Category Archives: Uncategorized

Teaching Children Emotional Regulation: Can Happiest Toddler on the Block Help Kids AND Adults?

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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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When Should You Tell A Child NOT to Erase Their Mistake?

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I wrote a post on erasing Teach Your Kindergartener How To Erase Like a Big Kid and one on erasers Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser , but there are a few situations in which you don’t want a child to run for the eraser.

  1. The child who stalls for time.  Some kids want to run down the clock on their therapy session or on their homework time, and realize that erasing can help them do just that.  The fun of rubbing the eraser on the paper exceeds the fun of struggling to write or struggling to answer a question.
  2. The kid that gets upset when they make a mistake.  Some children are oblivious, but some are distressed when they write poorly.  So upset that they lose some of their focus and ability to listen to your suggestions/instructions.
  3. The child who persistently traces over their original mistake.  These kids were taught with a lot of tracing in pre-K and K, and their brains have been trained to trace.  When they see the faint outline of their mistake, they have to struggle NOT to trace it.  Oops.

What SHOULD you do?

These strategies assume that an adult is helping a child directly.  You may not need to remain there for the entire homework assignment, but adult assistance is needed to get this train turned around:

  • Ask them to write the word again.  You may need to fold the paper so that their mistake is not visible, but a correct model is visible.  You may have to write a new visual model in the margins or above their work space.
  • Use Handwriting Without Tears pages.  Their workbook pages are designed to be simple but offer visual models across the page, not just at the left margin.
  • Erase the mistake yourself.  Adults can use more force and erase more effectively.
  • Make a copy (or 2) of your child’s homework so that you can ask them to start over again, but only if it is a short assignment.  No one wants to rewrite a long page.
  • Provide more instruction before they begin their word or sentence.  A reminder that certain letters are tricky or that they need to space words out How Do You Teach Word Spacing? can prevent errors.

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Are You a Trauma Survivor AND the Parent of a Special Needs Child?

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First, let me say that trauma survivors can be among the most loving and active parents I work with as a pediatric occupational therapist.  How do I know they are survivors?  Some parents share their histories openly, and some aren’t aware of what their actions and words reveal.  Therapists that have worked in psychiatry are particularly attuned to patterns of behavior that suggest a history of trauma.  And after therapy has gone on for a while and the therapeutic relationship blossoms, some parents wish to share more of their personal story with me.

Trauma survivors that had complicated pregnancies Can The Parents of Pediatric Clients Have PTSD? , have children with genetic disorders, or deliver children who develop developmental delays, come in all ages and social/support situations.  Some currently have a therapist for support, and some have done a tremendous amount of therapy in the past.  Others may not even recognize that what they experienced in the past was traumatic, or that there is specialized help for trauma-related issues.

What they all have in common is the (mostly) sudden stressor of having a child with special needs, the seemingly endless daily demands of care, and the constant seeking/managing of medical, educational and therapy services.  Survivors of trauma may not realize that they aren’t alone with their feelings of distress, or that their child’s therapists can help them cope.

I wrote a post on how therapists can help a child’s siblings, How an Occupational Therapist Can Help The Siblings of Special Needs Children , but parents can ask for and receive support from therapists for themselves as well:

The simplest way therapists can help you is to validate the real demands of care and give you some perspective on what other family’s lives are really like.  We are aware that we are asking parents to do home programs and obtain equipment and toys that facilitate development.  We also know that life is messy, and it is OK if you admit that you find it hard just getting through the day.  You can ask us if other parents go through the same things that you do, and you will find out that you might be doing more than we expect.

If you are having a rough period, ask us to give you just the ONE thing that would be the easiest to incorporate into your day that would help your child this week.  We won’t be offended.  You might be surprised to find that we know what those days/weeks/months feel like too.

Some parents who are trauma survivors are less likely to ask for a review or clarification of a technique or treatment when therapists give them instructions.  This can come from fearing criticism, having been taught not to question authorities, feeling judged by therapists they perceive as punitive authorities, and even being dissociative during their child’s therapy session.  “Spacing out”, forgetting, being confused, etc. are all possible dissociative responses.  Parents who are reliving a NICU nightmare or who are triggered and recall their own medical trauma or physical abuse may have a lot of difficulty learning to do treatments on their child that involve any level of restraint or distress.  This can be managed, but only if it is addressed.  Your child’s therapists have many different ways of holding and positioning a child, and different ways of administering a treatment technique.  You can express your discomfort in general terms or you can tell us that this is a trigger for you, and you can ask us to make things easier for you without having to tell your own story.  Asking for a few reviews of home programs is seen by most therapists as indicating interest in what we do.  We aren’t offended; we are flattered.

Some survivors need to be out of the treatment room, and that is also OK.  We like to share your child’s progress, and we welcome you into the session, but we understand if you need to have some distance.  Scheduling treatment at your child’s school or in a therapy center, rather than at home, may be easier for you.  Your child will still receive excellent treatment.

Trauma survivors can be extremely distressed when their child cries in therapy, or even while witnessing their child struggle to learn new skills.  This can bring up distressing childhood memories for them, some of which they may not fully recall or even connect with their responses to their child’s therapy session.

Therapists can be healing models for actively managing a child’s distress and expressing how they handle their own feelings when children struggle.  A parent that grew up in a punitive home may not have seen adults model healthy reactions to a child’s distress.

Therapists can teach you their techniques for grading challenge and providing support that reduces your child’s level of agitation.  My favorite book to learn how to respond to young children warmly but with limits is The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp.  His techniques support healthy attachment and children respond much more quickly than parents expect.  Everyone feels better, not just the kids!  Read Teaching Children Emotional Regulation: Can Happiest Toddler on the Block Help Kids AND Adults? for more on this amazing program and how it can help both of you.  Today.

 

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Secrets For Getting 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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How an Occupational Therapist Can Help The Siblings of Special Needs Children

 

joao-rafael-662575-unsplashThe parent of one of my clients recently returned from a conference related to her youngest child’s genetic disorder, and she told me that the presentation on helping the siblings of special needs kids really only offered one niblet of advice: “Try to give each sibling 10 minutes a day of “just us” time.”

My shoulders, and my heart, fell.  Telling exhausted and worried parents that they need to find more time in their day, every day, isn’t fair.  This mom could have used so many more specific strategies.  She didn’t need another way to feel inadequate to the challenge.  When you have a special needs child, you don’t have extra time.  Some days you aren’t sure you will be able to shower and shampoo.  Even if you could carve out some time by delegating and hiring help, the truth is that living with constant worry about the present and the future, running chronically short on sleep, and perhaps still recovering from a NICU nightmare…this doesn’t lend itself to stellar time management.

There are things that really do help.  Among them are getting the right kind of assistance and support, sharing the knowledge you receive from specialists, and handling everybody’s feelings with compassion (including self-compassion) and honesty.    Occupational therapists are out there helping families deal with life, since we have a solid background in the science of occupational demands and the psychological responses to illness, injury and trauma.  We aren’t psychotherapists, but we study the science of healthy life routines and behaviors.  We also spend a lot of time learning what special needs kids need to thrive, and this includes supporting the siblings and parents of our clients.

Here are some of the things I wish that the presenters had suggested:

  1. Ask your child’s therapists to train more of your family members and caregivers.  This means the partner that isn’t the primary caregiver for a special needs child, but it also could be the grandparent or the babysitter that is the backup emergency caregiver.  There are parents who feel they can never take a break because a half-spa day would mean that no one knows how to prevent their child from falling down the steps or how to know when a child is going in the direction of a meltdown that will derail the day.  If you have a medically fragile child, more people need to know how to keep them safe and healthy.  Your child’s therapists are skilled in providing training in their area of specialization.  They may not offer it to your other family  members unless you ask for it to be done.  This is an investment in your peace of mind.  Make it happen.
  2. Find out if your child’s siblings can enter a therapy session and learn more about how to help or encourage their special needs sibling.  Therapists can teach your child’s siblings, and because they are seen as authorities and not parents, this can work well to foster understanding and interest.  Even preschool kids can learn why the baby isn’t playing with them( but she is watching) and that means “I like you”.  Your therapists are pediatric specialists and are good at helping children of all ages, even if your social needs child is an infant.
  3. Learn methods to spread your warmth and concern without promising time commitments you may not be able to keep.  Something so simple (and explained in more detail in my new book below) is to talk with your child’s siblings about your feelings of anticipation before some fun event, even if it is reading a chapter in Harry Potter.  Telling them, days ahead, that you can’t wait to be with them can feel so good.  Later, you can remind them how much fun you had.  Don’t require them to reciprocate.  You are speaking about your feelings, and if they brush it off then don’t take it personally.  Tweens especially struggle with how to respond.  They still need to hear your warmth.
  4. Express your frustrations honestly, but mindfully, to your child’s siblings.  You will both feel better for it.  You don’t have to wail and keen, and in fact I would discourage that.  You can do that with your partner or your counselor.  But your other children need to know that feeling less than blissfully grateful for their special needs sibling is normal and not shameful.  When some feelings are perceived as unacceptable, they grow in importance and sprout little behavioral problems of their own.  Start by speaking about how tired you are.  It is honest and it is probably already visible.  Mention that you feel both things; love and frustration.  You have to adjust for your other children’s age and emotional tolerance, but I promise you:  this is going to really help.
  5. Ask for help.  And accept it when it is offered.  Some people don’t think they need help, and some don’t think they deserve it.  Some think that it will be seen as weakness or laziness.  Some ask for help and get a casserole instead of babysitting.  Some get advice instead of a casserole.  And some turn down help to avoid feeling as tired and frightened as they really feel deep inside.  Think carefully about how and why you don’t have or accept help, and try doing what doesn’t feel natural or easy.  It could be the best move you make this week.
  6. Reconsider the amount of therapy and tutoring you are doing.  I know; what therapist thinks you can overdo their own treatment?  Me.  Overscheduling therapies can backfire when you, your special needs child, and the rest of your family suffer from the demands.  The time demands, the loss of participation in real life fun like hayrides and playgrounds, etc.  The downtime that any normal person needs and so few parents and special needs kids get.  That affects siblings too, in lost time with parents and exhausted parents trying to wedge “me time” into a free moment.
  7. Make choices about what your priorities are, but allow yourself to have a priority that is not all about your child.  For example, you may have to accept that your house isn’t going to be spotless, and that you may be buying rather than making most of the holiday cookies.  But if making a few batches of a precious family recipe (my best friend from college always makes her Scottish grandmother’s recipe for fruit squares) will make you feel like a million bucks, then go ahead.  Yes, life with a special needs child is different from what you expected.  But you get to have some things from your previous life that bring joy!

I am so excited to report that my newest e-book is finally done!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years is designed to empower the parents of hypermobile kids ages 0-5.  There are chapters on picking the right high chair, toys, even pajamas!  One section is just on improving communication with your family (including siblings), teachers, therapists and even doctors.  No other book answers questions that parents have about finding good eating utensils and how to navigate playdates and social events more successfully.

It is available on Amazon as a read-only download and on Your Therapy Source as a printable and click-able download.  Look for more information and a sneak peek at the ways every parent can learn what therapists know about positioning here:The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today!

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Binaural Beats and Regulation; More Than Music Therapy

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When you have so much to choose from, how do you pick the right one?

For people who have read about or tried Quickshifts  Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Processing, Attention and Postural Activation, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about listening on headphones versus speakers, and why the music has this echo-y tone to it.

The use of binaural headphones allows the ears to hear the full range of sound with as little interference or absorption from the environment.  It is important that the left and right ear are hearing the sounds separately.  The echo-y sound?  What you are hearing is the BBT; binaural beat technology.

It isn’t new.  BBT has been used and researched since the 70’s.  It is out there in many forms; you can even find it on YouTube.  There are enough studies done to prove that this technology has real effects on alertness, attention and mood.  It makes sense that therapists would like to use it to help kids with self-regulation issues.

BBT is helpful for learning and self-regulation, but only if you know what brainwave state you want, and why you want it.  And that is where therapists can help.

But which one to use?  I only use Quickshifts in my therapy sessions.  

Why do I prefer Quickshifts to deliver BBT?

  • Quickshifts entrain an alpha brainwave state.  This state is associated with calm focus and, wait for it, interoception.  Yup, the biggest new word in occupational therapy is interception, and there are some excellent studies done by neuropsych researchers that indicate that alpha brainwave states increase interoception.  Yeah!  Interoception is the ability to perceive internal states, and this includes basic physiological states such as fatigue, hunger, and the need to eliminate.  So many of our clients struggle with knowing what they feel.  Quickshifts can help.
  • Alpha brainwave states are theorized to act as a gating mechanism for anxiety, and anxiety isn’t a great state for kids with ASD, SPD, or, really, any of us.  Anxiety is a component of so many diagnoses, and it isn’t easy to do cognitive strategies like CBT or DBT with children under 10 or 11.
  • The music used in Quickshifts is very carefully designed to enhance specific functional states, and every occupational therapist is all about functional performance.  We don’t want just relaxation; we want engagement in life.  The way that Quickshifts uses music allows BBT to address specific behavioral performance abilities.  There are albums for attention, for movement, and for regulation.  They all use BBT.  At any particular time, one functional goal will predominate.  I don’t need to induce a meditative state in a child that is working on handwriting.  I need calm focus and movement control.
  • The avoidance of pure tones means I don’t have to worry about seizure activity in most kids.  If a child has frequent seizures, I can be confident that I am not increasing them.
  • The choice of instrumentation on Quickshifts albums is often more grounding than other BBT choices.  I want kids to feel grounded, not floating on a cloud.  That state makes it harder to speak, move, etc.  Being jolted into a high level of engagement without grounding isn’t great either.  Remember:  OT is all about functioning.  That happens at that “just right” point of arousal.
  • There is a progression of instrumentation and rhythm on many Quickshift albums that guides the brain into more environmental awareness and postural activation, but it is done gently.   Getting to an alpha state is a goal, but improving functional performance with less risk of overload is most important to me.  I have to give kids a chance to leave our session in a good place.
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He picked out his perfect pumpkin!

How To Stop All The Diapering Drama

 

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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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