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November Monthly Challenge

Happy Thanksgiving. Autumn has come. The air is moist and chilled. Heaters have turned on. Clothes are layered and heavy. Leaves crunch. It is dark at 5:00pm. People are making plans for the holidays. Maybe there was some tension as the elections approached (or afterward.)

The TBRI Empowering Principle has two components: physiological strategies and ecological strategies. Autumn is a time of year that brings some challenges in proactively implementing ecological strategies. There are many transitions occurring inside our homes, in schools, and in nature. This brings opportunities for co-regulation and proactively addressing (and planning) to meet your child’s needs.

This month’s challenge is designed to help you determine what needs your child might have. Ready? Set. Go!

The first part is very simple. You will just write your name and address.

Here’s what you’ll need:

paper, pen/pencil, timer.

Step 1: Set the timer for 20 seconds. I timed myself four times doing this with my dominant hand, and I have a long name. It averaged 8 seconds, so 20 should be more than enough for you.

Step 2: Start the timer. Write your name and address, with your non-dominant hand. If you cannot complete it, legibly, in 20 seconds, you will have to do it again until you get it right.

For this section you will need:

A pair of Dollar Store reading glasses and something to read

If you wear glasses with a Rx of +/- 2.0 or higher, you will take them off. If you do not wear glasses, you will need to use a pair of dollar store readers +/- 2.0 at least. With the altered vision, read whatever is close by.

This last section requires:

gardening/rubber gloves (like for dish washing, not the kind doctors wear)

some paperclips spread out on a flat surface

a soda or water bottle

Put your gloves on and put the paperclips into the bottle.

How did each it feel to complete each of these tasks? These are mild simulations of what it can feel like for children with sensory processing difficulties. Now if you add to those difficulties, the pressure of wanting to please someone (parent, teacher, peer, sibling) who is waiting for you, it adds another layer of difficulty. Then on top of that pressure, add the fear that if you do not complete this you may be harmed, left alone, or punished. Is your heart racing? Are you finding it harder to concentrate? Are your hands starting to shake? Come on, these are simple tasks and people are waiting for you.

Stanley Greenspan, the author of The Challenging Child: Understanding, Raising, and Enjoying the Five “”Difficult”” Types of Children describes sensory processing/integration with this great analogy.

“Imagine driving a car that isn’t working well. When you step on the gas the car sometimes lurches forward and sometimes doesn’t respond. When you blow the horn it sounds blaring. The brakes sometimes slow the car, but not always. The blinkers work occasionally, the steering is erratic, and the speedometer is inaccurate. You are engaged in a constant struggle to keep the car on the road, and it is difficult to concentrate on anything else.” It’s no wonder children with sensory processing disorders feel out of control, exhibit a whole host of behaviors, and have difficulty concentrating and focusing.

How will you help your precious child enjoy the holiday season? What steps can you take to alter the environment for them? Do they need some headphones to drone out the excess noise? Are all of the smells of the seasons overwhelming? Maybe they could use an essential oil on their wrists or on a bandanna. It gets dark so early. Are they thrown off and unsure of the time of day? Maybe a clock that lights/dims or has soothing sounds at certain times will help them adjust their circadian rhythm. Could you give verbal cues throughout the afternoon and evening, acknowledging that it is different. Your schedule may be back to back with To Dos to get the shopping, baking, visiting, and decorating done. Prioritize together and prepare a written schedule. Then talk about how you and your child will identify when they need a break from the hustle and bustle.

Above all else, stay CONNECTED to your precious child and work diligently to ensure they FEEL connected to you.

Leave me a comment and let me know how the challenges went for you and what you will do proactively.

trauma

Constant Gentleness

Why do we have to be constantly gentle with our youngsters. When parenting I’m task oriented. It takes a lot of planning, organization and direction to the troops to keep our home running smoothly. It’s hard for me in the moment of just wanting something to get done or to happen to remember that being quiet and gentle will go further in the long run toward our children becoming healthy adults.

Children are more likely to be traumatized by a new situation if they have been traumatized before—especially if the earlier trauma occurred in childhood. This includes raised voices and angry or frustated tones. Experiencing trauma in childhood can have a severe and long-lasting effect. Children who have been traumatized see the world as a frightening and dangerous place. When childhood trauma is not resolved, this fundamental sense of fear and helplessness carries over into adulthood, setting the stage for further trauma.

What steps will you take to be mindful of your demeanor? How will you take care of yourself to be in a good mind space in order to guide your child there? Perhaps you need to talk with a therapist a few times (most employers have EAP) to figure out your triggers or your attachment style. Do you need to up the exercise or yoga time to keep your endorphins up? When was the last time you ate a vegetable? Maybe you need to make a date night a priority to reconnect with your spouse and feel loved.

My new mantra in those moments of frustration is this:

“This isn’t about this moment in time… it’s about her lifetime.”

trauma

AUGUST CHALLENGE

It has been hot and humid here in Upstate NY this summer.  I admit that we have not had even half as many outdoor adventures as we typically do.  Even bike rides have resulted in sopping wet clothes and chugging a gallon of water.

It has also meant short tempers and limited patience… for each member of the family.

So the August challenge is this:

Find an activity that every member of the family enjoys (a challenge in and of itself I know) to cool off with.  For my girls and I this is swimming, but it does not include my husband who hates to swim.  He would rather head to the movie theater.  So our compromise: movie character squirter tag!

We play tag but to limit the running (remember it’s hot!) whoever is it has a soaker.  When “it” gets you wet, you have to freeze until another person touches you and says the name of a movie character.  When only one person is unfrozen, they are the new “it.”

We prefer to end this activity with dry clothes and popsicles.

trauma

DIY Sensory Tools

We often see pretty cool looking sensory tools and activities but then we head toward purchasing them the sticker shock knocks us back into flight or freeze!

I am not a particularly crafty person (although toddlers and preschoolers think I’m pretty nifty.)  I can barely sew (never a straight line!)  So when I seek out to save money with a DIY project it rarely comes out well.  But, when it does I am over the moon proud of myself!

I have had some pretty heavy posts of late so this one is meant to be encouraging and uplifting.  I am going to share some of my DIY/money saving successes!

BODY SOCK:   http://activeplaytherapies.com/diy-body-sock-tutorial/

Balance Board:    https://www.amazon.com/ALEX-Active-Monkey-Balance-Board/dp/B000N40SDC

** Once children have mastered the balance, add another level by playing catch or tug of war while they are on the board.  Have them stand on the board while coloring a picture taped to the wall.

Water Beads: https://www.amazon.com/MarvelBeads-Rainbow-ounces-Orbeez-Sensory/dp/B018HSB7GW/ref=pd_lpo_vtph_21_bs_tr_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=KKZ5RPKW14XD71E2V78Q

** My girls LOVE these things.  I would see them on Pinterest and other places but at craft stores and even the Dollar Store they were beyond my budget.  One tablespoon of these tiny little beads added to a gallon of water for 12-24 hours creates hours of play.  They enjoy checking on their growth every few hours (in reality they are ready for play in about 3 hours, just not at full size.)  Add some tools like these: Fine Motor Tools for even more play.  When the children are ready, start smooshing and popping them.  When they’re feeling really brave, let them step into a pan of them!  Listen for the squeals and laugh together.  They are fun to sort by color, size, make different patterns and designs.

Hop Balls: Hop Balls for Children and Adults 

I kid you not, this was probably the best purchase we made for our girls in the last three years.  They love them!  The activities are endless, they’re great for regulating, and a great way for exercise during cold, winter months.

Swing/Plasma CarSwing Car

These do not work on carpet!  They’re okay on a paved surface but work best on bare floors.  I actually picked mine up as an impulse buy at Aldi’s.  Again, the girls LOVE it!  This and the hop balls are the sure-fire activities that will bring them together to play.

Squish Box:  You can purchase a squeezee canoe or large bean bag for $100 OR, buy the biggest rubbermaid tub you can find.  They get pretty big!  Then, fill it with blankets, pillows, and other soft objects (also a great way to store these things 😉) Voila! A relaxing, enclosed space with some compression!  Great for reading, iPad, watching TV, whatever.

Weighted Lap Pad or Animal: Weighted Stuffed Animal.  If you can sew, at all, a popular item right now is sequin fabric.  Pick some up at Joann Fabric and use on one side of a simple pillow with a preferred texture on the other side (fleece, satin, cotton…) My oldest likes to “draw” pictures in the sequins.  She likes to hold it during TV time or in the car.

MY VERY FAVORITE:

Scented Play Dough! Homemade Play Doh  I have one daughter who will entertain herself with playdough for three hours.  The other, with encouragement, will use it for three minutes.  I like to add an essential oil that correlates to the color… (the green is peppermint, the white is vanilla, the purple lavendar, etc)  To encourage my tactile resistant little one I wrap the dough around a toy or put a small treat in an easter egg and wrap it in dough.  The excitement of the surprise is usually enough to entice her.  It’s also a sneaky way to work in finger strengthening exercises!  

Their FAVORITE: 

Puffy Paint: DIY Puffy Paint 

Olfactory Memory: Use small storage containers (empty Rx bottles work great) and place pantry spices in them (2 of each spice!)  Place them on the table and try to find the matches!  You can also use an egg carton and put a dab of essential oil on cotton balls.  Try to find the matches.  (Parent tip: use a marker to label the bottom of the bottle or the carton.)

***     Family activities that create something or science experiments are excellent means for connecting while incorporating sensory sensations!  Encourage your child to listen, look, smell, feel all the time!  When was the last time you paid attention to the way your produce feels in your hand?  ***

 

trauma

Special Days for My Sister are Hard

We know that all children have a natural need for connection.  We also know that for children who have experienced a traumatic event, particularly one that is relational, the healing process requires deep connection and trust building.  So when it is time for someone else to be the recipient of intense focus and attention, fear emanates from our traumatized children.  This intensely, deep rooted fear manifests as screaming, whining, demanding, perhaps physically getting between their caregiver and the guest of honor, even physical aggression.  Crying that they want a present too and to blow out the candles or receive an award too are common.  Your child is not trying to be difficult.  They don’t want to spoil the fun or make others uncomfortable.  These are outward signs of really big internal fears and feelings.  Every ounce of their being is pulsing with, “I can’t feel you there! I feel afraid! I’m so alone! Help!”  They are in desperate need of co-regulation.  They cannot calm by themselves.  They NEED connection because the most powerful part of their body, the amygdala in the brain, is roaring as loudly as possible, “DANGER! DANGER!”

Sometimes (ok, let’s be honest, if we don’t prepare in advance, always) caregivers become frustrated, embarrassed and bewildered by these behaviors and can (will) overreact because our own engines surge into the red zone.  We feel helplessness, then embarrassment, then anger.  Unfortunately, the child in desperate need of connection because their bodies are consumed by fear, bears the brunt of that anger, confirming to the brain that there is real danger.

How can you prepare your traumatized child for these special events?

I am including a social story that I wrote for you to personalize.  Begin reading this with your child a few days (not too many) before the event.  Work together to develop the strategies that he/she can use in that situation.  If walk-away is not a good option because it is an outside party with lots of strangers and a busy road, then what can they do?  Can you designate a safe place that they can go to?  How will you support that child so they are not alone?  Can you develop a secret handshake or other healthy touch that will tell your child that they are seen and heard by you even if it looks like all their attention is on someone else?

  1. Practice ahead of time using the social story.  Create a visual “cheat sheet” of strategies for dealing with the big emotions.  Let them carry it or bring it out quickly when you see they need some help.
  2. Be ready to calmly and lovingly step away from the festivities for a few minutes if your child needs you.  Don’t make it a punishment but a time of loving, caring attention.  If a parent will come close, and listen while the child cries hard about how sad and frightening it was, a child can get it off his chest. He cries hard. He sweats or trembles. He/she may be angry and lash out. The adult offers eye contact, a warm voice and tone, and gentle arms that communicate, “I’m here. I’m sorry that was hard. You can show me how hard that was. I’ll listen.” When a child has worked the whole experience through, he relaxes. He can notice the closeness that his parent offers. He can absorb love again. And his behavior transforms from difficult to open; from provocative to cooperative. If the hurt he’s working on is a big one, you’ll see small but significant changes. Many more hearty cries will be needed to relieve the attention-seeking behavior entirely.
  3. Talk with the guest of honor (and their parents if warranted) ahead of time.  Let them know how you feel about them but that you also recognize this may be a difficult time for your child.  Tell them you may need to step away now and then to help them manage their fears.
  4. Be mindful of your own triggers and emotions.  Keep focused on what is most important and work together.  If it is a big event and you feel that you cannot give your attention to two places, hire a sitter to stay home with your child and make it special for them or pay a sitter to come with you that can be devoted to your child’s needs.
  5. Social Story for Someone Else’s Special Day

In the comments, let me know how the next celebration went.  Do you have suggestions for other parents?