have taken the numbers out and replaced them with X and Y because I question their accuracy and relevancy).     My original post, said nothing about these statistics. I said, “Let’s listen and respond better” and it seems your reply is, “No, we shouldn’t listen to them because of their bad behavior.” A validating response would not try to build a case against a people group. They are people who deserve to be heard and valued no matter what (rules 4 & 10). 

If you say these things you’re shot down.     Perhaps metaphorically, but literally, I don’t t think you have to worry about that. Following rule #3 might lead to more productive conversations and less feeling “shot down.”

Until the black community faces their own prms this will keep going on.     A validating response does not offer simple solutions to complex problems for other people to fix (rules 7 & 8).

By you and others making excuses, talking about “slavery” (150 yrs ago) It will never fix.     A validating response would not put the word slavery in quotation marks, as if it didn’t really exist, and it would stay on point. I made no mention of slavery in my original post (rules 3, 4, 7 & 8)

The victim mentality only perpetuates.     Someone who is trying to validate another human being’s perspectives notices a difference between “playing a victim” and being a victim (rules 3 & 7).

White privilege is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard.     A validating response doesn’t belittle something that is a big deal to others (rule 7).

That’s just more white guilt from self loathing whites.     Empathizing, taking ownership, listening, and validating other people’s stories is not the same as self-loathing. Using negative labels like “self-loathing whites” may make some people feel defensive (rule 3).

The worse part is the rest of America is fed up.     Validators speak on their own behalf. It’s okay to feel fed up, but “the rest of America” can express their own feelings (rule 6).

I’ve been blogging 5 yrs and I have my finger on the pulse, and I’ve never seen the comments all over be so negative and nasty. You reap what you sow (no comment).

Good luck, I hope you find an answer. I really do     Validating responses might include well wishes like this, but being specific is more powerful. Since I didn’t pose a question, I’m not sure what he is hoping for me (rules 4 & 9).

-John Doe

It is possible to validate someone without agreeing with them or condoning their behavior. Here’s my example:

To John Doe (and others who have made similar comments),

While your comment offends and distresses me, I want to acknowledge that you are an important person with a valid perspective. I’m sure that if I knew more about your experiences, personality and relationships, I would have a greater understanding for why you think the way you do. You seem to be a person who likes to identify and solve problems and that is admirable. Thanks for having the boldness to speak up, even though we disagree with each other. I realize and respect that you might not have known what I meant by “validating others” so you can’t be blamed for breaking all of the rules. Now that you know, I hope you will realize the great power your words have to help or harm others. I regret that you are missing out on the many strengths the black community has to offer.


Your voice is needed in this conversation. Validating comments are welcome below.

Note: If I receive comments below that are invalidating to me, I will publish them, but if they are invalidating to people of color, I’m not going to allow them here.


You might want to rethink that comment you are about to post about Ferguson, MO

I, like you, am heartbroken about what happened to Michael Brown, and what’s happened to so many others. I have read the posts, watched the videos, and prayed for justice and peace. It is so sickening that it’s hard to sleep. I have so much to learn about how I should even think about these tragedies and I am choosing to listen rather than express my opinions about most of this issue.

The part I do feel I understand well enough to speak to is the invalidating commentary by my fellow white people.

People of privilege, aka white people, aka my friends and family,

I know you might think your comments are harmless, or maybe you think it is fun to debate or “play the devil’s advocate,” but please keep in mind that in a land not so far away, people…teenagers even, are actually dying over this.

You might mean well but many your comments have the distinct flavor of someone who is not willing to listen and entertain the thought that perhaps it really is “that bad.”  At best, you are coming off as ignorant, at worst, racist.

By saying, “you do not have all of the facts” we are essentially saying “I don’t believe that you are smart enough to know what is happening right in front of your face.”

By saying, “this isn’t a race issue” we are saying “I know more than black people about what it feels like to be black.”

By saying, “I’m sad about this too but…” we are saying that there is really an ending to this sentence that rectifies a mother losing a child.

By saying, “let’s see what the autopsy says” we are saying, “I need a white doctor to tell me what really happened because I’m not going to believe the eye witness accounts of a bunch of black kids.”

By posing a hypothetical scenario about a white victim being shot without cause, you are just confused.

By saying, “it’s a lot better these days than it used to be” we are not acknowledging the current pain that racism causes.

By blaming the victim, we are- well, blaming a victim.

By saying, “this discussion doesn’t really apply to me,” we are saying black people are not as human as you.

As shameful as it is, I understand it. Who wants to face the fact that a black teen got shot by a white police officer for no apparent reason? Not I. Who wants to admit in their hearts that this is not an isolated incident? I’d rather grasp at some hope that the world is just. I’d rather turn away and make-believe that racism is dead, because I have that option. It is much more pleasant to think of the atrocities unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri as some big misinterpretation of the facts than to really listen and believe that people of color actually might know what they are experiencing.

So, for what it’s worth:

To the people of color;

I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’ve had to be so loud to get our attention. I’m sorry that another beautiful adolescent had to die to make us notice that you are oppressed. I’m sorry that no one is listening. I’m sorry that no one believes your experiences. I’m sorry that this is still happening. I’m sorry for the ignorant, invalidating, and racist comments you’ve had to deal with on top of everything else. I’m sorry that I’ve turned a blind eye to your struggle. I hear you, I believe you, I stand with you for justice. You deserve way better.


#Validateothersorkeepquiet #Whatifitisthatbad

A Guide to Giving Gifts to 0-3 year olds (and staying friends with their parents)

At times I feel like I live in a giant toy box.

A real photo of my kids’ toys!

I can’t even get to the bathroom without going on a safari through Lego jungle, being confronted by a talking doll and getting stuck in a traffic jam of multi-colored cars. Then, there are no guarantees the bathroom will be free of obstacles.

When all the stars align: I’m home from work, kids are BOTH sleeping, I have enough energy, I have enough time, I’m in the right mood, nothing else is more urgent (ie, almost never), I go through the house and organize all the kid stuff. Sometimes it takes hours. Then…when the kids wake up, faster than you can say “futility” my house relapses to its former state.

Less than 4 years ago I had no idea what to get little kids for gifts. My friends were probably cursing my name as they scraped (and scraped and scraped) the stickers I gave their baby off some heirloom piece of furniture.

Many of the gifts my kids receive are not age – appropriate. Save your money and your friendships… follow these guidelines for giving gifts to kids age 0-3!

1. No puzzles or toys with lots of small pieces. Giving a baby or a toddler a puzzle is like saying to their parents, “I know you have a lot to do, but why don’t you add picking up and assembling 100 pieces from 10 different puzzles several times a day? Kids this age just dump them, wait until you pick it up, and dump them again. This goes for pretty much everything with lots of little pieces …wait until they are older.

2. Choose Medium Sized Gifts: I’ve already discussed the issues with small pieces. Huge toys are almost as problematic, especially in a small house. It’s like asking someone if you can store your boat in their living room, and then expecting a thank you note. Aim for the size of a classic teddy bear.

3. Avoid Loud Toys. Imagine a baby or two crying… add a dog barking, a toddler Pandora station in the background and probably a phone ringing. Okay, now imagine a very cheerful voice singing “The wheels on the bus go… The wheels on the bus go round and… The wheels on the bus go round and round….”  because they never just push the button once. I’m getting a migraine just thinking about it. Then the batteries start to fade, and the cheerful voice gets a little spooky. I have had the spooky-voice-version of wheels on the bus in my head for about 3 years.

4. Books. Board books are best, as most babies love the sound and sense of accomplishment that comes from tearing paper pages. Little ones especially love looking at pictures of big baby faces. Too many words are lost on them, but colorful, detailed pictures and concise stories can offer hours of imaginative fun and learning.

5. No Stickers. They won’t stay put on skin (where my daughter wants them to stay) but they stay a little too well on furniture. Have you ever washed a stickered shirt? I promise, that shirt will never be the same. And the dumb things lose their stickiness if you rearrange them on your clothes too many times… causing all sorts of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

6. Sizes and Seasons. If you want your little friend to actually get to wear the cute outfit you bought, be mindful of the size and the season. If you are buying clothing for a 3 month old baby in June (say, in Minnesota)… don’t get a tank top and shorts in the 9 month size. When that baby is ready for 9 month clothing, it’s going to be -20◦F.

7. Go Green… or orange Our oldest child is a girl. We were blessed with many lovely pink and purple gifts. Our second child (who didn’t get all the showers and fanfare as the second born) is a boy. He is a boy who has a lot of pink sparkly toys and gear, including a bib that reads, “SISTER.”


8. Go Green…as in recycle. Save the earth, buy an outfit from the thrift store for a $1.00! The previous owner probably grew out of it before he could wear it anyway because guideline #6 was not headed.

9. Give Experiences. A pass to the zoo or the museum or even a McDonald’s gift certificate will get those kids (and their caregivers) out of the house and having some fun.

I hope that helps! What about you? What are your favorite/ least favorite items for 0-3 year old. Join the conversation below!

Peace (amidst clutter and chaos),

p.s. after I wrote this, and before I published it, I came across this provocative article about avoiding too many toys for a different reason than I outlined above, and this helpful blog post about how to properly visit a newborn. All great points!

Don’t teach your baby to sign more. No More!

I usually stand silently by while babies and parents throw tantrums over the sign language sign for the word “more.” But I can’t take anyMORE.

For whatever reason, people are obsessed with teaching this particular sign. They teach it to their own kids, to my kids, and to their dogs (probably).

Teaching preverbal babies to use some sign language is great when done well. It can strengthen the neurological pathways of language helping your kids to become more verbal when they are ready to speak. You can’t put your fingers in your baby’s mouth and help form verbal words, but you can hold their hands and manually prompt signed words.

Just don’t teach them to sign “more.”

I know, I know. But it’s so cute! Those little stubby fingers gathered together like two little ducks kissing.

Just don’t do it. All that stuff I said about sign language helping kids become more verbal, does not apply to the sign for “more.” Babies just learn that if they want something, anything, all they have to do is sign “more.”  I’ve seen various versions of the following scenarios unfold time and time again, and yet it’s still America’s favorite sign.

Scenario #1:

Baby: starts crying.

Parent: What do you want?

Baby: (signs) more

Parent: More what?

Baby: is frustrated. I’m using your stupid sign and you still don’t know what I want. Tantrum ensues.

Parent: Use your words, what do you want?

Baby: (speaks) More!

If the baby can say the word, they shouldn’t need to sign it. And it’s still a mystery what this baby wants.


Scenario #2

Baby: starts crying.

Parent: What do you want?

Baby: (signs) more

Tantrum ensues. After 10 minutes of questioning it is finally discovered that baby wants to jump (or at least she does now).

“More jump???” Just teach them the sign for jump! The word “more” in this case is inaccurate and useless.


Scenario #3:

Parent: Feeds baby cheerios

Baby: (signs) more

Parent: Gives baby more cheerios

It turns out he wants a drink. (Tantrum ensues). Too bad he doesn’t know the sign for milk!

Do you want your kid to know just one word that gets them whatever they want? That’s hardly helping their language or communication skills. And in the land of so much excess, do you really want the one word they know to be a demand form of the word “MORE”?

Tips for less tantrums and more functional language:

-Teach your baby specific signs for 5 to 10 things they like the best (ex: milk, bear, pacifier, hug, tickle, swing, up). Until they master these signs, forget about having them sign things like “more, please, thank you” which are fairly meaningless words to a baby.

-Don’t prompt your baby to sign for something unless it’s clear they really want it or the association between the word and the sign will be weak.

-Give it to them after they sign it once (even with help). If you make them sign it 5 times and have it perfect before reinforcing it, it won’t be worth the effort and kids will just go ahead and cry… or just sign “more” if they want something.

-Once the child can say the word, the sign is no longer necessary.

Happy Signing! If you have any tips or experiences of your own, please feel free to comment below!

Guest Post on Embracing People with Mental Illness in the Church

Guest Post on Embracing People with Mental Illness in the Church

Christena Cleveland is a social psychologist, author, speaker, and reconciler. Beyond that, I know her personally and she’s pretty cool. I am loving being challenged by her new book Disunity in Christ (put it on your Christmas List!). I was grateful that she allowed me to share my thoughts on this important but complicated issue on her blog today.

Finding the MAGIC in the Mundane

Three times in the last three days people have told me to “Write this stuff down” referring to stories about things my toddler does and says. It seems three is the magic number.

“Mama, can I give these beans to Ziggy?” My daughter asked in her squeaky two year old voice.

“Hmm, what beans?” I asked barely paying attention.

“I found beans in my apple” She said.

Ziggy the dog was wagging his tail and prancing, unable to contain his excitement about the possibility of apple beans. She had eaten her way to the middle of an apple leaving a sticky mess of apple slush all over her face, shirt, hands and arms. She sat staring at the core as if she was thinking, “So that’s where beans come from.”

I sat down with her and told her about dirt and seeds and apple trees. She listened with rapt attention as if I was sharing the secrets of the universe, her mouth hanging open in awe.  When I finished up the story about a big tree with apples attached she finally closed her mouth, blinked a few times and with a smile said, “No! That’s not right!” then she followed up with “I WANT THAT STORY AGAIN!”

I often forget how amazing normal things are. I mean, a gigantic tree coming out of a tiny seed? That’s not right.

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for a 2 year old perspective. Happy Binge Day everybody.

What are you thankful for?

What you should know about Autism

This post is the 3rd in my series What you should know about mental illness. Read here about Narcolepsy and ADHD.

It was the end of a tiresome day at the center for Autism where I worked years ago. The little boy I was paired with that day had been staying with grandparents while his mother traveled. His mom returned and was excited to pick him up.

She spotted her son and hurried to scoop him up in an embrace. No emotion or recognition registered on his face. Instead, he fixed his attention on the logo on his mom’s shirt, and he uttered one of the very few words he knew how to say,


The mom’s face fell. After a few moments of trying to catch his eye, she gave up and began to gather his backpack and coat.

Automatic. Automobile. Autopilot, Automate. Autism. These words all have the same root. I’m no linguist, but I’d say it’s something to do with operating independently.  People with autism do not readily interact, engage or relate to other people.

Despite that autism is relatively common; there is a lot of confusion about what it is in the general population.  The first time I heard someone say “Autistic” I thought she said “Artistic” with an accent. When I asked what it was, she said, “Someone who rocks back and forth in the corner.” And even after dozens of psychology and counseling classes, I still didn’t know much more than that.

My professional experience was with kids who were almost completely locked in their own minds, some devoid of functional language. However we’ve all heard about someone with Autism who graduated top of his class or wrote a bestseller. The differences between these examples beg the question; how could this be the same disorder?

The answer to this question is that Autism is a spectrum disorder.asd

When you hear people say “He’s on The Spectrum” they are likely referring to Autism. My purpose is to give you a better understanding of what it is so you can be sensitive and kind to those who are affected by it. I will try to be clearer than the first definition I heard, but vague enough that this won’t become a checklist for you to diagnose your friends (please leave that to the professionals.)

There are three categories of impairment:

  1. Social. Not interested in interacting socially, might not give eye contact, lacks emotional reciprocity, will not point something out to someone else to share enjoyment. This category is the hallmark of the disorder and generally understood.
  2. Stereotyped Behavior.  This is less understood. It includes self stimulating behavior (called “stimming” for short). It is simply doing something for the sake of the sensory input. It could be as normal as twirling hair, or it could be as odd as flapping hands, reciting the words to a movie, walking on tip toes, making repetitive sound, or of course, rocking back and forth in the corner. Stereotyped behavior also includes odd and rigid daily routines, playing non-functionally with objects (lining toys up instead of playing with them), echoing what they hear, and focusing on one part of a whole object (the wheels of a car or the logo on a shirt). Sometimes people with Autism become super interested in something and it might seem that it’s all they can think about.
  3. Communication. This category does not apply to those who are on the far right side of the spectrum (high functioning autism/Aspergers). Impairments include delayed, slowed, or absent language development.

Max Braverman (played by Max Burkholder), a character on NBC’s parenthood is a very accurate example of a kid on the high functioning end of the spectrum. The movie Rain Main (1988, with Dustin Hoffman) paints a fairly accurate portrait of an adult with Autism, however it gives the false impression that people with Autism are also savants, when in fact that is very rare.

Just like anything, once you know what Autism is, you will likely see it everywhere. Next time you see a kid at mall who doesn’t seem to be listening to his mom, or maybe he’s having a tantrum because he wanted to walk down aisle 12, withhold your remarks and judgmental glances. In that instance, a warm smile and an encouraging word to the mom could have the power to change the world.

As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and stories below.

How $66 is going to make me a Habitual Writer

(I am taking a short break from my series on mental illness to bring you this post on The Writing Habit).

Imagine being curled up in your favorite chair, reading a book that grabs you on a gut level. The story wraps its way around your heart warming every cool place. Your mind stretches with every sentence making you feel more connected and more entranced. You are no longer reading about grief and joy, you are experiencing it. Tears gather in your eyes and laughter spills out of your mouth as the plot unravels.
Unfortunately, this book is not available on Amazon or at your local bookstore because this book has not been written yet. This book exists in the imagination of an author who is not winning the battle against Resistance. This story has been silently spinning, pleading with the author to take a blank page out of its misery. Instead of writing, the “wishes-to-be writer” is listening to the voices saying,

“It’s not worth doing”
“Nobody cares about this”
“It’s not perfect enough”
“I don’t have time to write”
“Don’t put yourself out there like that”
“I don’t know what to write”
“I will someday”
“I have to do the dishes instead” or
“I gotta check Facebook.”

This year for my birthday my husband gave me a gift certificate to the Loft to take a writing class. While I was grateful for the gift, I was thinking that these classes weren’t really designed for hacks like me, who rarely took time to actually write. For this reason, I decided to take a class called “The Writing Habit” thinking I might learn how to discipline myself or kick my butt into action.

As it turns out, this line of thinking wasn’t helpful. The teacher, Rosanne Bane (author of Around the Writer’s Block) didn’t like the word “discipline” and was not all about kicking yourself. She was positive, encouraging, and taught us some effective tools to overcome resistance and create a habit without being hard on ourselves. I will share a few of the insights I learned from the class below.

Make small commitments, like “I will write for at least 15 minutes, 3X per week. It doesn’t matter what you write during that time, it’s more important to show up. Developing a sustainable habit is more important than what you produce. The logic is that if you show up to write 100 times, you are more likely to come up with a couple of gems versus if you show up once and hope to produce a masterpiece! Also, over time you learn to trust yourself that you will do what you say you will do, allowing your subconscious to do some of the work for you between writing sessions.

Reward Yourself. I used to be a behavioral therapist for kids with autism, and now I practice DBT which is a type of behavioral therapy, and yet I never thought to apply it to my writing habit. The reward doesn’t have to make logical sense because the part of your brain that likes being rewarded (the limbic system) is not the part of your brain that rationalizes (the cortex). For an example, pay yourself by putting a coin in a jar. Your brain’s reward center does not care that it’s your own money, it just likes the clinking sound of money on money. In class we had the opportunity to bet on ourselves by putting a dollar in an envelope. If we honored our commitments we got to select a prize out of a suitcase of trinkets. As it turns out, adults are just as motivated by Play Doh, Koosh balls, dollar coins and markers as the average 3rd grader!

Develop a Writing Ritual. If you do the same thing every time you sit down to write, the ritual itself will act as a cue for your brain to get into a writing zone. Dancing, lighting a scented candle or reciting a poem in the same way before you write can create an association in your brain so that the ritual alone help you get writing. My ritual, which doubles as a reward is popping a butterscotch disc into my mouth as I sit down to write. I will only eat this candy if I’m writing. If I’m craving a butterscotch disc, my mind will interpret this as a craving to write. The two will be inseparable.

Inspired by the gold dollar coins in Rosanne’s suitcase, I plan to withdraw 66 gold dollar coins from the bank. Each time I honor my commitment to myself to show up to write for 15 minutes I will deposit one coin into a special jar. If I show up less than 3 times in a week, I will empty my special jar and start the count over. I will not spend the money until all 66 coins are in the jar. Why 66? Rosanne Bane said in class that it takes 66 honored commitments in a row for a habit to develop. I always thought it was 21 consecutive days, but if Bane says 66, I’ll go for 66.

My question to you is what should I buy for $66 when I successfully transfer all of my coins? My other question to you is what will you buy for $66 to reward yourself when you create your own habit?

For more on developing a sustainable habit, flowing through stages of the creative process, commitments to process, self-care, and product time, overcoming creative blocks, and much more, read Around the Writers Block, visit the website, or take a class by Rosanne Bane.

What you should know about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

This is part 2 of a series about mental illnesses. Read the intro here.

My junior high industrial tech class started the same way every day. A voice on the intercom would interrupt our post lunch chatter as we were taking our seats and digging around for our notebooks. “Is Jack Smith in class today?” Jack would look stunned, like “Who me?” The voice would proceed to tell Jack to report to the office to take his medication. The class would chime in with comments like “Jack! Are you serious? AGAIN? Come on, how stupid could you get?” He would mumble something like, “Oh, yeah…forgot” as he shuffled out the door towards the nurse’s office.

I would thank God in that instant that I took sustained release tablets for my ADHD so I didn’t have to take pills at school. While I’d like to think I could have remembered to go to the office each day after lunch, I know that is not likely. I know because every week I would forget my band lesson, or my music book, or if I had my book, I wouldn’t have my trumpet. I know because I would stay up all night working on a beautiful collage for art class and I would leave it on the coffee table 9 times out of 10. I know because I set a record at my orthodontist for number of lost retainers. Countless discussions about “responsibility” and “planning ahead” and “think about where you last saw it” had no effect on my ability to remember, stay organized, or be prepared. It’s not that I couldn’t focus; it’s that I couldn’t focus on the thing that I was supposed to focus on.

No one really talked to me about what it meant to have ADHD. The only things I knew about it at the time was that the kids who had it were always getting in trouble. Before I was diagnosed, the only other person I knew for sure had ADHD was a kid in my grade who burned down a gym. The rest of the group who took medication after lunch was mostly boys who didn’t have a reputation for being bright, responsible, upstanding classmates. I thought the doctor who diagnosed me was mistaken. Yeah, maybe I missed the bus because I was braiding the sleeves of my shirts together in my closet, or drawing pictures in the condensation on the bathroom mirror, but I surely wasn’t an arsonist.

Over the years of dealing with myself and my sometimes-scattered brain, I have come up with a few tips.

Tips for dealing ADHD:

1. Contrary to popular advice- calendars, alarms, phones, fancy folders systems and notepads don’t work. You won’t have them when you need them or they will be too complicated to sustain. Go low tech and make up a song or rhyme of things to remember and sing it on your way out the door as a checklist.

2. If you need to remember to take care of something put a laundry basket on your bed until you take care of it. It doesn’t have to be a laundry basket, just do something wherever you are standing when the thought hits you: Put your ring on the wrong finger, flip a chair upside down, or unplug your tv. Anything that you will see and think… “What the ?? Oh yeah- I gotta pack my lunch.”

3. You can’t give up when things don’t go well. Persevere!

4. Don’t apply to jobs that say, “Impeccable organization skills and attention to details required.” Play to your strengths.

Tips for teachers/parents/friends of someone with ADHD:
1.As frustrating as it can be to live with someone who struggles with this, punishing someone with ADHD for having ADHD is ineffective and can be damaging.  

2. Let natural consequences teach the lessons.

3. Sustained release tablets for kids… see above story
4. Remember that ADHD has nothing to do with IQ

5. Use physical activities to engage the brain

6. Keep in mind that many people with ADHD are creative, fun, thoughtful, active, spontaneous, big picture people.

Fast forward 15 years, I am at work meeting with a teen girl. She just got in trouble because her grades weren’t reflective of her ability because she had so many missing assignments. “Let me guess, you did all of the assignments, but you forgot them or lost them or forgot to put your name on them.”

“Oh. Did my mom call you?”

“Um, Something like that…”