#ChildrenMatter

“It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglas

From birth to adolescence children are vulnerable. They are in a time where the most critical pieces to who they are and who they will become are developing right before our eyes. Childhood is a time to learn and explore the endless possibilities. All children expect from the moment they arrive is that they will be cared for and looked after; that they will be guided and protected. They do not expect that factors outside of their control could dictate their future, and it shouldn’t. Unfortunately, we live in a time where medical, financial, developmental, linguistic, mental health and many other factors can cause barriers during this critical time. But we can change that.  Our future is shaped by the experiences and the development of these children. Whether that is a positive or negative outcome is our responsibility. It is up to us to ensure that all children have every resource they need and every opportunity to live, learn, work, and play in his or her community.

“Kasserian Ingera” is a phrase that the Masai tribe in Africa used to greet each other. Every day and every interaction began with “Kasserian Ingera” meaning “And how are the children.”  Whether they had children or not the members of the Masai tribe knew that the well-being of the children should be placed above all else and that caring for the well-being of the children meant the well-being of the whole tribe was positive. Once a warrior would ask “And how are the children” the traditional answer was “All the children are well.” This response meant that the conditions of the tribe were well. It meant that it was safe, that there was food and shelter, and that the most vulnerable members of the tribe had the optimal environment and opportunities to grow up healthy, strong, and with the knowledge they needed.

Together, we can all do our part to ensure the children in our community thrive. By advocating for their rights, keeping them safe, by providing access to quality and affordable education, and by ensuring nutritious meals and the access to critically needed care we can empower our children and strengthen our community.

The month of June we are putting a focus on the importance of the children. Why they are the focus of our efforts, how we each can help ensure their success, and spreading the knowledge that Children Matter. This month we would like you to join our #ChildrenMatter campaign by sharing and spreading our messages, by using #ChildrenMatter, by asking yourselves and each other “how are the children” and discussing ways we each share in answering “the children are well.”

Easterseals North Georgia helps to unlock the potential that lies within every child. Starting at birth and at every critical point throughout their childhood, ESNG is there creating solutions that change lives. We have a vision of a world where all children can realize their dreams. If you would like to join us in making a difference in the lives of young children, their families, and communities you can donate today and help continue to make essential programs and services possible.

Donate Now.

Mentally Speaking: A Mother’s Reflection on Self-Care

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Environmental factors play a critical role in a child’s social-emotional development which is why we cannot simply work with children but we must also focus on the mental health of our teachers and parents. Day in and day out they are the ones shaping the minds and emotional states of young children. If they are not mentally and emotionally sound then the effects could be detrimental. Managing stress and making self-care a priority minimizes the potential for passing on the stress to the children who are watching, learning, and depending on these environments to grow up healthy and successful.

Since Mother’s Day is quickly approaching we thought it was a perfect time to hear the first-hand experiences of an Easterseals North Georgia Mother discussing how she practices self-care while being a mother of three. Meet Kelly.

“Being a mother is such a selfless, all-encompassing job and privilege. I think all women, whether they work out of the home or in the home, struggle with finding the right 25348569_10213806071859357_2620267842567015593_nbalance in terms of juggling kids, partners, and taking care of ourselves. As a mother to a child with special needs and two typically developing children, I have found that self-care is something I really need to stay on top of.  I learned the hard way that giving all of myself to my kids, my husband, and my job while completely neglecting my own mental health actually impacts my entire family. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of incorporating more self-care into my routine, although I do admit it is still a struggle. These are some of the things I have found that have really helped me.

First and foremost, therapy. Being a mother to a child with special needs can feel very isolating. I’ve run the gauntlet of emotions, including anger, resentment, and depression to anxiety. It’s so beneficial to be able to speak to a qualified professional regularly who can help navigate through these emotions. A good therapist can work on coping skills and stress management and discuss possible medications that might help alleviate some of these symptoms if they are ongoing.

I have found that jumping back into old hobbies and interests has really helped me as well. For several years, I lost sight of the things that brought me joy; things like reading novels, cooking and baking and exercising. I always felt like I had no time to engage in these activities anymore. Now, I carve out specific times of the day to be able to devote to these hobbies. I hold these times pretty sacred, and I try very hard not to let other things take priority over them. Obviously, there are instances in which I’m not able to keep my scheduled time for myself (like sick kids), and that is fine. I just remember to jump back into those hobbies as soon as I can. I have found those are excellent ways for me to recharge.

Friends, friends, friends. It’s so difficult to coordinate with friends to find times to reconnect. We are all juggling several things in our lives, and sometimes trying to schedule time with girlfriends or with a partner seems daunting. We all get out our calendars and compare dates. And honestly, sometimes we have to schedule things 3 or 4 months out into the future, but if that’s what it takes to carve out time it’s worth it. I manage to go out with girlfriends at least once every few months and with my husband at least once per month. There’s nothing better than just escaping reality and being silly with friends and completely forgetting about life’s responsibilities for a few hours. True, sometimes we get together and talk mostly about parenting struggles, but I find that we balance serious discussions with lighthearted ones. One thing that has meant so much to me is actually finding a group of other special needs moms to spend time with. There is an ease in being with people who understand the ups and downs of raising children with special needs.

Finally, one of the biggest aspects of self-care that I”m still working very hard on is self-compassion and forgiveness. I’ve really had to work on being kind to myself. They say we are our own worst critics, and I have found that to be very true. I feel like I could devote all of my free time to my child with special needs helping him learn to talk and achieve skills that he has not mastered. However, I have a job and two other children and a husband that deserve my time as well. I have beaten myself up (and still do sometimes) about not being able to spend more time being that perfect “therapeutic” mom who always has some way of incorporating my child’s therapy into every activity. I’ve started to forgive myself and realize that raising him in a home full of love is what is most important. I focus much more now on gratitude and being thankful for what I have, either by journaling about this every day or through meditation. I make it a point every night to recognize all of the wonderful things I accomplished that day.

When all else fails and I’m really having a hard time or feeling guilty about the need to take time for myself, I always remember that phrase “If mama isn’t happy, nobody’s happy”. It brings a smile to my face and helps reaffirm the importance of taking care of myself.”

By: Kelly Bowman Griffith, Easterseals North Georgia Parent

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Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month: Disable the Label

“Special needs,” “Differently-Abled,” or “Handicapable.”

not a labelA constant topic that comes up in the realm of disabilities is how to talk about it. What to say, what not to say, what is politically correct and what is preferred. Should we use “people first language” like a person with a disability as opposed to a disabled person or does that have an underlying negative connotation like the disability is something they have or need to be removed from?  Is Special Needs a less aggressive and more respectful term or is it implying that the person in front of you requires something so unique that their needs require their own category? At the end of the day air to breathe, food to eat, shelter, education, healthcare, love, respect, and acceptance are needs that we all have.

So how do we talk about it? What is the correct way to view or speak about a person with a disability?

The answer: As just that. A person.

March is Developmental Disability Awareness Month This month instead of informing you of all the types of disabilities there are. We want you to focus on being aware of the person behind the label.  What if we come together to disable the label and create a world of inclusion, respect, and acceptance. Together we can change the way the world defines and views disability.

How can we all get involved? Good question!

Start at the foundation.
Let’s teach our children. Children are naturally curious, so it is important to be prepared to address their questions about disabilities as openly and honestly as we can. Here are just a few tips to get started:

  1. Let them know it is okay to notice that someone is different because they will. But also inform them that differences are nothing to be ashamed of and that it doesn’t mean there is something wrong. The kid in their class is just like them they just may do things a little differently. It’s like riding their bike down two different paths to get to the same destination.
  2. Teach them to use respectful terminology as best they can. Make sure our children know that terms are not to be used as a joke and the way they say things can be hurtful. A great rule of thumb to remember is that in most cases a description is not needed. Simply using someone’s name is enough and preferred.
  3. Add bullying and differences to your conversations at dinner. Is there someone at school that they see getting bullied or made fun of? Someone that doesn’t have many friends because they are different? Talk to them about how they can speak up and show kindness. Encourage them to be a leader through example.
  4. Most importantly emphasize similarities. We all have traits that make us unique, but we have more in common than we know.

Click here for more tips on teaching children about disabilities or check out this list of recommendations for Children’s Books on Disabilities.

Practice What We Teach
It is important to teach our children these things, but it is even more important to practice what we preach. We are our child’s first and most important teacher and advocate. They are sponges and follow our leads.  Two great ways to help redefine disability and act as an example are:

  1. Focus less on labels and more on the person in front of you. Describing people by their disability sets limitations that are not for you to set. It is better to see people for what they’re able to do. It is about empowering someone to be who they are and live to their full potential.
  2. Speak up. It is unrealistic to pretend that those with disabilities don’t have needs. We all require certain resources and services to thrive but too often children and adults with disabilities lack access to the resources they need, whether through funding cuts or lack of empathy. It is up to us to speak up for one another and for those whose main disability is living in a society that marginalizes them or leaves them out altogether.

Easterseals North Georgia recognizes and respects the whole child. We focus on providing opportunities for children and their families from different backgrounds and with a range of abilities to achieve their full potential. If you would like to learn more about us and how we serve children and families in your community check out our website at www.eastersealsnorthgeorgia.org or give us a call at 404-943-1070.

boy with drum and therapist