Tip of the Month

Hollylu’s Tip of the Month 

Q I was at the MOPS group this morning and really enjoyed your talk!  I do have a question if you have time to answer that would be great.  I have a 10 year old son who is cracking his knuckles and driving everyone else in the family crazy with it.  He is a highly capable/gifted kid and it seems to happen when he is bored, like while watching TV or in the car.  He is more sedentary but has always had a physical “tic” of some sort. Do you have any suggestions?  

A:  What you are describing is incredibly common.  Especially in boys around 9-14.  It’s nervous energy trapped in the machine.  It shows up most in “down time” activities.   Get a hand exercise squeeze ball.  You can also make them cheaply by filling a heavy duty balloon with flower or popcorn and tying it off like a bean bag.  Or you can get a “nutcracker” looking squeeze thing at any Big 5 or exercise place.  Just ask for equipment that focuses on grip strengthening.  All of these things are age appropriate and sort of cool – because they are for “buffing up”.  In addition, I would have him start by squeezing his hands together as hard as he can (but not to the point of pain) in 5 short repetitions.  This gives deep, proprioceptive information that replicates some of the neurology of knuckle cracking.  You can be stranded without your tools, but you are never stranded without your hands – so he always has one tool to use no matter where he is! 

 To retrain the behavior, make all of these “tools” available in his key areas.  Keep a basket full  by the TV and several in the seat pocket of the car.  I’m sure this topic has already come up with him.  But it’s good to start the conversation from a neutral stance.  “Hey, right now you are growing.  Your brain and your body.  And sometimes, energy just flat out gets trapped in the machine.  I understand you need to move.  And I want you to take care of your body and give it what it needs.  However, the knuckle cracking is potentially harmful to your joints and fingers.  And the sound drives me bonkers.  The good news it that there are tons of different things you can choose to appropriately release that energy!”   Then show him all this cool stuff or shop for it or make it together. 

 Designate a “warm up period”.  Usually about 3-5 days.  In this time, you remind him to switch to his tools whenever you hear him cracking his knuckles.  Expect that the first day or so will go great and then he will fall back into comfortable habits.  If you ever see him using his tools appropriately (self monitoring) then praise like crazy and throw in a reward or two (e.g. yummy snack, baseball card – some small motivating thing).  Keep talking about the warm up period.  “Staring on Monday, I will expect you do be doing this yourself.”

 When warm up is over, then you move to “establish the pattern”.  Keep everything positive.  So you start with 5 (make up a number) cards/points/marbles  (whatever).   Every time you have to remind him to use his tools take one point away.  IF there are any points at the end of the day then he gets something cool (small but motivating, something he can not earn or have in any other way.  You will have to keep the reward rather novel for a 10 year old.  Kids this age also enjoy “cashing in smaller tokens for something larger”).  I set the number every morning based on the amount of time we have together.  So on days I barely see my kids, the number is three.  On Saturday, the number bumps up to seven.  Etc.  Don’t show much grace.  When the cards are gone.  They are gone.  BUT you can try again tomorrow!!!  I always adjust the number the next day to up the likelihood of success.  It takes about 2-3 weeks to really establish a new pattern.  Sometimes 6-8 if it’s hard core.  Basically, you are teaching your kid to listen to his body and meet his physical/emotional needs in appropriate ways.  A skill with lifelong dividends!!

 When the pattern is established with no errors for 2-3 weeks – switch to maintenance.  Now your intervention is only punitive. Explain that he is now in charge of his body.  Remind him that he is capable of taking care of his physical/emotional needs with appropriate behaviors/tools.  But in the real world – the cops are not going to pull you over to thank you for going the speed limit.  They are going to pull you over when you are speeding.  (The real world can be a bummer).  So you are only going to point out when he has not made an appropriate choice.  I attach something directly to the behavior.  “If you crack your knuckles, then 10 push ups.”  You can show more mercy and grace in this phase.  Like, “when we get home, 10 push ups.”  Or, ” instead of 10 push ups make it 5 because I know you’ve had an intense day.”  But always something.  None of this will work if you aren’t very very consistent.  That’s why I usually recommend only working on one behavior at a time.  Not because of the kids, but because of the work it creates for the parent.

 Basically, boys this age fidget.  I’d ignore everything you can.  But knuckle cracking usually only gets more ingrained with time.  It’s very similar to nail biting.  So, as a mom, I’d go after that one.  Increase his overall physical diet and get some deep muscle action going several times a day. 

 Finally, I usually share with my older kids stuff I am working on.  I keep reassuring them that we are “all working on something”.  It’s important to constantly send that message so that correction doesn’t feel like criticism.  If the kids feel like “mom’s got my back” then you are managing to get the correction across with enough love and patience that they don’t feel burdened but DO FEEL CHALLENGED. 






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Rag Time and Dry Bones: The Real Reason I Didn’t Send a Christmas Letter


image1Christmas Eve 2015. It’s 2 AM. My son is pounding out last year’s piano recital piece at 140 decibels. I’m upstairs with our houseguest who is off his time schedule and is amazingly chatty despite the hour.

“Wow.” My guest pauses in the middle of his thought and listens to the discordant melody below. “He’s really getting into it.”

“Yes. Hmmm. We encourage lots of practicing.” I say. Like a thirteen year old busting down the house with Scott Joplin tunes at two in the morning on Christmas Eve is the most normal thing ever. I raise my voice and shout over the din. “It’s Christmassy.” I try to look casual. “Sort of.” The scent of burning wood wafts up the stairs. Below, doors crash open and I hear shattering glass.

I don’t blame Teddy. He started out with some nice Beethoven. But his sister was hissing and flailing her arms. “Louder. Louder. We don’t want them to hear the drilling.”
And by drill, she means drill. Her Dad’s power drill. Because my husband was grinding wood screws into our 18 year old couch. On Christmas Eve. At two in the morning. While I fluffed pillows and chit-chatted with the first overnight guest we’d had in forever. Sweet. Baby. MOSES.

It seems, the couch had achieved total breakdown.

Breakdown. I closed my eyes. Irritated was not the word.

Breakdown. How dare the couch (a faithful servant and supportive family member for nigh on two decades) breakdown? Breaking down is not allowed. And in possibly the most ridiculously hilarious moment to ever occur in my star crossed history of domestic effort, I felt… nothing.

Because here’s the deal. If you put off breaking down, shutting down is all you have left. When a piece of furniture has more courage and integrity that you do, well, you’re one sad sack. A numb sad sack.

2015 I shut down the emotion. It seemed like the right thing to do.

It was logical. No one wants a volcano of emotion calling the shots. Isn’t that what we are taught? Buckle up. Suck it up. Fight hard. Get it done. Just do it. Very few motivational posters promote having a good cry in the corner.

Pull the plug. In the face of unrelenting pain and sadness, shutting down, especially as a parent, as the one not dying, as the one not burying your spouse, as the one who still has to get the kids to school, this feels right. Breaking down is not an option. To prevent insanity, shutdown wins.

There’s just one problem.

Shutdown is all encompassing. Shutting out pain and fear leaves joy suspended as well. And humor. Not dark, bitter humor, but the humor that sees ninja-mission-to-repair-the-couch-in-the-middle-of-the-night-on-Christmas-Eve is something to be CELEBRATED. That kind of humor. Life sustaining. It was missing. And when humor dries up, hope is scarce as well.

I haven’t blogged in a kabillion years. Because nothing inspired me. Who wants to blog about marching up hill? In the rain? With rocks in your shoes? Our family fought cancer and we didn’t beat it. It beat us. To pieces. And I was slowly blinded. Golden Retriever, shallow-loving, goof offs like me have no natural defense for sadness of this caliber. Aging and death and dying moved in. And the pillars of this family, the stalwarts of my life, were displaced. The bitterness of knowing safety is an illusion loomed right outside our door. And I was thrust into the role of the strong one.

So. I write this as a form of apology. To my friends who have been shut out. Piles of unopened Christmas cards still sit on my table. I don’t look at Facebook. I can’t even remember my email password. I was in sad-sack shutdown. And to my family. I’m so sorry. I was busy doing. Running. Driving. Bailing the water from our sinking ship. I know I hurt you with my non-response response. But I continued to feed you and wash your clothes. So there’s that.

And to God. Forgive me. My sweet precious Savior and Friend. For shutting you out. Because I was too tired to have our old argument. Where you are God and I am not. I know the Bible verses, Lord. I just didn’t have the energy to live them. All I could see was waves of pain stretching into the future. Probably bigger than this one. And how would we survive?

Then the couch exploded.

Gave up the ghost. Literally. Boom. Shedding 20 years of flaked off skin cells, pet hair, and other anonymous elements. When it hit the floor, the couch knocked a lamp and table over, shattering the bulb and filling the half lit room with a mystery vapor that left a subtle film on the pile of presents beneath the tree. Did I mention it was Christmas Eve? At two in the BLESSED morning?

I came down the stairs in three giant steps. Around the corner. To find my family. Glowing. I hadn’t seen this look in so long. What was it? Glee. Bordering on hysteria. In stage whispers they bounced on top of each other trying to tell me their PLAN (they were trying to fix the couch so I wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of our guest) And how they didn’t think the drill would be LOUD (thus the piano) and didn’t know it would SMOKE (thus the open doors and windows). They were actually wiggling. Like when they were toddlers.

And I looked into my husband’s face. The fatigue and pain and sorrow were not erased. But he was smiling. Those teeth. His blue eyes. It reminded me of when we were dating. That smile is why I’m a mother. Twice.

And it seemed as if God was talking. Here on the birthday of his Son. Sometimes. A breakdown is long overdue. Sometimes the wisest thing in the long run is to give up the short race. The collapsing couch brought perspective on the wasteland of my spirit. I was reminded of Ezekiel’s field of bones. Mighty warriors, reduced to lifeless, garish rubble.

I sat on the broken couch. Propped up with wood screws. Shutting out pain and fear at the expense of joy was a suckers bet. I dragged my toes through the sawdust on the floor. And I cried out to the One who knows me best. “You promised me joy. Our deal was that I would give you ashes and you would give me beauty. Well. Where are you?”

“Have you given Me your ashes?”

What on earth? I don’t like middle of the night thinking. The question bothered me. Who would hang onto misery? Pain? Fear? I rolled my eyes in the dark. But the unsettling thought clamored around my cavernous heart. Jostling all the bones lying around in there. Shutdown is shutdown. Freezing the assets. Clamping off the heart. I don’t think I’d really given God anything. Because I was busy not telling him how ticked off I was that cancer and disease and brokenness and dying and death had rolled over my family while he DID NOTHING to stop it, despite the sweetest prayers ever prayed by hurting children.

Wow. Apparently there was some fight left in those bones. “Why would I give up my ashes when it feels like all I have left?”

“If your hands and heart are full, I can’t fill them.”

My ninja couch fixers had reminded me of what I had lost sight of – Joy. It exists. Furthermore, it is my birthright. Where had joy gone? Do pain and fear win? Sometimes yes. Sometimes pain and fear win. But only the short race.

In the dark, I begged the God of Christmas to breathe life into these stubborn, tired, ugly bones. Because even as I had held Him off, I knew He loved me. I knew He was good. He was faithful. Even at the lowest point, I felt him standing there. The problem was, I didn’t want His company in this venue. I wanted a freaking change of circumstance. But I’ve read His word backward and forward again. He never promised me that I could be God.

But He did promise me that sorrow might last for a night, but joy would come in the morning.


“Come like the four winds, Lord. Breathe life.”

I looked up just at the sky was turning from gray to pink. It sounds like I’m making this up, but it’s how it happened. Christmas morning came in the window.

Joy to the world.

And so, I have a plan for 2016.

I’m having a breakdown.

I’m not powering through. I’m walking slowly. I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m making space.

I’m living small. I’m letting the wind blow. I’m mourning. I’m celebrating. But mostly. I’m real.

I think the hardest part about being strong is knowing how and when to be weak. But I’m growing. And He’s making me stronger through my weakness. That’s how God works. Crazy train. If I’ve hurt you with my distance, please forgive me. I’m through with my sad sack-ness. I’m still sad, but I’m alive. And laughing. And goofing off. And wearing my crown of joy.

P.S. Our guest stayed in a hotel the next night. I am not making this up.
P.P.S. We spent too much money buying happiness during our sad Christmas, and so we are still sitting on our broken couch. But the couch is practically family. So that’s ok.
P.P.P.S. If you live in the South Sound and want to do Bible Study with me and bunch of real people- Please join us. Bring your gang. Starts March 3rd. I think it might be awesome. Because I can feel the wind.

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