Monthly Archives: February 2020

How to Get Children to Wash Their Hands

 

phil-goodwin-TxP44VIqlA8-unsplashThis season’s flu and viruses have parents and teachers wondering how to raise their game regarding infection control.  Washing your hands is one of the most important things anyone at any age can do to protect their health.  But small children aren’t always cooperative.  Getting them to wash their hands can be tough.

The families I work with know that I will not begin a session in their home, and especially that I won’t touch their child, without washing my hands first.  Not only is this to protect them, it is to model good practice for the kids.  Some children will ask me why I am washing my hands.  I always answer them by naming two things familiar to them.   I tell them that when I touch the outside of my car, my hands get dirty, and I don’t want to put dirt on our toys.

Cars and toys.  Most kids over 2 know what those two things are, and they know that one is not so clean, and the other one shouldn’t have dirt on it.  They get it.

But only a few parents insist that their child wash their hands before they begin working with me.  Some children want to share my sanitizer spray, and if a parent agrees, I will show them how to use it.

Now that we are facing both a serious flu season and a new virus, it seems like a good idea to provide suggestions to help parents out with hand washing:

  1.   Model good hand washing practices with a bit of drama.  You have to be a bit of a ham, and remember that kids need simple but dramatic explanations for information to sink in.  Something along the lines of “Oops, I FORGOT to wash my hands!  I will be RIGHT back as soon as I find some soap and water.  Do you know where it is?  Raise your vocal inflection, and use some gestures like stretching out your fingers.  Now say “That is SOOOOO much better.  My hands feel good and clean”.  Interrupt lots of things you are doing with a calm departure to wash your hands.  But make sure they hear you say where you are going and why.
  2. Get soap that they like.  Whether it smells good to them, has a character they love on the bottle, or is foamy or even tinted, soap they like is soap they will use.  Liquid soap is so much easier for young children to handle than bar soap.
  3. Make it easy.  They should be able to reach the water by using a spout extension, and possibly help you get the soap on their hands.  Paper towels that pop out of their holder ready to dry hands are easy to hold and the best way to avoid spreading germs.  Unless a cloth towel is changed very very frequently, it isn’t the cleanest choice. I treat a child whose mom is a cardio-thoracic surgeon.  There is a hands-free soap dispenser and a box of pop-up towels in her main floor powder room.  Enough said.
  4. Ask your partner and other people in the house if they have washed their hands when your child is paying attention to you and watching them respond.  Young children don’t take notice of these practices of others unless you point them out.  Hearing about who washed their hands, and hearing their enthusiastic replies, sends home the message that everyone washes their hands.  It is what we ALL do.
  5. Spin it positively.  Some children really become frightened if you message things about getting sick.  The message is to stay healthy.  Keep it that way.
  6. Make a habit of it.  Infection control staff know that making actions into habits is the best way to ensure safety.  Create new rules about washing hands throughout the day, and gently insist on them.  They will become habits.  Good ones.

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Hypermobility and Music Lessons: How to Reduce the Pain of Playing

 

kelly-sikkema-jrFNMM6K0VI-unsplash.jpgMost kids want to learn how to play an instrument in grade school.  Most parents encourage some form of musical training for the benefits of musical training: social, coordination, attention and focus, even the suggested connection between math skills and musical ability.  Hypermobile kids can struggle with the physical demands of playing an instrument sooner and more severely than a typically developing child.

There are ways to make it easier and less painful, right from the start.

  • Steer them into the right instrument for their physical abilities.  Heavy instruments are a questionable choice for kids that have back and shoulder issues, as they will be moving their instrument around a lot.  Children with very hypermobile wrists could find the hand positions for violin or guitar much more challenging than the positions for piano or clarinet.  There will still be a lot of fingering, but it occurs in a different plane of movement.  Read Joint Protection And Hypermobility: Investing in Your Child’s Future for some details.
  • Understand that as hypermobility changes, so may the type of instrument that best fits your child.  This is a tough thing for kids to accept, but if they are experiencing repeated strains and injuries, or an increasing amount of pain, they may have to switch to an instrument that is less risky.  Remember:  hypermobility syndromes don’t disappear, and most hypermobile children will not become professional musicians.  This isn’t life-or-death, no matter what they say about their passion.  Injuries that affect the ability to attend school and eventually affect working…THAT is something to avoid.  Cumulative trauma can result in surgeries or even ending up needing disability payments.  Don’t contribute to a less-bright future by permitting a child with recurrent overuse injuries to continue to injure their body in the present.
  • Positioning matters.  Just as with sitting at a desk or a table, hypermobile kids need to use the best possible postural control with the least amount of effort.  Children playing the piano may need a chair with low back support rather than a piano bench.  Seats for all kids may need to have cushions that give more support, and any seat should definitely provide solid foot placement on the floor at all times.  Some kids may need the support of a brace or braces.  Back, shoulder, wrist, and even finger splints aren’t slowing them down; they are supporting performance.  The biggest problem will be resistance from the musician.  Children rarely want to wear these devices, and if they aren’t well designed and fitted, you will hear about it.  Ask their OT or PT for direct assistance or find one that can do a consultation.  Ask their instructor to explain why wearing a well-chosen brace makes playing easier and better.  And don’t wait until an injury happens.  Get in front of this one.
  • Musical skills require practice, but hypermobile kids may need to break up their practice or do targeted practice to shorten the total amount of time spent and reduce the physical strain.  Targeted practice requires that their instructor knows which types of practice are the most likely to build skills, rather than just adding minutes to a practice session.  Breaks are important, and most kids don’t have the ability to know when and how to take them.  They need to be taught, and the little ones need to be supervised on breaks.

 

Looking for more information on raising a child with hypermobility?

My latest e-book, The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility  Volume Two:  The School Years is now available on Amazon as a read-only download and on Your Therapy Source as a clickable and printable download!  It has practical information about improving independence and safety for kids 6-12, including sports and the hypermobile child, improving communication with your child’s teachers and coaches, and how to address handwriting and keyboarding problems.  It has more forms and checklists than the first book (Volume One: The Early Years), but still covers all the important self-care issues like toileting and how to make your home safer for your child while keeping it comfortable and attractive.

 

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Sensory Processing and Colds: Nothing to Sneeze At!

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Here in the US, it is cold and flu season.  Most of my day is spend with kids recovering from some upper respiratory virus.  A few seem to have a continuous runny nose and cough.  They also have an increase in their sensory processing issues.  Is this connected, and if so, what can be done?

  1. Anything that affects health will make sensory processing harder.  Anyone, at any age, will struggle more when they don’t feel well.  If a child is super-sensitive, feeling ill will make them edgier and more avoidant.  If a child is a sensory seeker, that funny feeling in their head that changes when they flip upside down will probably make them do it more.  If a child is a poor modulator, and goes from 0-60 mph easily, they will have more difficulty staying in their seat and staying calm.
  2. Colds often create fluid in the ears.  This is a problem for hearing.  This is often a problem for speech and mealtimes.  It is also a problem for vestibular processing.  Fluid in the ear means that children are hearing you as if they are underwater.  Their speech may be directly affected.  They probably realize that biting and chewing open the eustacian tubes from the mouth to the ear, so they may want to chew more.  On everything.  They may also be unable to handle car rides without throwing up.  They may refuse to do any vestibular activities in therapy.
  3. Children sleep poorly when ill.  Anyone with sensory processing issues will struggle more when they are tired.  Young children cannot get the sleep they need and don’t understand why they feel the way they do.  Enough said.
  4. Spatial processing problems will get worse.  Being unable to use hearing to orient to the space and the people and objects in the room, children will roam around more, touch things more, startle more, stand still and look disoriented, and may refuse to go into spaces that are hard to process, like gyms or big box stores.  Uh-oh.

So what can you do as a parent or a therapist?

  • Understand that this is happening.  It is real.  It may not be a personality issue, a deterioration in their ABA program, or a problem with therapy.
  • Ask your pediatrician for more help.  There are nasal sprays and inhaled medications that can help, and some, like steroids, that can create more behavioral issues.  If your child needs steroids, you need to understand what effects they can have.  Saline sprays, cold mist humidifiers, soups and honey for coughs, if your pediatrician approves, are low-tech ways to help a child suffer less.
  • Alter your daily routine if needed.  Making less appointments, fewer challenges, and more rest could help.  Kids can be over-scheduled and under-rested.  Therapy sessions may have to be adjusted to both be less stressful and more helpful.
  • Your child may benefit from vestibular movement if they do not have an untreated ear infection.  Your OT can help you craft a sensory diet that moves fluid, but not if there is an infection.

Read more about sensory processing here: Does Your Child Hate Big Spaces? There is a Sensory-Based Explanation and Spatial Awareness and Sound: “Hearing” The Space Around You

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Young Children, Sensory Modulation, and the Automatic “NO!”

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Kids as young as 18 months can express their sensory processing issues with one word: “NO!!”  What appears to be a budding attitude issue or even oppositional defiant disorder can be a sensory modulation issue instead.

How could you possibly tell?

Well, if your child has already been diagnosed with sensory sensitivity or sensory modulation problems, you know that these issues won’t just make it harder to wear clothes with seams or touch Play-Doh.  These issues affect all aspects of daily living and create emotional regulation and biological over-activation issues as well.  Young children are learning how to express their opinions and separate physically and emotionally from their caregivers.  Saying “NO!” isn’t unusual for young kids (and a lot of older ones too!).  But refusals that make no sense can have a different origin.

So what is the giveaway?

When a child has an almost immediate “NO”, perhaps even before you have finished your sentence, and the reaction is to something you know they have liked or almost certainly would like, you have to suspect that sensory modulation is at play.  You usually sense when your child is trying to get your attention or get you activated.  This should feel different.

What do I do next?

You also need to respond in a specific way to test your theory that sensory issues are the root of the ‘tude.  Your response should be as vocally neutral and emotionally curious as you can manage.   “Oh, really….you said no…” is a good template.  Whether it is “no” to their fave food, show, toy or an activity.  You remove all criticism and encouragement from your voice.  You don’t want to fuel the refusal fire; you want to shut it off and see what is left in the embers of “NO”.

Now you need to wait for them to neurologically calm down.  Little brains are like old computers.  They take a while to reboot.  Look at the floor, wipe your hands, etc and wait a minimum of 15 seconds, probably 30, then ask again if they want a cookie, want to go out, want to play, to eat, or whatever.  The child who needed the primitive defensive part of their brain to go offline to allow them to use their budding frontal lobes may sweetly ask for what they just refused, or respond to your exactly identical request with a cheery “YES”.

Please try to have compassion for them.

It can seem maddening to do this all day long, and in truth, if you are, you need to learn how to work with an occupational therapist in order to learn powerful sensory treatment strategies that can get your child out of this pattern.  But your child isn’t jerking your chain when their behavior fits this pattern.  They are more likely a captive of their brain wiring.   Don’t let yourself react as if they are intentionally being difficult.  That day will come…..13 is just around the corner!

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What To Say When Your Child Cries After Losing a Game

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Whether it is a board game or a soccer game, once children are old enough to wrap their minds around winning, they cannot handle losing.  Their grief leads parents to “throw” every game so that their child wins every time, or they make up games where everyone is a winner (I will admit to doing this one).  But inevitably, a child has to learn to accept that this time, in this game, they didn’t prevail.

What makes them learn to handle this without doing a “John McEnroe” and throwing the game board all over the room, or screaming in the car on the way home from the field?

  1. Model the emotions of losing, not just the noble way to lose.  Kids need to know that it is normal to feel bad about losing, just not behaving badly and not feeling devastated.  Seeing and especially hearing someone say how they feel helps children learn about their own emotions.  Play a game with your partner as well as your child, run a relay race, etc.  Just talking about it isn’t enough for young children.  They want to see the drama unfold.  If you showboat around the living room, you might want to reconsider that one.
  2. While we are speaking about showboating, you can comment to your older children on the behavior of sports figures.  Older kids can comprehend why that isn’t admirable behavior, and they need to hear why you think that.
  3. Tell children why adults don’t cry when they lose (most of the time).  It is very simple:  we know we will get another chance to win the next time we play.  We are still sad, because everyone wants to win.  They need to know that is true as well.  We also know that the best part of the game is playing, or else it isn’t really fun.
  4. If your partner/spouse doesn’t display the same equanimity about losing, you have a conversation in front of you.  Raging and bad behavior on the field or the rink has become dangerous, and you want no part of it.  Some adults were never taught these things, and some people have such limited lives that games really are that important in them.  They need help to grow up and reach for greater things.

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