Category Archives: behavior issues

Want Better Self-Regulation in Young Children? Help Them Manage Aggression

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You might think as a pediatric OTR, I would be writing a post about sensory-based treatment for self-regulation.  And I have in the past.  Not today.

But I have been an OTR for decades, and what I know about today’s children is that agitated and dysregulated kids often need help managing aggressive impulses and negative emotions first, in order for me to assess whether or not their behaviors have a sensory basis.

That’s right:  a young agitated child cannot be assumed to have sensory processing difficulties if they haven’t learned any self-management tools.  It is too easy to assign them a label, and I refuse to do that.  But I can and will use effective techniques to manage aggression before I jump in with all the bells and whistles from my sensory processing treatment bag.

What works for me?

I get a lot of mileage out of Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Toddler on the Block strategies.  Once I learned these simple techniques, I applied them to every situation in which a young child was oppositional, aggressive, defiant, or threatening/delivering a tantrum.   That could be every session!  Toddlers aren’t known for their easy-going ways.

His Patience Stretching, Fast Food Rule, and Time-Ins are my three-legged stool that supports my therapy sessions.  Read Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child and Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  Kids aren’t born with the ability to handle frustration and manage impulses.  Adults teach them how to deal with their feelings.  When they aren’t taught what to do when they are disappointed, when they want attention, or when they are angry, things can get pretty unpleasant.  The good news is that learning can begin around their first birthday.

Job number one should never be unclear to anyone, but as time has gone on, fewer and fewer parents seem to communicate it clearly:  physical violence from anyone isn’t acceptable at any time.

Are parents committing violence against their child?  No.  It is the child that is biting, hitting, or damaging items.   “We don’t hurt people or animals in this house” isn’t always communicated clearly to a child.  I never hear a parent say that they like being smacked across the face by their child, but they also seem to struggle to clearly communicate that this behavior is unacceptable.  Resorting to responding with violence is not helpful.  Teaching how to manage aggression can be done without spanking a child or even raising their voice.  Changing their tone of voice and rapidly putting the child out of arm’s reach will make it clear to their child that they have crossed a line.  But so many parents seem hesitant to set limits, and some seem to worry that being firm will harm their child or hurt their feelings.  This is coming from,  remember, the same child that just smacked them in the face or bit them.  By not reacting clearly, parents are in fact communicating that aggression toward others isn’t a problem.

I try hard to teach parents that it is kind and loving to teach children that they can have their feelings but they cannot express them with aggression.  There are limits in the wider world, and if they act this way with people that don’t love them, the consequences aren’t going to be good.  Learning to hear “no” from someone that loves you is a lot easier.

Young children need to learn the vocabulary of negative emotions like anger, disappointment, frustration and sadness.  They need to practice waiting and need to be spoken to in a way that makes it clear that they are understood but may not get their way all the time.  Negotiation and appreciation go hand in hand.  Dr. Karp’s techniques really work for me, and they aren’t difficult to learn or use.  I wish every parent would try even one and see how easy they can be incorporated into daily life with young children!

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Is Your Child With Low Tone “Too Busy” to Make it to the Potty?

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Since writing my first e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, I have fielded a ton of questions about the later stages of potty training.  One stumbling block for most children appears to be “potty fatigue”.  They lose the early excitement of mastery, and they get wrapped up in whatever they are doing.  What happens when you combine the effects of low tone with the inability of a  young child to judge the consequences of delaying a bathroom run?  This can lead to delaying a visit to the bathroom until it is too late.  Oops.

Kids with low tone often have poor interoceptive processing.  What is that?  Well, interoception is how you perceive internal sensory information.  When it comes to toileting, you feel fullness in your bladder that presses on your abdominal wall, in the same way you feel a full stomach.  This is how any of us know that we have to “go”.  If you wait too long, pressure turns to a bit of pain.  Low muscle tone creates a situation in which the stretch receptors in the abdominal muscles and in the bladder wall itself don’t get triggered until there is a stronger stimulus.  There may be some difficulty in locating the source of pressure as coming from the bladder instead of bowel, or even feeling like it could be coming from their back or stomach.  This leads to bathroom accidents if the toilet is too far away,  if they can’t walk fast enough, or if they cannot pull down their pants fast enough.  You have to work on all those skills!

Add in a child’s unwillingness to recognize the importance of the weak sensory signals that he or she is receiving because they are having too much fun or are waiting for a turn in a game or on a swing.  Uh-oh.  Not being able to connect the dots is common in young children.  That is why we don’t let them cross a busy street alone until they are well over 3 or 4.  They are terrible at judging risk.  Again, this means there are skills to develop to avoid accidents.

What should parents do to help their children limit accidents arising from being “too busy to pee?”

  1. Involve kids in the process of planning and deciding.  A child that is brought to the potty without any explanations such as “I can see you wiggling and crossing your legs.  That tells me that you are ready to pee” isn’t being taught how to recognize more of their own signs of needing the potty.
  2. Allow kids to experience the consequences of poor choices.  If they refused to use the potty and had an accident, they can end up in the tub to wash up, put their wet clothes in the washer, and if they were watching a show, it is now over.  They don’t get to keep watching TV while an adult wipes them, changes them, and cleans up the mess!
  3. Create good routines.  Early.  Just as your mom insisted that you use the bathroom before leaving the house, kids with low tone need to understand that for them, there is a cost to overstretching their bladder by “holding it”  Read  Teach Kids With Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Or Low Tone: Don’t Hold It In! to learn more about this.  The best strategy is to encourage a child to urinate before their bladder is too full, make potty routines a habit very early in life, and to develop the skills of patience stretching Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  from an early age.  Creating more patience in young children allows them to think clearly and plan better, within their expected cognitive level.

Looking for more information on managing daily life with your special needs child?

I wrote three e-books for you!

My e-book on toilet training, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, and my e-books on managing pediatric hypermobility, are available on Amazon as read-only downloads, and on Your Therapy Source as printable downloads.  The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility  Volume   One:  The Early Years and Volume Two:  The School Years are filled with strategies that parents and therapists can use immediately to improve a child’s independence and safety.

Your Therapy Source has bundled my books together for a great value.  On their site, you can buy both the toilet training and the Early Years books together, or buy both hypermobility books together at a significant discount!

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Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For Sensory Processing

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I love working with gifted children.  OTs get referrals to work with gifted kids whether or not they have been tested by a psychologist.  Some have motor delays amplified by the asynchronous development, but many are sloppy at handwriting because their motor skill cannot keep up with their language skill.  Some are sensory avoiders or sensory seekers.  Or both.  They aren’t always in distress.  They are almost always out of synch with their families, peers, and teachers.  Without understanding how to manage sensory processing issues, these kids are driven by the need to handle motor demands and sensory input, often driving their teachers and parents a little bit nuts.

Some gifted kids really do need motor skill training and sensory processing treatment.  They are struggling with tolerating their world, and can’t achieve their potential in school, with peers, and at home.  While many kids are “twice exceptional”  and have a learning disability or other disorder in addition to being gifted, simply being gifted creates permanent processing challenges.  The gifted brain will always be driven, and it will always prefer intensity and complexity to an extent that exceeds people with typical skills.   Almost all younger gifted kids need help to understand that their brains will always respond this way, and they will constantly bump up against the typical world in ways that can create problems.  Knowing how to manage this conflict in daily life is our wheelhouse.  Occupational therapy is focused on function.  Always.  We don’t stop with a neurological explanation of giftedness.  We have solutions.

One of the most useful strategies to address a child’s aversions or sensory seeking behaviors is to create a “sensory diet”.  This can be very simple or very complex.  A sensory diet provides activities and equipment that help people tolerate sensory experiences that overwhelm them, but it also “feeds” the desire for sensory experiences that can derail them from interaction and participation.

Avoidant kids learn that more proprioception will help them tolerate noise without wearing headphones and blocking out all interaction.  Sensory seekers learn that they don’t have to kick another kid’s chair to get input; they can do wall push-ups or wall sitting quickly in the hall between classes.  Therapy that includes a sensory diet helps the child who has such pressure to speak that they interrupt everyone, and it helps the child that learned to escape bright lights and scratchy clothes through daydreaming.

Developing a sensory diet that a child can use independently is the goal of Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger’s book “How Does Your Engine Run?  Children learn about sensory modulation by thinking about their ability to perform sensory processing as an engine.  Running too fast or too slow doesn’t allow for great performance.  Running “just right” feels good internally and allows a child to learn, respond appropriately and achieve mastery.  Finding the right activities and environments that allow for “just right” processing is based on what therapists know about neuropsychology, but this program asks the client to assess what works for them, and asks them to use these strategies effectively.

This book isn’t new, and it isn’t perfect.  But it is a good place to start.  It explains behaviors using neurological strategies that work, and provides a framework for inexperienced therapists to move from prescribing to guiding.  A gifted child can begin the process of using a self-directed sensory diet far earlier than their typical peers. I have seen 4 year-olds start to master their own drives once it is explained to them.  They feel terrific when their abilities are recognized, and adults are seen as supporters instead of controllers.

The biggest problem I encounter is unlearning the behaviors that children have developed before their parents and teachers understood that giftedness is more than a big vocabulary.  Children may have learned to push a parent to exhaustion to get what they wanted.  They may have bullied adults or intentionally alienated adults to be allowed to do what they want.  They may have become extremely bossy and gotten away with it.  They may have decided that any skill that takes time to develop isn’t worth it.  They will lead with the things that they find effortless.  This will trip them up over time, but without understanding the life of the gifted child, these behaviors sprout like weeds.

Gifted children are still children, and they need guidance and support to grow into their gifts!  Occupational therapists can help them and their families do just that.

Looking for more information on helping your gifted child?  

I am writing an e-book on this topic, but you can also call me for a consult as well.  Visit my website Tranquil Babies  and use my contact information to set things up today!

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Does Your Gifted Child Interrupt You Constantly? Respond This Way For Better Results

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Gifted kids of all ages like to ask questions.  Most of the time, they have an intensity that means they frequently interrupt people.  It is one reason why they like books and online media.  They can turn the page, scroll fast, and toggle back and forth without waiting for you!

As understandable as this behavior is, it is still impolite and annoying.  This is a problem.  Gifted kids aren’t always the kids with the most friends, and highly gifted kids are so far off the developmental path of their typical friends that sometimes they have only one friend.  Or none.

Teaching a gifted child how to behave socially is important for their long-term and short-term mental health.  They aren’t trying to be difficult or rude.  They need adults to help them manage their gifts.  Here is a suggestion to manage the chronic interruptor:

Give them MORE information than they asked for, using technical terms that you think they don’t know, and more details than you would offer another child of the same age.

Why?

The gifted brain looks for three things:  intensity, complexity, and satisfaction of the drive for learning, novelty and perfection.  Giving a gifted child an answer in this way, rather than shutting them down, is like giving a thirsty man a bottle of water.

If your child sits back and thinks about your complex answer, their shoulders relax, and their tone softens, you know you hit pay dirt.  You got it right.

What if they become more aggravating?

The child that, instead, is being a real PITA, who wanted your attention but not your information, the child that wanted to jerk your chain?  They won’t react this way.  They may even get more aggravating.  When your child draws a line in the sand and baits you, that has nothing to do with being gifted.  They are defying you.  Different problem.

But the gifted child, who was simply expressing that drive, intensity and complexity?  They should be much happier, and they could even smile at you.  You understood them, you got them.  Responding this way to my clients  and getting a positive result is one way I know I could have a gifted child in front of me.  Giftedness is rarely formally tested under 5, but it emerges early.

For more information on helping gifted children thrive, read  Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….  and  Raising a Gifted Child? Read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” For Successful Strategies To Navigate the Waters  .  One of my new posts, Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For More Peace at Home and School , describes a program occupational therapists use that teaches a gifted child how to manage their drives in a positive way.

If you want to ask me questions about managing your gifted child, visit my website,  Tranquil Babies , and buy a consultation session.  You will be able to have more of an understanding of why you and your child struggle so much when they are so smart!!

Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….

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Parents of bright children often want to have their child in programs for the gifted and talented.  Parents of gifted children want their child to make more friends and spend less time in the principle’s office.

Why?

Gifted children of any age are rarely the teacher’s pet.  Here are a few reasons:

  1. Bright kids are a joy to teach.  Gifted kids are usually the children that disrupt and challenge teachers.  Bright children learn quickly and can answer all the questions.  A gifted child learns amazingly quickly and asks more questions than the teacher raises.  They can grasp a concept or an action after 1-2 repetitions.  And then they are done with that topic.  Really done.  Bored stiff or wanting to drill deeper.   This makes them out of step with their peers in a typical classroom.  Teachers have to work harder to make their lessons effective for the gifted child while staying on the lesson plan and managing the kids who struggle to keep up.
  2. Gifted kids are passionate: passionately opposed to rigidity, passionate about fairness, and addicted to logic.  They are not fond of following baseless rules, or sometimes any rules.  In fact, pointless rules are like poison to a gifted child.  Bright kids know these rules are pointless, but they care more about the consequences of disobeying, so they go along.  Gifted kids find the illogical and often capricious nature of these rules offensive to their very spirit, and will even bait teachers to get them to admit that their rules make no sense.  This won’t endear a gifted kid to educational staff, even the teachers that initially liked the challenge of teaching an intensely inquisitive child.
  3.  Bright kids learn the correct answers and rattle them off as requested.  Gifted kids believe that there are no correct answers.  The gifted child sees all the gray areas and can see the many sides of a situation.  They can even see that math questions could have more than one answer.   For teachers that are linear thinkers, this can be maddening.  For gifted kids, it is how they see…everything!

I love working with gifted children.  They can be the most fun I have in a day!  I love helping them handle their sensitivities and helping their parents understand their needs.

Looking for more ways to help your gifted child?

If you are the parent of a gifted child and would like to learn more about how to approach everyday issues with confidence and compassion, visit my website Tranquil Babies and purchase a consultation session under Happiest Toddler on the Block.  Even if your gifted child isn’t a toddler, that will be OK.  You will get a 30-minute session focused on you and your child!

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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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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 should know 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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How Using Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule Transforms Kids With Special Needs

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Yes, I said the word transform.  I know that hyperbole isn’t always appropriate when you are a therapist (we try to hedge our bets with predictions), but I am willing to go out on a limb in this instance and say that learning this single Happiest Toddler on the Block technique will make a difference with any child with special needs that functions with over a 12-15 month cognitive level.  Will it work with older children?  Absolutely.  Done right, it will also work on spouses and co-workers!

What is the Fast Food Rule?  You can read more about it here Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation With Happiest Toddler On The Block but the simplest way to explain it is that when you have an upset person, they get to express themselves first, then the adult paraphrases the upset person’s expression with about 1/3 of the emotion that was used.  The paraphrasing is done at the level of comprehension of the upset person.  This means that someone who has a very low language level and is very upset may only hear “You say NO NO NO”.  Remember that any degree of agitation immediately lowers language comprehension IN EVERYONE.  Even you.

That’s it.  The phrase may have to be repeated a few times until the adult observes signs that the upset person’s agitation is decreasing (not necessarily over).  What are those signs?  A decrease in screaming volume or intensity, more eye contact, stillness of the body, turning to the adult rather than turning away, etc.  If the problem isn’t clear, altering the phrase is OK.  No harm done if you get it wrong; try again to state what their problem is.

ONLY WHEN THE UPSET PERSON HAS DECREASED THEIR AGITATION IS IT PERMISSIBLE TO OFFER A SOLUTION, OR EVEN CONSOLATION.

Why?  Because until the upset person REGISTERS that the adult understands the nature and the degree of stress, they will continue to protest to make their point.  It doesn’t matter if the point is pointless.  All the better.  Being understood is more important than being corrected.  Always.

Because young children’s brains are immature, their agitation may start up again after the problem is solved.  This is neurological, not psychological.  Rinse and repeat the FFR, and come out on the other side calmer.

Why does this transform the life of a special needs child?

Kids with special needs often need to be more regulated than the average child.  They can be unsteady, difficult to understand even when calm, have medical issues that get worse when they are agitated, and fatigue rapidly on a good day.  Being upset makes safety, endurance, sensitivity and sensory seeking worse.  Sometimes much worse.

If your child or your client has any of these issues (and I have yet to work with a child with special needs that doesn’t have ONE or more of them), then you need to learn the FFR today and use it consistently.

  • Kids with cerebral palsy can move with better safety awareness and expend less energy.
  • Kids with hyper mobility are also safer, less fatigued and can focus on movement quality.
  • Children with sensory processing issues are more modulated, less aversive or sensory seeking.
  • Kids with ASD do less self-stimulation and have less aggressive behaviors.

 

The biggest obstacle for me?  Fear of using Dr. Karp’s Toddler- Ese language strategy, which sounds infantile to the ears of an adult, because I thought that I sounded like an idiot in front of parents (who were paying me a lot of money to treat their child).  It turns out that not being able to calm a child makes me look much more like an idiot, and effectively getting a child calm and focused makes me look like a skilled professional.

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How Dr. Harvey Karp Helps Kids AND Adults with Regulation Issues

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Can you do DBT with toddlers?  Well, Marsha Linehan probably would say no, but the Fast Food Rule and Patience Stretching come as close as you ever could!

Many child psychologists and psychotherapists are focusing on attachment theory and the problems of poor emotional regulation in children.  The rise of self-harm behaviors in teens and aggression in children as young as 3 can be related to difficulties handling emotions and experiences that increase arousal levels but never get resolved.

Not every child who throws their book down in frustration or slams their bedroom door needs to see a therapist.  But I do wonder how many of those teens that cut themselves, starve themselves or get suspended for putting their hands on a teacher or fellow student, actually needed Dr. Karp’s techniques when they were 3 or 4.  Maybe, just maybe, if they had been helped with Patience Stretching when they wanted that toy, or if someone had used the Fast Food Rule with them when they had a tantrum Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child, maybe they would be in better shape at 13.

Why?

Because these techniques don’t just work on the child.  They work on the adult using them as well.  And adults who can self-regulate raise kids who learn to do it too.

When I use Patience Stretching( Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! ) with a toddler that wants one toy while I want them to work a bit longer on a therapy task, I am actually receiving the benefits of the technique as well.  I am both teaching and experiencing the reduction in frustration and the decrease in agitation as this strategy calms down the whole situation.  Oxytocin gets released when we calm down with a child, and adults need that hit as much as children do.  If we “go there” with an agitated child, we feel worse, even if we think we won because we have the power to deny or punish.  It doesn’t feel good to do either, but it also doesn’t feel good to give into a screaming child.  Not really.  Even the most permissive adult will say no to something dangerous, and then the child who is unfamiliar with hearing “no” will really explode.

The good news is that you don’t have to get an advanced degree to use Dr. Karp’s strategies.  You have to practice them so that your delivery is flexible and confident, but anyone can do it, not just therapists.  In fact, if these techniques don’t work well once you improve your delivery, that could be one way to decide that you need to consult a child specialist.

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Secrets to Teaching Young Children to Share

 

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It is the rare toddler that eagerly gives up a desired toy or snack to share with another child.  Yup; your child isn’t any different from the great majority of kids out there.

You may even have witnessed the “grab-and-go” move, where they take a toy from another child and then quickly escape to a corner of the room.  I know it doesn’t feel great when the thief is your child, but it also doesn’t mean they are destined to be selfish or live a life of crime.  It is normal for young children to behave selfishly; they haven’t fully developed the cognitive abilities that provide them with awareness of another’s perspective, nor do they fully appreciate social norms.

So, what can you do to teach your child to share?

Well, here are a few things that don’t work:

  1. Shaming.  Telling your child that they are selfish and bad because they don’t want to share isn’t going to build empathy.  It may have the exact opposite effect.   And they may try to hide or deny their behavior from you.
  2. Bribing.  Paying off for good behavior has been scientifically proven to backfire.  Paying kids for good grades, paying employees to exercise or lose weight, etc.  It won’t create a more empathetic child, but it could create a scheming child who parlays their desire for something else into a little show for you.
  3. Begging.  Pleading with your child makes you look powerless and puts your child in an awkward-but-intoxicating position.  It won’t make you more credible when you deny them something or try to teach another civic lesson.
  4. Playing the “Your behavior makes Mommy sad” card.  Children desire love and will do almost anything for it, but making it appear that they have crushed your heart because they followed theirs?  This is a slippery slope, and shouldn’t be taken unless you think long and hard about what you are teaching.

So what ELSE could you do or say that might elicit sharing?

  • You can demonstrate sharing YOUR items, and be very clear about how you made the decision and how you feel.  Make sure that you admit that sometimes you want all of your snack for yourself, but then you remember how good it makes you feel when you share and see how happy the other person is.
  • You can also have another person say how they feel when you share with them.  Children really don’t always pick up on the subtle feelings of others, and they need to hear it out loud.
  • When your child does share, be crystal clear about how good it makes you feel when they do.  This is different from telling them how bad you feel when they don’t, and different from bribing them to share.
  • Read some age-appropriate books on sharing, and try to discuss how the characters felt in the story.  Some kids prefer to talk about characters and not about their own feelings.

Your child may still shrug and refuse to share, or they may want to try sharing, now that they know so much more about it!

How To Stop Your Toddler From Hitting You and Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child are two of my popular posts that also help you help your child manage their feelings without crushing their spirit!

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Does Your Toddler Resist Diaper Changes? End The Drama Today!

 

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does this look familiar? read on!

I regularly field questions about this problem from the parents of children I treat.   If your 8 to 24-month old is fussy during diaper changes and you know it isn’t from diaper rash, keep reading.  I have some information and ideas for you.

Parents of kids with sensory processing issues or developmental delays often assume that this is the source of their child’s diaper drama.  Parents who lack confidence or parents who spend a lot of time online with “Dr. Google” think that it could be sign of autism or of poor attachment.

Nope.

At least, not usually.

If your young child is suddenly giving you the business, even though they really need a diaper change, there are a few things to think about before you run to a developmental pediatrician (or any pediatrician):

  1. Your child may have been busy exploring, and they are unhappy that they were interrupted with a task they find boring.  Getting a fresh diaper isn’t much fun after those first few months of face-gazing and smiles.  Once a child can really play, they have better things to do.   Parents can be surprised that their gurgling infant that loved diaper changes is now resisting, or even fighting, to get off the changing table.
  2. If your child is one of the 15-20% of kids that Dr. Harvey Karp identifies as having a “spirited” temperament, then you are going to get a strong reaction to  almost any action they didn’t initiate.  Bedtimes, leaving to go to the park, leaving the park to go home, etc.  Spirited kids are going to give you oversized reactions in both directions; super happy, super sad, super angry.
  3. Kids with limited receptive language aren’t sure exactly what is going on when you pick them up.  Receptive language means understanding the words another person is using.  Your child doesn’t have to be delayed; they could simply not have enough language skills to understand what you are saying.
  4. Your child has decided to use diapering as their “line in the sand” to express their independence and test your limits.  Testing limits is normal, and I believe that nature intended this to start early.   By the time parents are experiencing limit testing with a teen, they have been practicing for a while.  Young children that feel that they are being controlled will test more and with more energy.  This doesn’t mean that their parents are actually more controlling.  Perception is reality, and if a child feels micro-managed, then they react whether or not they are indeed highly controlled.  This could happen when they spend a lot of time with babysitters instead of parents, or if they have had many recent changes in caregivers, new sibling, new home, etc.

What works to reduce diaper drama?

  • Use routines to improve language comprehension and manage expectations.  Kids that get a regular diaper check/change know what you are doing and where they are going.
  • Shorten your phrases and use the same words for the same events.  See above.
  • Try not to over-react to an overreaction.  Spirited kids don’t need more fuel for the fire, and neither do tired, sick, or hungry children.
  • Give your child more chances to control other situations in their life.  Manufacture the situations if you have to.  This means that they get to decide of the doll goes in the cradle or the car, or if the blue car goes down the ramp first, or if it is the red car that leads.  Dr. Karp’s “give it in fantasy” strategies  Give (Some of) Your Power Away To Your Defiant Toddler And Create Calmness and all of his positive “time-ins” are excellent ideas to build a child’s sense of fairness and autonomy.
  • Offer the 8-24 month old child something interesting to hold and look at during the diaper change.  It could be a new soft toy, but it might be better to give them a tiny collapsible colander to examine.  The novelty factor should buy you enough time to do the deed.  Remember to change it up regularly.  They need to learn to expect that this could be more fun than drama.
  • Older kids with the language skills to understand the negotiation could be asked “Do you want your diaper change NOW or in one minute?”  It doesn’t have to be 60 seconds later.  The idea is that you have given them a choice.  You have to stick to the agreement.  If they still balk after the minute is up, don’t use this again right away.  You will be teaching them that their protests work to avoid following your directions.  Oops.

The truth is that most children know that you are going to change their diaper regardless of their protests, and they can handle it if you help them a little bit.

 

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How To Get Your Kid To Share (Hint: The Fast Food Rule Will Be Used)

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Not a week goes by that a parent or nanny asks me how to get a young child, usually under 3, to share.  I get it; it is embarrassing when a toddler rips a toy away from another child, or has a death grip on a toy car while growling at their playdate friend.

Sharing isn’t something that comes naturally to most kids.  The rare child that hands over a toy when asked isn’t the average child.  You have to teach this behavior, and you have a couple of choices.  Only one is going to give you any peace:

  1. Threats:  Telling your child that if he doesn’t share that he will lose his valued toy.  This may work in the short run, but like spanking, you teach a child that violence or the threat of violence is the way to power.  We have too much of that already.
  2. Shame:  Telling a child that they are not nice people because they don’t want to share isn’t any better.  It doesn’t make it much kinder to say “You aren’t being nice right now”  because you still haven’t acknowledged the child’s feelings. Don’t we all carry around more shame than we can handle?  I know no one thinks they are shaming their child by saying this.  Stop now.  Make a better choice.
  3. Empathy followed by reality:  Using the Fast Food Rule, you tell the child what you think they are thinking “You don’t want to share; you want that car only for you” or an even simpler version “You say NO SHARE”.  When the child nods or in some physical or verbal way indicates that they understand you and agree that this is their opinion, you add sympathy to your voice and say something like “I am SO sorry, but it is XXX’s turn now.  You will get another turn later”.  Many times the child will hand over the car.  Sometimes you will have to take it, but they might not flip out.  Your empathy and their intelligence (if they are over 18 months old, they have had experience with sharing) will help them accept the reality.  Read Stop The Whining With The Fast Food Rule for more details on Dr. Harvey Karp’s excellent strategy.

Of course, if your child is exhausted, hungry, ill, or going through a change in routine, home, caregivers, new sibling, etc. all bets are off.  They are living on the edge, and thing could fall apart.  What do you do then?  You feed, give a nap, a hug, and remember that asking a stressed child to share isn’t going to go very well.  But you also use all Dr. Karp’s positive strategies, the ones he calls Time-Ins.  Things like Patience Stretching Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! and Gossiping Let Your Toddler Hear You Gossiping (About Him!).

The altruism that gives birth to sharing should not be expected in children under 2.  We ask them to follow our sharing rules, and have to help them grow to an age and a place in which they can comprehend what sharing is really about.  You may have to wait until 4 or 5 to see your child really understand how the other child is feeling and why sharing with them works better than being selfish.  At a very young age, it is enough that they know we understand where they are coming from and we will help them follow this important social rule.

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Does Your Child Hate Big Spaces? There is a Sensory-Based Explanation

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Space; the final frontier?

When you see it, it looks like Helen Keller crossed with a Roomba.  A child enters a space, even a familiar space, and runs the perimeter without stopping to play or examine things.  They may trace the room with their fingers, or repeat this process many times before they “land” and engage in some kind of purposeful activity.  If they get upset or challenged, they may resume this behavior.

One explanation for this behavior is that it is a solution to spatial processing difficulties.  When a typical child over the age of, let’s say 14 months, enters a room, they use their visual and auditory skills to tell them about the shape, height, and contents of the room.  As we mature, we use higher-order sensory input to inform our awareness and thinking.  We use sound in particular to tell us about the space to our sides and behind us that we cannot see.  Kids with ASD and SPD are stuck using immature types of information, and need to use them more often and more intensely to get the same knowledge.

How does this feel for them? Think of Notre Dame cathedral (before that awful fire).  The soaring ceilings and the long aisles create an other-worldly feeling you cannot escape.  Your brain knows you are not in your living room, or even in your own place of worship back home.  The medieval architects knew this too.  That was exactly the effect their were aiming for.  To set you back on your heels with the wonders of G-d.  How?  By making the spatial characteristics very unfamiliar and difficult to square with everyday experience.  To have you feel smaller and less in control in the presence of the almighty.

Now imagine that every space you inhabit gives you that feeling.  You enter a room and your eyes go everywhere.  You want to walk around to give yourself more information about where you are.  You don’t, but your nervous system is suggesting it.  You feel off balance and vulnerable.  Sound familiar?

What can you do?  Treating spatial processing issues isn’t easy.  Addressing limitations in vestibular and visual processing can really help, but I think that sound-based treatments are some of the easiest and most effective.  I use Quickshifts effectively to address spatial processing issues  Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Processing, Attention and Postural Activation.  Of course, it is best to address all the sensory processing issues any child has to get the best results.  You want to cement in the skills of better sensory processing by achieving good functioning in multiple situations.  But spatial processing problems have to be addressed to achieve a calmer and more organized state.  You want every child to feel safe and supported wherever they go!

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Effective sensory processing treatment helps kids feel safe in big spaces

What To Say When Your Child Says “I Hate You!”

 

daiga-ellaby-699111-unsplashIt happens to almost every parent.  It could happen when your child is a fuming preschooler, or a haughty tween.  Doesn’t matter.  It still hurts.  A lot.  Even the sweetest child can hurl one of these statements out when they don’t get what they want or aren’t allowed to do something.

The biggest question isn’t “Why are they saying that?” but “How do I respond?”  There are a few choices I can think of that don’t involve nasty threats or violence.  Let’s drill down and see if there is one that rises above the crowd:

  • “But I love YOU!”  Hardly ever a winner.  Said with a warm smile or through gritted teeth, this rarely works well to alter a child’s attitude.  It seems that they work harder to explain why they are so annoyed/disgusted/irritated with you.
  • “Don’t you ever speak to me that way again!”  Well, you have drawn your line in the sand.  Let’s hope you have a consequence that you are willing to administer, because it is likely that you will be hearing this again.  Maybe soon.
  • “Wow, that hurts me”  OK, that sounds heartfelt and honest.  The problem is that at this moment, your child may be trying to hurt you.  You have just informed your child that success has been achieved.  In the long run they probably aren’t sociopaths, and they probably will regret hurting you.  But right now?  They aren’t in a place in which they care about your feelings as much as you’d like.

 

And the answer that might just work?

  • ” You are really, really mad at me right now”  Stating how they feel using a fraction of the energy and emotion that your child is spewing is, wait for it….The Happiest Toddler on the Block’s Fast Food Rule.  Yes, the same strategy you use when your two year-old’s cookie falls on the floor can help you with this situation as well.  Because making it clear to the upset person that you “get” them, even if you don’t agree with them, can dissipate some of the indignant venom fast.  You might have to repeat it again after you hear more words about what an idiot you are, or what a bad mommy you are.  Only after you see that they have dialed down some of the venom can you offer a solution, a trade, or a bit of commiseration.  Why?  Because jumping in too soon sends the message that what you’d truly like is to shut them up.  That will not be good.

Want more information on THTOTB strategies?  Read Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation With Happiest Toddler On The Block and Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!.

The Subtle Ways Long Term Medical Care Affects Infant and Toddler Development

 

hannah-tasker-333889-unsplashThe good news:  more and more extremely premature and medically complex babies are surviving.  The bad news: there is a cost to the extended and complex treatment that saves their lives and helps them to thrive.  This post is an effort to put out in the open what pediatric therapists know only too well goes on after the medical crisis (or crises) are over.   Only when you know what you are seeing can you change it.

This is not an exhaustive list; it is a list of the major complications of a complex medical course of treatment on behavior:

  1. Your child is likely aware that their coughing, crying, or other reactions will stop parents and even some medical professionals in their tracks.  I have had kids who didn’t get what they wanted learn to hold their breath until they turned blue.  If you have worked in medicine, you should know that if a child does this and faints, they will immediately begin breathing again.  It doesn’t scare me.  But it can terrify family members, teachers, and other caregivers.  They will stop whatever they were doing and may give in to any demand right away.  Many kids learn who will take the bait impressively fast.  It is very damaging to a child’s relationships and destroys their ability to handle frustration.
  2. Invasive treatments have been done while distracting your child and often without involving your child in any way.  This has taught your child not to attend to an adult’s actions or words in the same way a typically developing child will do naturally.  Since learning language and fine motor skills are highly dependent on observation, these skills are directly impacted by this consequence.  This pattern can be reversed, but it is highly resistant and has to be addressed directly.  Don’t think it will simply go away as your child recovers medically.  It doesn’t.  As soon as your child can be involved in self-care any way (holding a diaper, etc) you need to engage your chid and demonstrate the expectation that they respond and interact to the degree that they can manage.  All the time.
  3. Typical toddler attitudes are ignored because “He has been through so much already”  If your child is kicking you while you change his diaper ( a real question to me by a private duty nurse) then you react the same way you would if your child didn’t have a G-tube or a tracheostomy.  The answer is “NO; we don’t kick in this house”.  You don’t get into why, or what is bothering them right away.  The immediate answer is “no kicking”.  Not now, not ever.  Aggression isn’t unusual or abnormal, but it has to be addressed.  With understanding and as little anger as you can manage as your beloved child is aiming for your face with his foot.  The parents may be experiencing their own PTSD Can Your Pediatric Patient’s Parents Have PTSD? so be aware that their reactions may be coming from a place of untreated trauma as well.
  4. Children who are unable to speak to engage you or able to move around their home will come up with other methods to gain and hold your attention.  Some children throw things they don’t want and HOPE that you make it into a big deal.  Or they throw to gain attention when they should be using eye contact, vocalization or signing.  They wanted your attention, and they got it.  Without speaking, signing or any other appropriate method of communication.  This is not play, this is not healthy interaction.  This is atypical past 10-12 months, and should be dealt with by ignoring or removing the items, and teaching “all done” or “no” in whatever method the child can use.  And then teaching the correct methods of gaining attention and rewarding it immediately.  The biggest roadblock is that if one caregiver takes the “throwing” bait, the child will dig in and keep using that method.  Adults have to act as team managers, and if they fail, the behavior keeps on going.
  5. Children can request being carried when they don’t need the assistance, but they want the attention.  This can delay their advancement of mobility skills.  One of my clients has learned which adults will hold his hand even though he can walk unaided.  He likes the attention.  The clinic PT doesn’t know this is happening, even though the family brings him to therapy.  Like a game of telephone, each caregiver assumes that the child needs the help he is requesting.  He is not developing confidence in his own home, which should be the first place to feel safe and independent.  He depends on adults to feel safe.  Oops.

 

In many ways, my job as an OTR is to alter some of these behaviors to allow normal development to take place.  Long after those medical crises are terrible memories, the consequences of those days, weeks, months and sometimes years can have significant effects on learning and independence.

Looking for more ideas to help children grow and develop?  Read Need to Support A Child’s Independence? Offer to Help Them! and The Not-So-Secret Solution for Your Child With Motor And Sensory Issues: Dycem.  Do you have issues with your child’s siblings?  Read Are Your Other Children Resentful of Your Special Needs Child?

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Does Your Special Needs Child Have a “Two-tude”? Its Not Just the Age; Its Cumulative Frustration Minus Skills

 

patrick-fore-557736I spend a lot of my work week with toddlers, and they can be a challenge.  One minute sunny, the next screaming because their cookie broke.  Special needs toddlers can have a ‘tude as well, but many professionals sweep it under the rug.  They tell parents that this is normal, and that they should be grateful that their child is going through a completely normal stage of development.

Except that many parents who have already raised typically-developing kids KNOW that there is a difference with THIS child.  It could be the intensity of the ‘tude, or the frequency of the meltdowns, or the types of events that trigger the tantrums.  OR ALL OF THEM!  Parents know that this behavior doesn’t feel the same, but they often shut up when they are told that it is so normal.  Perhaps their eyes, and ears, and memory, aren’t telling them the truth.

They aren’t wrong.

Their perception that something is a bit different can be totally correct.  And the reason(s) are quite obvious to me.

Special needs kids come in an almost endless combination of needs.  Some are physical, some are communication needs, and some are cognitive or social skill needs.  Some kids have all of these.  Having challenges in moving, speaking, comprehending language and/or understanding concepts, or struggling to interact, will create more frustration in every single day of a child’s life.  That’s the reality of disability.

The image of the placid and sweet special needs child, patiently waiting to be assisted and supported is just that: an image.  Most kids bump into frustrating barriers every day.  The toddler that has just learned to walk but can’t run, the toddler that is talking or signing but still isn’t understood by their older brother, the toddler that cannot handle a change in routines…it goes on and on.

Typical toddlers spend less time frustrated that they are unable to accomplish simple skills.  The typical 14 month-old that can’t tell you what he wants becomes the 18-month old that can say “cakker, pease” for “cracker, please”.  A special needs child could be 2 1/2 years old and still struggling to explain that he wants another cracker.  That is a long time to be frustrated over getting another cracker.

The typical 26 month-old that can’t run after their big brother in the backyard becomes a runner at 30 months.  A special needs child may not run for years.  That is a long time to be left in the dust when everyone else is running.  Is there any wonder that parents see more frustration, more tears, more stubbornness?

My saddest story of failed inclusion is when a family placed their special needs child in a toddler development group with mobile kids.  Even though this child had a personal aide, he still watched as his peers got up from the snack table and ran outside.  They left him with the aide, who then carried him outside so he could WATCH his peers climb and run.  He became distraught at home when he was left alone in a room.  A puddle of tears.  It was so sad to see.  No one (that made the decision to mainstream him) had thought of the emotional cost of inclusion to this toddler, only the social and academic benefits.

What can be done?

I teach families the Happiest Toddler on the Block strategies as soon as they are appropriate.  Dr. Karp’s techniques build a child’s skills while enhancing interpersonal connections Teaching Children Emotional Regulation: Can Happiest Toddler on the Block Help Kids AND Adults?.  Yes, sometimes you have to provide consequences for physical aggression, but mostly you focus on building frustration tolerance and emotional intelligence.  For everyone.  I use these techniques all day long.  I could never handle so many toddlers for so many years without them!

Looking for more information on special needs toddlers?  Read Need to Support A Child’s Independence? Offer to Help Them! and Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing.

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Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing

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Therapists always try hard to be optimistic when discussing their pediatric client’s future.  Why not?  Kids have amazing potential, and we aren’t fortune tellers; there are so many things that can go right.

As therapists, we also should share the reality of how bad choices create unfortunate consequences.  Among them are the long-term results of falls, especially head injuries.  Kids fall, kids trip, kids walk into things.  All kids, and for much of early childhood.  The hypermobile child will have more episodes of injury, often has greater injury occurring in each episode, and frequently experiences a slower or less complete recovery from injury.  This isn’t a criticism of parents, kids, or even acute medical care.  It is the reality of living with a condition, often a syndrome, that has effects beyond just loose joints.

This can include connective tissue disorders that create weak skin, ligaments, and tendons, decreased pain registration, delayed protective reactions when falling, and cognitive or behavioral complications that make learning and controlling actions more difficult.  Hypermobile kids often spend more years in an unstable state in which they need assistance and supervision.  And more years when they are vulnerable to serious injury.  A head injury or a spine injury isn’t an “unfortunate” event.  It is frequently a life-changing event.  The course of education and employment can be forever altered.  For the worse.

In a clinic or school setting, your therapist is bound to guidelines that indemnify them and the facility. While they cannot control what happens at home, you should know what to do to make your home safer for a child with hypermobility.  It begins with your environment, then you change your responses, then your build  your child’s ability to incorporate safety awareness into their day.

  • Create a safe but accessible home.  This expands on “baby proofing” to include railings set at a height that allow your child to push up rather than hang on them.  Removal of loose rugs and adding padded floor surfaces in common areas, especially areas where they are climbing or running.  Bathrooms are the location for many injuries once children become independent in toileting or bathing.  Instead of supervising them forever, create a safe place with hidden grab bars (there are toilet paper holders and towel racks that are actually grab bars) and non-slip flooring.  Place needed items within easy reach without climbing.
  • Teach safe movement from the start.  Children that learn how to move versus children that are passively moved will have more safety awareness.  For children that still need a lot of help, narrate your moves and weave in safety messages.  It will sink in.  Finally, don’t allow unsafe moves, even if they didn’t hurt themselves.  Tell them to try it again the safe way.  Read Joint Protection And Hypermobility: Investing in Your Child’s Future to learn what to teach them.  Children are unable to anticipate the results of their actions.  This is why we don’t let 12 year-olds drive or let 5 year-olds cross the street alone.  Sometimes the reason they do things our way is because we said so.  Until they are old enough to understand the “why”.
  • Share your thought processes with children as soon as they can wrap their heads around things.  Even kids in preschool can follow along with the idea that too many “boo-boos” will stop them from being able to play.  Older kids can learn that the right chair helps them stave off fatigue until they finish a game.  Children don’t pick up on subtle cues, so don’t be subtle.  Be direct.
  • Ask your therapists for specific safety advice, and then carefully think through their answers.  The truth is that some therapists are more safety-aware than others.  I have been told that I am one of the most vocal therapists on a team when regarding safety issues.  Perhaps it is because I spent 10 years working in adult rehab, treating patients for problems that started decades before I met them.  I have seen what overuse and poor design has cost people.  By then it is often too late to do much more than compensation and adaptation.  I am committed to prevention with my pediatric clients.  The cost is too high not to say something and say it loud.

Looking for more practical information on raising your hypermobile child?

I wrote an e-book for YOU!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One The Early Years is my newest e-book, filled with strategies to empower parents with useful knowledge written in plain English.  Learn about correct positioning to improve control and how to make your home safer for your child.  Learn how to pick out the best seating, clothing, and even tricycles to maximize independence.

This unique book is available as a read-only download on Amazon or as a click-able and printable e-book on Your Therapy Source.  Don’t have a Kindle?  Don’t worry; Amazon’s downloads are easy to read on any tablet or phone.

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Does Your Child Still Chew on Clothes or Toys?

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Babies love to munch on their toys.  They nibble at book bindings, chew the heck out of their loveys, and some little ones really love to chew their pacifiers.  As they grow, most children let go of this behavior.  Chewing and biting for sensory exploration and state modulation diminishes and a child’s behavior evolves into thinking, communicating, and smooth internal state regulation.

But some older kids slip their sleeve or shirt collar into their mouth whenever they can, and are left with a soggy mess by the end of the day.  They suck on their markers or the grocery store cart.  Their toys and pencils are ragged witnesses to the continuing use of oral stimulation, long past the first year or two of life.

Why do they do this?

Some kids are seeking to fill an oral cavity that is less stimulated due to low muscle tone, hypermobility and/or limited sensory discrimination.  Shoving a sleeve in there provides that sensory boost as muscles, skin and ligaments stretch.  Children that need more sensory input due to inactivity, boredom, physical limitations and illness use oral input as an always-available and independent option.  Other kids use biting and chewing to modulate their level of arousal (and open their eustachian tubes, BTW!).  While most OTs know about the modulation piece, the way biting and chewing impact hearing and even vestibular health isn’t so commonly considered.  Biting can stem nystagmus for some kids, and it can lessen dizziness or help a child move their eyes apart as they watch objects in the distance (divergence) for reading the board and for sports.  For kids that use biting well after the toddler biting phase should be over, evaluating any ocular (eye) or ENT issues can be helpful.

Exploring the level of stress in a child’s life outside the classroom or therapy clinic is another consideration.  Biting and chewing are calming proprioceptive inputs that a child can use when they are anxious or fearful, or just uncertain. The jaw muscles have innervations to the autonomic nervous system and the auditory system.  Kids who struggle with language processing can use biting and chewing to assist them in listening to you or in tolerating sound.   It may not be possible to impact the stress of divorce, moving to a new home, or adding a newborn to the family, but appreciating these situations as factors in behavior can improve how families, teachers and therapists respond.  Older children could be trying to modulate their level of arousal without causing trouble by running, jumping or yelling.  Chewing is less likely to be disruptive in a classroom setting.

What Can You Do Once a Chewing Habit is Established?

Once oral sensory seeking behavior takes hold, it isn’t easy to stop.  It can be very satisfying and accessible, particularly for young children.  Addressing the core cause or causes means taking things one step at a time.  Many children do well with a multi-sensory diet added to their daily activities.  More physical activity or more frequent activity breaks can help.  I find that more vestibular input in particular can be powerful.  Using whistles can be helpful when chosen well and supervised for safety and overall modulation.   Some children need to become more aware of their behaviors; older kids can use some of the “How Does Your Engine Run?” concepts to take responsibility for their behaviors and independently seek alternative sensory input.  Kids that learn mindfulness techniques can incorporate those into their program as well.

The use of chewing objects can help, but there are three concerns that have to be addressed:  hygiene, safety, and speech.  A child that sucks or chews on any object isn’t going to monitor its cleanliness, so make sure you use non-toxic soap that is carefully rinsed off.  A chewing necklace should never be worn while sleeping due to safety issues, nor can it be used when it could become snagged on branches or sports equipment.  And finally, having something in the mouth, whether it is a pacifier or a chewing toy, will minimize and alter speech if it isn’t removed for communication.  Never allow a child who is talking or learning to talk to devolve into head nods so they can keep chewing.

Looking for more information on sensory issues?  Read Sensory Sensitivity In Toddlers: Why Responding Differently to “Yucky!” Will Help Your Child and Weaning the Pacifier From An Older Child.

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