During the training time of week 2 of the Thrive Parenting Support group, Melissa Porcaro, an occupational therapist from Richland, Washington, led us in a discussion about meeting the sensory, proprioceptive and vestibular needs of kids while stuck inside during the coronavirus stay at home orders.
Melissa is the owner ofCan Do Kidsin Richland, Washington where they believe that Play is a child’s work and therapists use appropriate sensory integration techniques to engage patients in fun and motivating activities which address each child’s treatment goals.
She is an expert in, among other things, sensory issues and laying the foundational work for kids who may not be considered “neurotypical.”
If you could use some ideas for keeping kids emotionally regulated or just from bounding off the walls then you’ll want to watch or listen to the conversation.
Additionally there was a round table discussion about how screen time effects children and some alternatives to using screen time to babysit kids during the coronavirus crisis.
Here is a list of resources discussed this week:
Our Guest:Melissa Porcaro, owner and Occupational Therapist atCan Do Kids
Children who are overstimulated by their visual and auditory senses will struggle in a “busy” environment. Here is a quick and easy way to create a space that is special and rewarding enough for them that they will seek it out to calm themselves.
Here are some tips on keeping this intervention successful:
Never use this place for a punishment
If they are getting worked up suggest a that a visit to their special place might help their heart to feel better
Praise them when they try to calm themselves, even if they are only a little but successful.
When preparing the space, allow the child to decide what to put in their special place with boundaries that you can tolerate. For example, I like to say, “What happens if you get hungry while you are in your fort, should we put a snack in there?” If they respond by asking for a chocolate cake or a raw turkey, don’t say no, but offer a better alternative. “Lets choose a package of crackers or this sucker instead.”
If your child is “too far gone” – don’t force this. If you don’t catch them before they are too activated it won’t work.
Our children often have difficulty with undesirable tasks. This is normal. It may be unrealistic to expect them to want to do these tasks (brush your teeth, make your bed, etc.) Plan your schedule so that they have extra time to use their calm down place before having to do the task. Someday we want our kids to do it quickly – in fact if they do, shower the praise down on them, but if it’s always a struggle get used to saying, “take as much time as you need.” Encourage them to use their calm down place to find the calm and the energy they need to comply. So, if bedtime is 8, have them brush their teeth at 7 so they can spend 20 minutes in the calm down place first.
Practice this with your child when they are calm. Learning to calm yourself is a skill. It is another tool in their toolbox. Make sure they know how to use it. For example:
Mom: “Yesterday you got so angry when dad was spending time with your brother…..That must have been hard because I know I liked it more when my dad spent time with me than when he spent it with MY brother.”
Child: [Tears well up because they feel understood]
Mom: “I don’t think you like it when you feel like that tornado is inside you, and I was so bummed that you broke your favorite toy because I know how much you like it. How about if we practice going to your fort to see if that helps you feel good.
Child: But I am not angry now.
Mom: I know, Lets just pretend. Can I see your angry face?
Child: [grunts and squints – veins bulge – teeth show – face turns red] (It’s like they don’t need much practice being angry)
Mom: Wow! You look really mad. Quick lets run to your fort and see if we feel better….
Child: [runs to fort, grabs snack, giggles]
Mom: Look It works! You are smiling already….
If you have other suggestions or other ways you calm your sensory kids, post them in the comments below.
It may sound crazy that a grown woman, who is relatively emotionally stable, confident, and capable, would be so tied up in knots about emotional “barbs” coming from three little children. You would think it would be easy to brush off their brutal words, death glares and looks of distain and to easily recognize each time that they were throwing the “barbs” my way because of their own pain and fear of rejection. Deep down, I knew this. Sometimes remembering those facts helped me not to take their hurtful words so personally. At times I handled well their constant put-downs well because I knew that they used their words as a shield to protect themselves from experiencing more pain. Rejection had become a defense mechanism for them.
At other times, however, the put-downs and jabs simply wore me down, mostly because they just kept coming. There were no breaks. There was no time to process anything said, because the waves of rejection were overwhelmingly constant. After being immersed in this type of circumstance, you begin to feel a bit beaten up, despite your best efforts to maintain your sense of confidence.
Especially in the beginning, all of the kids knew how to deliver a well-placed punch through their comments. Picking them up from a weekend at respite, the kids used their surliest voices to say things like “WE had FUN this weekend” (AKA: “WE had FUN without YOU”). It got to be so bad that I dreaded coming back home, knowing the hateful comments and behaviors that would ensue over the next few weeks. (I loved my husband’s response one day to the emotional “attacks.” He said, “Hmm….you wanna just take a knife and stab mom in the back instead?” He also made them come up with a few more jabs, so they’d have more “practice” coming up with good ones. You know…we like for our kids to be good at whatever they do. Might as well be the best they can be. We were just looking out for their best interest…)
There’s something about what abused kids go through makes them experts at reading people and finding their weak spots. Like a shark drawn to blood, they can spot your “buttons” a mile away, and they seem to go for the jugular over and over again. Feel insecure about your weight? They will hit that button over and over. Experienced rejection as a child? I can hear the music playing now…duuun dun….duuun dun….dun dun dun dun dun dun dun…
I used to feel weak when I allowed my kids’ words and behaviors hurt my feelings. I expected myself to be stronger than their jabs and barbs, wondering why words from children hurt so badly. After all, they were just little kids – kids that had been through terrible things, no less. I should have been able to take their blows with stride, right? Later, however, I began to understand that I had placed an impossible and unrealistic expectation on myself when I told myself that their words shouldn’t bother me. I needed to allow myself to be human and to understand how normal my reaction to their rejection truly was.
I remember a time when my husband and I were on the beach in Florida. I kept trying to stand up, but the waves just kept coming and coming and coming, each one knocking me down as soon as I would even begin to get my bearings. I’d just barely make the attempt to stand up when another wave would come crashing over me, sending me down again. I felt scared, because as hard as I tried those waves had full control over me, simply because of their size and frequency, regardless of how strong I tried to be to break free. I understood how easily I could have been pulled under by the force the waves had over me, simply in the sheer number of waves coming at me.
Just like those waves in Florida, the constant waves of belittling, jabs and rejection experienced while parenting wounded children make it difficult for anyone to not be knocked down with feelings of hurt and rejection. Just because the rejection comes from a young child doesn’t necessarily lessen the hurt. When we expect ourselves to be able to not be bothered by any hurts sent our way by a wounded child, we end up placing unnecessary guilt upon ourselves, which keeps us from being completely honest about our feelings and dealing with them in a healthy manner. Letting go of those expectations allows us to honestly face the hurt and process through it. What we feel is normal. We must allow ourselves to be human.
In the last article I posted, we were talking about the fact that it’s quite normal to feel absolutely exhausted when parenting wounded children, especially when you consider all of the crazy behaviors we are dealing with on a regular basis. We also discussed the importance of self-care in dealing with that exhaustion, as well as the things that become obstacles to us practicing good self care, especially when parenting challenging or wounded children. Today’s obstacle, I believe, is the most damaging, as well as the most pervasive, obstacle to parents feeling free to practice healthy self-care.
Obstacle to Self-Care # 2.We view self-care as selfish and exhaustion as a status symbol.
I found this quote the other day and absolutely love it. It challenged me, and I believe it fits our culture today.Brené Brown said, “If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating rest and play, and we must work to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth.” Women in particular are taught to view putting others first and never truly taking care of ourselves as noble and something to work toward. Especially when referring to motherhood, we are led to believe that doing something just for us that doesn’t directly benefit our children is completely selfish. After all, we only have the privilege of parenting these children for so long and then they grow into adults and leave. We applaud this mentality, and on some level, it is true. We do only have the privilege of parenting our children at this level for a time and then they must grow up; however, in the process of parenting our kids we need to teach by example the things we want them to do as adults. Would you want your child to run themselves so ragged that their body begins shutting down? Didn’t think so. Yet we teach them this by example all too frequently.
The problem with this way of thinking is that, even when we take the time to take good care of ourselves, the positive effects sometimes don’t “stick” because we spend the entire time feeling guilty for doing it. Rather than fully allowing ourselves to enjoy the moment and receive the benefit of a stress-reducing (aka: fun) activity, we become more tense, thinking about everything else we SHOULD be doing instead, like how many loads of laundry we need to get done later and what we will be making for dinner. (By the way….we sometimes just need to throw the word “should” out of our vocabularies!).
I am learning that, rather than being selfish, taking good care of myself is the absolute best thing I can do for my children. Why? Like I said before, it gives them an example of healthy adulthood. It teaches them that they, too, are worthy of spending time on themselves, as long as they don’t neglect those around them. It shows them that are loved, because mom and dad care enough to do what they need to do in order to be the best mom and dad they can be (and to have the best marriage they can have). It also helps them understand that, while they are loved, they are not the center of the universe. Sounds mean, but kids absolutely need to know this. Kids need to know that they are important, but that within a family everyone works to make sure that all of the needs are met…not just one member’s needs or wants.
Taking good care of myself actually makes me a better mom. Those times when I am merely running from one crisis to the next, never stopping to take time for myself, I am not as patient and loving with my children as I would like to be (and need to be). Is it better to always put your kids first, only to end up yelling and overreacting to their misbehavior because you are so stressed? Wouldn’t it be better to give some time to yourself and end up being able to deal with those situations in a more healthy manner? This need only escalates as the issues of your child do. Keep in mind that the more extreme the circumstance is, the need for self-care goes even higher.
For the sake of everyone involved, PLEASE throw this extremely damaging philosophy out of the window. Begin to shift your thought process to include your own needs into the mix. Sure, we don’t want to be sitting around, eating bonbons and watching soap operas, while our kids run around screaming and crying. (Although I have to say that bonbons do sound good right now.) We don’t do anyone any good, however, by completely ignoring our own needs and focusing entirely on what our children need. In the end, we do our children a disservice by making their needs so all-encompassing, while our tolerance and patience levels with them decrease. I have found this to be especially true with troubled children. We absolutely have to make time for our own needs in order to give them the love and patience they need.
We will be talking in later articles about more practical or “how-to” issues relating to self care. For now, I really want to provide encouragement to you, the parent, to take this idea of meeting your own needs seriously, as it allows you to better provide for your child’s needs.
I once worked with a mom who reminded me of where I was just a few years ago (and, if I’m not careful, where I can so easily get to now). She had been fighting the battle to help her children heal for so long that she was….well, exhausted. Emotionally, Physically, Mentally….just utterly exhausted. More times than not I find parents of traumatized kiddos remaining in a constant state of exhaustion over long periods of time, leading to all sorts of ill effects down the road.
Throughout my time of parenting wounded kiddos, I personally have experienced varying degrees of exhaustion; most of the time at levels I truly never knew even existed before parenting these kids. No words could describe the deep, all-encompassing state of weariness I found myself in at times (honestly, a few more times than I’d like to admit); a weariness that had worked it’s way into every level of my being, all the way down to my bones. Weighed down by the boulder of responsibility for children who, through no fault of their own, had too many needs for me to even begin to meet, I would frequently get to a point where I just didn’t think I could handle even one more pebble of responsibility. I felt overwhelmed, alone, tired beyond comprehension, and emotionally empty. I had nothing left to give anyone.
For me, it took a warning from a doctor to wake me up to the fact that I had been neglecting myself to a point of extreme detriment. My body was shutting down, due to years of functioning in an extremely stressful situation without practicing any form of self-care. I would have to make drastic changes if I was to endure the situation any longer.
In my work with parents of challenging children (especially the moms), I find that most of us struggle to take adequate care of ourselves, even in “normal” situations. Add an abnormally stressful situation to the mix and we fall far short of where our self-care needs to be. To take care of others feels way more natural, especially for us natural caretakers; self-care…well, that just seems like a pipe dream or a luxury. We are the first people to jump in headfirst to help anyone in need…except when that person in need is us. Many of us run on fumes, going from one challenging situation to the next, putting out fires and barely surviving, let alone thriving. I’m learning that it doesn’t have to be that way, but most of us have been so used to putting other’s needs so far above our own that we don’t even know anymore how to take good care of ourselves.
I find that there are several challenges when it comes to self-care from what I’ve experienced in my own life and from what I observe in most of the parents I work with. We must overcome these obstacles if we are to parent these amazing children in a way they need to be parented in order to heal. Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at some of these obstacles and dealing with overcoming them. For now, we will look at several ways we view self-care that make it nearly impossible for us to thrive in stressful situations, such as parenting traumatized children.
1. We view self-care as unnecessary or a luxury
The first time I talk to a parent about self care, the most common response I get is a hearty laugh. Then, realizing that I’m dead serious, they look at me as if I’ve sprouted antennae, as if to say, “And exactly how do you expect me to do that??!” Even when I speak at conferences, the attendance at workshops on self-care ends up being sparse when compared to those regarding discipline or other topics that directly relate to the child. While I’d like to think that’s because the group of conference-goers are so experienced at self-care that they just don’t need one more workshop on the topic, I know that just isn’t the case. My work with moms has proved to me that we struggle even thinking about self-care, let alone actually implementing it into our daily routines. In reality, we become so engrossed in our quest to help our child heal that we, in fact, end up neglecting (and in many cases, abusing) ourselves in order to help them. In our minds, if we could just help our child heal, everything else will fall into place. When the healing process takes years to happen or doesn’t feel like it’s happening at all, we eventually realize the toll that putting off our own self-care has taken on our bodies, our relationships, our emotional/mental stability, and our lives wasn’t worth the results we felt we would achieve by our self-neglect.
I’ve learned the hard way that good self-care is NOT an option. That’s why the topic comes up for practically every session I do with parents. How are you taking care of yourself, your marriage, etc.? Stress takes a toll on us in every way possible. If you want to be around for a long time for your children, self-care is NOT a luxury. If you want your child to heal and have a productive life (or even make it into adulthood), self-care becomes absolutely essential. While I get the fact that self-care seems nearly impossible in these more challenging situations, we MUST find a way to make it happen. (In future articles we will be discussing practical ways to incorporate self-care into our lives when parenting challenging children. For now, I want you to understand how absolutely non-negotiable it is.) You MUST take good care of yourself – for the sake of you and your child’s future.