Category Archives: self-care skills

Easy Ways to Prevent Skin Injuries and Irritations for Kids With Connective Tissue Disorders

Children with EDS and other connective tissue disorders often have sensitive skin.  Knowing the best ways to care for their skin can prevent a lot of discomfort and even injury.  These kids often develop scars more easily, and injured skin is more vulnerable in general to another injury down the road.  As an OT and massage therapist, I am always mindful of skin issues, but I don’t see a lot of helpful suggestions for parents online, or even useful comments from physicians.  I want to change that today.

  1. Use lotions and sunscreens.  They act as barriers to skin irritation, as long as the ingredients are well-tolerated.  Thicker creams and ointments stay on longer.  Reapplication is key.  It is not “one-and-done” for children with connective tissue disorders.  Some children need more natural ingredients, but you  may find sensitivities to plant-based ingredients too.  Natural substances can be irritants as well.  After all, some plants secrete substances to deter being eaten or attacked!
  2. Preventing scrapes and bruises is always a good idea, but kids will be kids.  Expect that your child will fall and scrape a knee or an elbow.  Have a plan and a tool kit.  I have found that arnica cream works for bruises and bumps, even though it’s effectiveness hasn’t been scientifically proven to everyone.  Bandages should not be wrapped fully around fingers, and a larger bandage that has some stretch will spread the force of the adhesive over a larger area, reducing the pressure.  DO NOT stretch their skin while putting on a bandage.  And remove bandages carefully.  You may even want to use lotion or oil to loosen the adhesive, then wash the area gently to remove any slippery mess.
  3. If your child reacts to an ingredient in a new cream or lotion but you aren’t sure which one,  don’t toss the bottle right away.  You may find that your child reacts to the next lotion in the same manner, and you need to compare ingredient lists to help identify the problem.
  4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  Skin needs water to be healthy, and even more water to heal.  Buy a fun sport bottle, healthy drinks that your child likes, and offer them frequently.
  5. Clothing choice matters.  Think about the effect of tight belts, waistbands, even wristbands on skin. Anything that pulls on skin should be thought out carefully.  This includes shoe straps and buckles.   Scratchy clothing isn’t comfortable, but it can be directly irritating on skin.  That irritation plus pulling on the skin (shearing) sets a child up for injury.
  6. Teach gentle bathing and drying habits.  Patting, not rubbing the skin, and the use of baby washcloths can create less irritation on skin.  Good-bye to loofahs and exfoliation lotions, even if they look like fun. Older girls like to explore and experiment, but these aren’t great choices for them.  Children that know how to care for their skin issues will grow up being confident, not fearful.  Give your child that gift today!

Looking for more information on caring for your child with connective tissue disorders? Check out Hypermobile Child? Simple Dental Moves That Make a Real Difference in Your Child’s Health and Teach Kids With EDS and Low Tone: Don’t Hold It In!

Does your child have toileting issues related to hypermobility?  Read about my book that can help you make progress todayThe Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived!

Hypermobile Child? Simple Dental Moves That Make a Real Difference in Your Child’s Health

As the OT on a treatment team, I am the ADL (Activities of Daily Living) go-to person.   Why then, do so few parents ask me what ideas I have about ADLs, especially dental care?  Probably because OT as a profession has developed this reputation as either focused on handwriting or sensory processing.  Maximizing overall health and building skills by improving ADLs is often pushed to the side.  Not today.

People with connective tissue disorders have a greater chance of cavities and more serious dental problems.   Knowing what to do for your child and why it is important helps parents make changes in behavior with confidence and clarity.

Here are my suggestions to support a child that has been diagnosed or is suspected of having Ehlers-Danlos hypermobility or any connective tissue disorder:

  1. Teach good dental hygiene habits early.  Why?  Habits, especially early habits, seem to be harder to dislodge as we age.  Good self-care habits can and should last a lifetime.  Automatically brushing and flossing gently twice a day is cheap and easy.  Make it routine, not optional.  I know how this can become a fight for young children.  This is one of those things that is worth standing your ground on and making it fun (or at least easy) for children to do.  Brush together, use brushes and pastes with their favorite characters, pair it with something good like music or right before bedtime stories, but don’t think that dental care isn’t important.
  2. Research on people with typical connective tissue suggests dental care reduces whole-body inflammation.  Inflammation seems to be a huge issue for people with connective tissue problems, and no one needs increased inflammation to add to the challenges they have already.  Enough said.
  3. Tools matter.  Use the softest toothbrushes you can find, and the least abrasive toothpaste that does the job.  Tooth enamel is also made from the same stuff and skin and bone, and so are gums.  Treat them well.  Water-powered picks and battery-operated brushes may be too rough, so if you want to try them, observe the results and be prepared to back off it becomes clear that your child’s tissues can’t handle the stress.
  4. Think carefully about acidic foods.  Lemonades, orange juice, energy drinks, and those citrus-flavored gummies all deposit acids on teeth that are also mixed with natural or added sugars.  Those sugars become sticky on teeth, giving them more time to irritate gums and soften enamel.  Easy hack?  Drink citrus/acidic drinks with a straw.  Goes to the back of the mouth and down the hatch.  At the very least, drink water after eating or drinking acidic foods to rinse things out.
  5. Baby teeth count.   Because your young child hasn’t lost even one baby tooth, you may think this doesn’t apply to you.  Those permanent teeth are in there, in bud form.  Children can develop cavities in baby teeth as well as permanent teeth.  Gum irritation is no different for young children, and they are less likely to be able to tell you what they are feeling.
  6. Consider sealants.  I know…some people are nervous about the composition of sealants.  I would never criticize a parent who opted out of sealants.  It is a personal decision.  But be aware that they don’t increase tissue irritation and they protect tender tooth roots and the surrounding gums.  At least have an open discussion with your pediatric dentist about the pros and cons.  I am mentioning sealants here because some parents aren’t aware that this treatment option can reduce cavity formation and gum deterioration.

How to Teach Your Child to Cut Food With a Knife…Safely!

After a child scoops with a spoon and pierces food with a fork, time seems to stand still. No one wants to hand a young child a knife. But they should (sort of). Here are some ideas to safely explore knife skills without holding your breath or end up still buttering their toast when they are in middle school!

1. Don’t use a knife. Use a spreader instead. Yes, those little things you put out next to the brie when you have a few adults over for wine and cheese. You can find handles that fit nicely in a child’s hand, improving their control. The spreaders that have a sculptured handle add even more texture for a secure grip. With a rounded blade, these are less dangerous in the hands of young children. Butter knives and plastic disposable knives are actually capable of cutting a child’s fingers. Not a good thing. Save them for Stage 2, where your child has already developed some skills.

2. Pick the right foods for cutting practice. Children who are learning to cut will usually provide too much downward pressure. They aren’t comfortable using a sawing motion at the same time as slight downward pressure, so adding more pressure is often the output you see in the initial stages of learning. Choose foods that can safely handle their initial awkward movements. Soft solids that are familiar to them, such as bananas and firmly cooked sweet potatoes, can be sliced easily. Avocados that aren’t totally ripe or whole carrots that have been cooked in the microwave are other good choices.

3. Demonstrate cutting while cooking dinner. Children really do need to see your demonstration and hear your comments, but they may find pretend play less motivating than watching the real deal. You can absolutely let them practice with you, cutting the same or similar foods if it is safe. Even if you have to come up with a creative way to use the smashed bananas or carrots resulting from their practice, your food should go into a family meal.

4. Take this opportunity to teach good hygiene. Everybody washes their hands before and after cooking. It’s just what we do. It’s the price of admission to the fun of food preparation.

5. Create a “recipe” that allows your child to be the chef. Young children love to spread their bread or sturdy crackers with softened butter, nut butter, cream cheese, or Nutella. They can prepare some for others int he family as well. We all love to see people enjoy our cooking, right? But be creative and remember to initially use foods that they know and love. Would you be excited to cook a meal with foods that you have never eaten? Possibly not.

This is an opportunity to teach a skill while enjoying time with your child. Have fun using these strategies for beginning knife skills!

Parents of Formerly Picky Eaters Can Feel Like The (Food) War is Still Going On

What do parents of children who have had successful treatment for oral sensory sensitivity have in common with Vietnam veterans? Parts of them do not know that the war is over.

Raising a child that can become unglued over the texture or taste of a new food is like walking through a minefield. As a pediatric OT, I have seen many children make amazing progress. The toddler who once grimaced while watching his mom eat a piece of chicken now grabs it from her hand and stuffs it into his mouth. The baby who screamed when cereal fell onto her hands is now happily swishing it around the high chair tray.

It’s the parent that is still frozen in fear. PTSD is something that people assume only happens to victims of crimes or war. Wrong. The daily emotional rollercoaster of dealing with sensory issues in young children (and older ones too, to be honest) can leave parents with all the signs of PTSD. Anticipating problems, recalling the worst mealtime blowups even when things are going well now, feeling anxious even as your child munches down a snack happily. And reacting to any minor and non-sensory complains with an internal “Oh, here we go again, I knew it would come back!”

It makes sense to me. The stress seemed to never end because the meals kept on coming. You never know if it will be a horror or an easy meal. The level of reaction your child exhibits is not always the same, so you wonder what will happen. All the time. And you feel as if no one could possibly understand how this feels. You feel alone and on edge. The next meal could be the worst, so you have to be prepared for it.

If this description fits you, please don’t think that you are alone. You are not. Good therapy can help your child learn to manage their reactions to food and mealtime. It really can. But you may need some support too. Seek it out, and reject any professional that tells you to just relax. You would have relaxed if you could have. You have been through a lot, and sometimes getting some support helps.

“Toilet Training Season” Is Coming. Do You Have a Plan?

 

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Here in the northeast, the buds on the trees are reminding parents that it will be time to sign up for summer camps and preschool.  And therefore toilet training season is upon us.  Most schools for typically-developing kids over 3 don’t accept children that aren’t trained.  If they do, they may demand a surcharge, have only a few classrooms for older kids in diapers, or limit activities such as the use of swimming pools.

If you are thinking that now is the time to train, you are probably wondering if you are going to use the “Boot Camp” approach, or the “Gradual Training” approach.  Going all in is the “Boot Camp” method.  Your child’s life, and yours, is focused on learning the mechanics of using the toilet and perceiving when to run to the potty.  “Gradual Training” is slowly developing awareness and skills in young children.  You might start from a very early age, describing your actions during a diaper change and demonstrating what potties are for, and that it is both something grown-ups do and not anything to be afraid of.

Either way can be totally successful, and your choice rests on their temperament and yours, your timeline, and your available support.  If your child doesn’t handle failure well, or would find it difficult to spend a whole weekend in or near the potty, then you might consider Gradual Training.  If your child learns best by frequent repetition and rewards, then Boot Camp has appeal.  If you have no one else to watch other kids or you know your patience will be strained by a day of (your child) drinking and peeing, then you may want to go Gradual.   I want to emphasize that choosing the approach you take by looking at your own abilities and limitations is important.  So often, parents discount their feelings and end up displaying their frustration or boredom to their child.  Here is the bad news:  children think that negative parental moods are THEIR FAULT!  Choose wisely, and both of you feel good about yourselves and the experience.  Choose poorly, and you both get more aggravation than you expected.

So now that the season for training is upon us, choose your plan and get ready to give your child all the support and encouragement that you can!

Want more help?  My new e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, is available on my website, tranquil babies .  Just look for the ribbon at the top and click on “e-book”.  I go into all the details on whether your child is really ready for training, provide you with checklists for readiness, and give you an in-depth explanation of the Boot Camp and Gradual Training methods.  Halfway there and experiencing some resistance?  The chapter “Bumps In The Road” is for you!  

To get a sense of how I view true readiness, check out my post Low Tone and Toilet Training: The 4 Types of Training Readiness.  While not as complete as the chapter in the book, this will start you thinking about readiness in a different way.

Low Tone and Toilet Training: Learning to Hold It In Long Enough to Make It to The Potty

 

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If your child can’t stay dry at night after 5, or can’t make it to the potty on time, there are a number of things that could be going wrong.  I won’t list them all, but your pediatrician may send you to a pediatric urologist to evaluate whether there are any functional (kidney issues, thyroid issues, adrenal issues etc.) or structural issues ( nerve, tissue malformations).  If testing results are negative, some parents actually feel worse rather than better.

Why?  Because they may be facing a situation that is harder to evaluate and treat:  low tone reducing sensory awareness and pelvic floor control.

Yes, the same problem that causes a child to fall off their chair without notice can give them potty problems.  When their bladder ( which is another muscle, after all) isn’t well toned, it isn’t sending sensory information back to the brain.  The sensors that respond to stretch aren’t firing and thus do not give a child accurate and timely feedback.  It may not let them know it is stretched until it is ready to overflow.  If the pelvic floor muscles are also lax, similar problems.  Older women who have been pregnant know all about what happens when you have a weak pelvic floor.  They feel like they have to “go”  but can’t hold it long enough to get to the bathroom!   Your mom and your daughter could be having the same problems!!

What can you do to help your child?  Some people simply have their kids pee every few hours, and this could work with some kids in some situations.  Not every kid is willing to wear a potty watch (they do make them) and the younger ones may not even be willing to go.  The older ones may be so self-conscious that they restrict fluids all day, but that is not a great idea.  Dehydration can create medical issues that they can’t fathom.  Things like fainting and kidney stones.

Believe it or not, many pediatric urologists don’t want kids to empty their bladder before bedtime.  They want kids to gradually expand the bladder’s ability to hold urine for a full 8-10 hours.  I think this is easier to do during the day, with a fully awake kid and a potty close at hand.  Too many accidents make children and adults discouraged.  Feeling like a failure isn’t good for anyone, and children with low tone already have had frustrating and embarrassing experiences.  They don’t need more of them.

There are a few ideas that can work, but they do take effort and skill on the part of parents:

First, practice letting that bladder fill up just enough for some awareness to arise.  You need to know how much a child is drinking to figure out what the right amount is, and your child has to be able to communicate what they feel.  This is going to be more successful with children with at least a 5-6 year-old cognitive/speech level.  Once they notice what they are feeling down there right before they pee, you impress on them that when they feel this way that they can avoid an accident by voiding as soon as they can.  Try to get them to create their own words to describe the sensation they are noticing.  That fullness/pressure/distention may feel ticklish, it may be felt more in their belly than lower down; all that matters is that you have helped your child identify it and name it.

You have to start with an empty bladder, and measure out what they are drinking so you know approximately how much fluid it takes them to perceive some bladder stretching.    It helps if you can measure it in a way that has meaning for them.  For me, it would be how many mugs of coffee.  For a child it might be how many mini water bottles or small sport bottles until they feel the need to “go”.  You also need to know how long it takes their kidneys to produce that amount of urine.  A potty watch that is set to go off before they feel any sensation isn’t teaching them anything.

The second strategy I like involves building the pelvic floor with Kegels and other moves.  Yup, the same moves that you do to recover after you deliver a baby.  The pelvic floor muscles are mostly the muscles that you contract to stop your urine stream.  Some kids aren’t mentally ready to concentrate on a  stop/start exercise, and some are so shy that they can’t do it with you watching.  But it is the easiest way to build that pelvic floor.  There are other core muscle exercises that can help, like transverse abdominal exercises and pelvic tilt exercises.  Boring for us, and more boring for kids.  But they really do work to build lower abdominal strength.  If you have to create a reward system for them to practice, do it.  If you have to exercise  with them, all the better.  A strong core and a strong pelvic floor is good for all of us!

Finally, don’t forget that the same things that make adult bladders edgy will affect kids.  Caffeine in sodas, for example.  Spicy foods.  Some medications for other issues irritate bladders or increase urine production.  Don’t forget constipation.  A full colon can press on a full bladder and create accidents.

Interested in learning more about toilet training?  My e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone is available on my website, tranquil babies.  Just click ‘e-book” on the ribbon at the top of the home page, and learn about my readiness checklists, and how to deal with everything from pre-training all the way up to using the potty in public!

 

 

 

 

Hypermobility in Young Children: When Flexibility Isn’t Functional

Your grandma would have called it being ” double jointed”.   Your mom might mention that she was the most flexible person in every yoga class she attended.  But when extra joint motion reduces your child’s performance or creates pain, parents get concerned.  Sometimes pediatricians and orthopedists do not.

Why would that happen?  A measure of flexibility is considered medically within the norm for children and teens.  Doctors often have no experience with rehab professionals, so they can’t share other resources with parents.  This can mask some significant issues with mild to moderate hypermobility in children.  Parents leave the doctor’s office without a diagnosis or advice, even in the face of their child’s discomfort or their struggles with handwriting or recurrent sports injuries.  Who takes hypermobility seriously?  Your child’s OT and PT.

Therapists are the specialists who analyze functional performance and create effective strategies to improve stability and independence.  I will give a shout-out to orthotists, physiatrists and osteopaths for solutions such as splints and prolotherapy.  Their role is essential but limited, especially with younger children. Nobody is going to issue a hand splint or inject the ligaments of a child under 5 unless a child’s condition is becoming very poor very quickly.  Adaptations, movement education and physical treatments are better tolerated and result in more functional gains for most middle and moderately involved hypermobile children.  Take a look at Hypermobility and Proprioception: Why Loose Joints Create Sensory Processing Problems for Children to understand more about what an OT can do to help your child.

Low tech doesn’t mean low quality or low results.  I have done short consults with children that involve only adaptations to sitting and pencil choice for handwriting, with a little ergonomic advice and education of healthy pacing of tasks thrown in.  All together, we manage to extend the amount of time a child can write without pain.  Going full-tilt paperless is possible when pain is extreme, but it involves getting the teachers and the district involved.  Not only is that time-consuming and difficult to coordinate, it is overkill for those mildly involved kids who don’t want to stand out.  Almost nothing is worse in middle school than appearing “different”.  A good OT and a good PT can help a child prevent future problems, make current ones evaporate, or minimize a child’s dependence and pain.

Hypermobile kids are often bright and resourceful, and once they learn basic principles of ergonomics and joint protection, the older children can solve some of their own problems.  For every child that is determined to force their body to comply with their will to compete without adaptation, I meet many kids that understand that well-planned movements are smarter and give them less pain with more capability.  But they have to have the knowledge in order to use it.  Therapists give them that power.

Parents:  please feel free to comment and share all your great solutions for your child with hypermobility, so that we all can learn from YOU!

Is your hypermobile child also struggling with toilet training or incontinence?  Check out Low Tone and Toilet Training: Learning to Hold It In Long Enough to Make It to The Potty  to gain an understanding of how motor and sensory issues contribute to this problem, and how you can help your child today!