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Many of us come into sensory parenting with limited hands-on experience living with and supporting rigid, anxious, or distracted profiles. For many parents, one of the hardest pieces to journey through is learning how to live with and support strong emotions. The goal is not to be “in the strong emotions” with your sensory child but to be able to “be with” or “next to” your sensory child’s strong emotions in support.

Here are a few strategies to help you learn how to be with, not in, strong emotions:

– STAY IN OBSERVATION MODE

You know when you are watching a friend’s child and you find yourself in this great space of being able to observe and react without judgement or feeling? That’s where you need to be when your sensory child is in a place of strong emotions. Take a step back (physically and emotionally) because this emotional space is what allows you to be truly supportive.

– HAVE THE CURRENT LIST OF “POINT OF NO RETURN” TRIGGERS

Know the current list of “no return” triggers for your sensory child. There’s usually 2-3 things that, when emotions are high, will push your sensory child over the line. It can be sensory input that is overwhelming, certain verbal prompts, or tasks that are hard for them on a good day. Just know what they are and try to adopt an “off-limits” approach to them in periods of strong emotions.

– SOMETIMES GIVING IN = TRUE SUPPORT IN THE MOMENT

This can be the hardest shift for us parents. We have been raised to believe that giving into kids is wrong – that the parent is always right. But for sensory kids living with strong emotions, new rules do apply. Most likely, if your sensory child has gotten to the place of strong and unpredictable emotions, it’s too late to discuss, compromise, or negotiate. Letting your sensory child have what they need in an explosive episode can be the only thing that stops the spiral and gives your child the footing they need to get in control again.

– STRONG EMOTIONS = CALLING OUT FOR LOVE

Though it looks different when it’s anger or explosive behavior (especially in tweens or teens), strong emotions are no different than the child who has fallen and hurt themselves physically. We would have no problem helping a child who is physically hurt and it’s really no different than helping a child with strong emotions. If you need to cut out and frame a picture of a young child crying to help you remember this idea – do it.

– FOCUS ON SMALL SUCCESSES & TAKE AWAYS FOR THE NEXT TIME

Learning the parenting road of strong emotions takes practice – LOTS of practice. The important thing is to take a moment after an intense experience with your sensory child to acknowledge what you did better this time. Maybe you controlled your own emotions, maybe you were able to give your child space, or give them what they needed in the moment. Progress is in this arena can feel small but it actually REALLY BIG. So take some time to acknowledge it.

– KNOW THAT WE ARE ALL THE SAME

When it comes right down to it, we are the same as our sensory kids. When we are going through our own struggles, we just want to be loved and understood. When our sensory kids are in a place of strong emotions, they just want love and understanding. We might be on different roads but we’re all working towards the same goal. Remember that.

Strong emotions are real for many sensory kids and their families. With a few key parenting shifts and lots of practice, we can learn how to be with our sensory children and their strong emotions with love and understanding. Small changes with strong emotions for more peaceful days ~

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Connecting FeelingsFeelings can be such an abstract concept for many of our kids. Our sensory kids are full of passion but sensory feelings can come on strong and change quickly often leaving our rigid, anxious, or distracted kids feeling overwhelmed and struggling to make connections between cause and effect. Just like we can provide external, visual supports with organizing their environment, we can provide external, visual supports to help them identify and organize their feelings.

Like many other Sensory Organizing supports, the first step is often the most important and needs to be visual. Since feelings can seem all-encompassing without a clean beginning and end, we need a visual to help them make some space to notice and observe when a new feeling might have come in. By helping them notice, without judgement, we can often help them begin the process of making connections. Then we can provide some options to help them work through the feelings with a tangible plan that can include identifying feeling triggers and talking through different strategies for the next experience.

Here’s an example of a Connecting Feelings Visual:

SUPPLIES:
* Compassion and Understanding
* Paper
* Markers
* Picture Images (take your own pictures of your real life tasks, pictures from magazines, stock photos, or image software like Boardmaker – http://www.mayer-johnson.com/boardmaker-software/ , Picture Exchange Communication System – http://www.pecsusa.com/ , or Do 2 Learn (can sign-up for an annual membership on Do 2 Learn!) – http://www.do2learn.com/. The images used here are from Boardmaker.

Strong feelings are one of the main ways sensory kids communicate with us. By creating a simple visual to help them make space between themselves and their feelings, we can teach them to observe, identify, and ultimately advocate for their feelings and needs. This is Sensory Organizing and true empowerment. Simple changes for more peaceful days ~

 

Make New Friends………..

Now that the school year is up and running, we will have new opportunities to guide and  support our rigid, anxious, and distracted kids as they begin to navigate new academic and social experiences.  One of the more common challenges for all types of sensory kids revolves around understanding the rules of friendship.  Social rules fall under the umbrella of abstract experiences that can often be difficult for our sensory kids.

Thankfully, we have many things that we can use to help us paint a picture for our sensory kids and one of my favorite tools is popular songs / sayings.  Here is the first verse of a popular Scout Song that helps explain the different levels of friendships:

Make new friends,

but keep the old.

One is silver,

the other is gold.

Why this song works so well as a social teaching tool:

1) Short and Direct:

Many sensory kids can have a hard time breaking down the meaning in longer pieces.  This song gives it’s message in a direct, simple way.

2) Rating Scale:

A built-in rating scale (Gold and Silver) explains the different levels of friendship in a concrete, tangible way.

3) Visual Friendly:

It is very easy to take this song and create a picture or visual to help your child see gold and silver.  You could take it a step further and help your child define what a Gold friend and a Silver friend means to them.  How might a Silver friend become a Gold friend?  Are they a Gold friend or a Silver friend or does it depend on who they are with?  Is it more important to have a few Gold friends or alot of silver friends or somewhere in the middle?

Take a simple song or saying and help create a concrete lesson for your sensory child.  These tools are the building blocks for understanding those confusing, abstract life experiences.  Look at some of your favorite songs, poems, or sayings and see if they can become a teaching tool for your family.  Here’s simple supports for more peaceful days ~

Carolyn Dalgliesh, founder of Systems for Sensory Kids, is thrilled to be doing a four-part guest blog series for 46 Mommas Shave for the Brave – The 46 Mommas are on a mission to raise awareness, raise funds for research and inspire others to help fund a cure for childhood cancer.  As a professional organizer and a “sensory” mom, Carolyn is honored to be a sponsor of 46 Mommas and to have an opportunity to support these amazing parents with sensory organizing tips!  

Sibling Support

Now that we have some tools in place for supporting our children who are living with a medical condition and/or innate neurological challenges (like those living with ADHD/ADD, anxiety disorder, OCD, sensory processing disorder or autism), it is time to support their siblings. Life with a special needs sibling can present some daily challenges for our typical children – unpredictable or embarrassing behavior, going to doctors appointments and seeing their brother or sister uncomfortable or in pain, or last minute changes in plans – and they will need our support in different ways.  Here are a few simple tips to help you support your typical child’s experience:

Let them Express their Feelings 

Validate their experience – help them understand that it is expected for them to have times of anger and frustration towards their sibling and/or their sibling’s experience.  Drawing pictures or doing simple worksheets can help kids connect with their feelings in a more tangible way.  Occasionally, help them balance out their negative feelings by giving them an opportunity to identify the gifts that come from the experiences with their sibling.

Teach Them Coping Skills

When your child is feeling overwhelmed with living with their sibling’s medical or neurological challenges, give them a few ways to cope.  You can help them write up a list of things they like to do that help them calm down like deep breathing exercises and/or give them some safe ways to escape like reading a book or watching a favorite movie.

Get Special Time Alone

As parents of children that need extra support, we may also be dealing with typical siblings who often feel left out.  Set-up a time weekly to get time alone with your typical child and make it a point to do something that taps into one of their fascinations or interests.  One Ground Rule – No talking about anything except everyday normal things!

Learn to appreciate and support your typical child’s experience.  Take some time to help them express their feelings, give them some tangible coping skills, and get some one-on-one time with them each week.  These tools will help them managed their feelings and be ready to embrace the gifts that come with their special journey.  Simple supports for more peaceful days!

Carolyn Dalgliesh, founder of Systems for Sensory Kids, is thrilled to be doing a four-part guest blog series for 46 Mommas Shave for the Brave – The 46 Mommas are on a mission to raise awareness, raise funds for research and inspire others to help fund a cure for childhood cancer.  As a professional organizer and a “sensory” mom, Carolyn is honored to be a sponsor of 46 Mommas and to have an opportunity to support these amazing parents with sensory organizing tips!  

Successfully Managing Transitions

Many children who are living with a medical condition and/or innate neurological challenges (like those living with ADHD/ADD, anxiety disorder, OCD, sensory processing disorder or autism) develop anxiety and stress around any sort of change or unfamiliar situations.  Here are some simple tips to help you support your child’s anxiety around transitions:

1. SET EXPECTATIONS

Use a daily or weekly calendar so your child has a visual map of the day and knows when transitions might be happening.  Be mindful of how much preparation time is needed for your child.  For example, a child with a processing delay might need a map of the week to help them absorb what is coming while a child who worries might just need 24 hours at a time.

2. DRAW A MENTAL PICTURE

Often children living with anxiety and/or stress have a hard time picturing what might be coming.  You can help them draw a mental picture about the upcoming experience, person, or place.  A few ways you can do this is by checking out information on-line, role-playing, or using information from previous, similar experiences.  Other tools include making a visual booklet about the person, place or experience, creating a checklist about how an experience might unfold, or a creating a scavenger-hunt like game when in a new place.  Taking some time to prepare before and/or while in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar transition can help children get over-the-hump and get started.

3. HIGHLIGHT HAPPY

Highlight the Happy place, thought, feeling, person, and/or thing that they might experience as a result of making it through the transition.  Incorporate this in the mental picture and visual aids you create.  When doing something challenging, most of us need something to work towards and children are no different.  Finding that small thing that your child will connect to can make all the difference in pushing through uncomfortable times and uncomfortable feelings.

Begin to tame transition anxiety for your child.  By setting expectations, helping your child draw a mental picture, and highlighting the happy – you can begin to give your child some control over uncomfortable and unfamiliar transitions.   Simple supports for more peaceful days!

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