The Yarn Connection for Grief & Trauma

For this activity you will need a few supplies that you can pick up at your local all-in-one market or craft store.  You will need:

  1. Yarn: red, yellow, blue, green, white, black, grey, purple, orangeWIN_20180305_14_38_25_Pro
  2. Small Styrofoam ball
  3. Strong glue
  4. Duct tape (optional)
  5. Paint (optional)

If you choose to use paint, you will need to paint the Styrofoam ball first and give it plenty of time to dry.  Next, you will cut at least six feet of each color of yarn and glue one end to the Styrofoam ball once the paint dries.  If the glue does not stick well to your ball and yarn, you can use strips of duct tape to secure the yarn to the Styrofoam ball.  If you choose not to paint your Styrofoam ball, you could select duct tape in a color that represents your most significant grief or trauma event and use that to wrap the yarn to your Styrofoam ball.  After the yarn is properly secured, wind your yarn around the Styrofoam ball until all the yarn is wrapped around the ball.  Do NOT cut the ends to match up in length.  Leave the ends however they end up.WIN_20180305_14_50_51_Pro

Look at your ball of yarn.  What do you notice?

Start with the longest piece of yarn and slowly begin unwrapping it.  What color does it run into?  Find the start of the second string and start unraveling it.  What does that color run into?  Find the start of the third string.  What does it run into?  Keep doing this until you have completely unraveled the ball of yarn.

Notice how all the colors run into each other as you unravel the ball of yarn.WIN_20180306_13_17_36_Pro

What if I told you the colors are as follows:

Red = anger

Yellow = joy

Blue = sadness

Green = growth

White = peace

Black = fear

Grey = frustration

Purple = anxiety

Orange = confusion

 

Now what do you think of your ball of yarn?

WIN_20180306_13_18_21_ProAs we deal with grief and other traumatic events, our emotional experience is much like this ball of yarn.  We do not simply feel sad and depressed.  We do not feel sad and depressed followed by unending joy.  We vacillate between several positive and unpleasant emotions for quite some time before making peace with our traumatic circumstance.

Are you holding the ball at the middle of your yarn ball?  That Styrofoam ball represents the incident that created such an emotional experience for you.  Death of a loved one.  Abuse.  Car accident.  Financial distress.WIN_20180306_13_19_19_Pro

If you are untangling your ball of yarn and it gets knotted up, reach out for help.  A caring professional is available to help you untangle your knotted ball of yarn.  Some tasks, like untangling yarn, are better achieve with the help of others.  The same is true for grief and trauma.

 

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15 Things to Build Stronger Family Bonds

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  1. Rub lotion on your young child’s hands and feet
  2. Make kabobs together
  3. Bake cookies
  4. Three-legged races
  5. Laundry Relay.  Assign each person a task: remove clothes from dryer, fold, categorize by item and person
  6. Starring Contest
  7. London Bridge is Falling Down
  8. Build a hand tower
  9. Hold a balloon back-to-back and walk it across the room together.
  10. Wheel-barrow racespexels-photo-206480.jpeg
  11. Lead the Blind: One person is blind folded.  The other person puts their hand on the blind-folded person’s shoulder and helps guide them around the room using only verbal instructions.
  12. Make a human railroad track. To move the track around the room, the last person moves to the front.  Once they are in position they announce: ready!  The new last person moves to the front.  Repeat.
  13. Stand in a line.  The last person passes an object to the person in front of them.  Continue passing the object forward until it reaches the person at the front of the line.  The person at the front takes the object to the end of the line.  Repeat.pexels-photo-339619.jpeg
  14. Human chain.  Make a line from the pantry to the chef.  The chef tells the first person in the chain what item they need and that person passes the request down the line until it reaches the person at the pantry.  The person at the pantry passes the item down the line to the chef.  Repeat.
  15. See how many family members you can fit in a hula hoop. Walk the hula hoop around the room.

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The “Boo” in the Taboo that Haunts Miscarriage

7 weeks 2 daysMiscarriage happens every single day.  In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports on their website that 25% of women experience at least one miscarriage during their reproductive years.  That means every fourth woman you see in your daily routine has probably had a miscarriage.

Why, then, is it so difficult to talk about our experiences with miscarriage or to gain more effective support?

Let me throw the first heavy weight on the table.  Many miscarriages happen early and typically resemble an extremely heavy menstrual cycle.  Even during these modern times with so much focus on social justice and breaking down social barriers we still cannot discuss menstruation in most social circles today.  Think about it.  When we have a cold, we can tell our boss that we do not feel well and commonly receive well wishes or understanding.  If you were to tell your supervisor you did not feel well because you have severe cramps and a backache due to menstruation there would be far less sympathy and possibly offense that you dared to bring up such a topic.

Yet, women expFebruary 2007erience menstruation far more often than any illness.  If we cannot talk about menstruation, then how can we possibly talk about an experience that often resembles an intense menstrual cycle?  Therein lies the first problem with lifting the taboo of miscarriage.  Please do not misunderstand me; I am not suggesting we run down the street announcing to the world that we are presently menstruating.  We should, however, be able to acknowledge menstruation is more common than the common cold and experienced with varying levels of discomfort/distress.

The second heavy weight I am throwing onto the table is individual belief systems regarding higher powers, no higher powers, when life begins, who is in charge of who’s body, etc.  Let me reassure you that this post is not political, nor will it try to persuade you of a belief system.  The fact remains that miscarriage forces us to confront our own beliefs and others.  When loved ones in our life do not share our beliefs we may experience some strong feelings toward them that make us uncomfortable.  It may become difficult to talk with loved ones who have different belief systems because it leads to conflict.  Isolation in our grief, or lack of grief, could occur.  Oftentimes, intensity and length of grief post-miscarriage is connected to our belief system regarDecember 2007ding life, though it can also be related to our physical experience.

Out of our belief system stems our ability to comfort, support, condemn, etc.  Our view of life dictates how we view pregnancy, and our loss of one.  Someone who views pregnancy strictly as a matter of science may view miscarriage as a medical situation that is treated much like any other medical circumstance and have minimal grief.  Not believing in life at conception or during any part of pregnancy means you are healing from an injury like any other medical need.  Your uterine lining needs to heal post-excretion/extraction.  Your body’s hormone levels need to return to typical levels, which will often include many side effects.  The physical healing of your body may take up to 90 days.  After your hormone levels return to normal and your physical body heals your experience is over.

Someone with strong convictions about life beginning at conception may view miscarriage as the death of a loved one and experience debilitating grief.  This grief could last for years or be a readily recalled memory long into the future.  Some women have tattoos to remind them of their miscarried child or children.  Some women have memorabilia that reminds them to continually honor the life that was lost, such as an ornament oMarch 2011r framed ultrasound photos.

Then there are those who fall somewhere along the continuum and may or may not be able to manage their grief.  For this reason, every experience of miscarriage is different, even within the same woman.  Grief can become like a developed skill if we experience multiple miscarriages, so each grief experience is unique.  A woman who experiences multiple miscarriages may develop a detached relationship with her grief or she may experience each miscarriage with deeper sorrow each time.

Miscarriages are often different based on the age of the woman who miscarried as well.  Our life experiences impact how we grieve and our resilience to difficult circumstances.  A woman who miscarries in her early 20’s may experience a future miscarriage in her late 30’s very differently.  Same woman.  Different experiences.  Number of weeks gestation can also make a significant impact how a woman grieves.  The same woman could have a miscarriage at five weeks and be unaffected while experiencing debilitating grief over a loss at 20 weeks.

Did she have an ultrasound?  Did she feel the baby move?  Did she know the baby’s chromosomally assigned gender?  How attached did the woman become to her unborn baby or fetus?

 

For reasons mentioned above, it can be difficult to find the support you need during a time of miscarriage.  Family, friends, or other loved ones often say well intentioned, yet hurtful, things during our time of grief because it is either difficult for them as well or they have a different view of our circumstances.  They could also say or do things that are difficult for us to receive due to the cultural or generational context of their personal experiences with miscarriage.

While I do not intend to persuade you of a specific belief system, I do wish to perNovember 2013suade you to reach out to a support group near you if your circumstances make it difficult to feel supported.  In the local Saint Louis Metropolitan area, SHARE offers support groups as well as local hospitals.  As a SHARE trained therapist, I will begin a support group on January 24, 2018.  Please see the details below if you might benefit from this group.

 

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group:

This FREE six-week group is designed to meet the needs of those who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant under one year of age. Collaboratively we will honor the grief of these losses. The group facilitator will lead memory making activities, address navigating challenging interpersonal situations, and provide a safe space to explore those difficult topics that arise. Facilitator will also assist the development of an effective support system through the grieving process.

When: Wednesday @ 6:00pm -7:30pm

Where: Baue Funeral Home, 311 Wood Street,  Dardene Prairie, Missouri 63366

Sign-up: 314-328-4702 or Jessica@comeasyouare.biz

Footprints

References:

Baud, D., Goy, G., Osterheld, M., Croxatto, A., Borel, N., Vial, Y….Greub, G. (2014). Role of Waddlia chondrophila Placental Infection in Miscarriage. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 20(3), 460-464. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2003.131019.

The 12 Patterns of the Holidays

This time of year is filled with holidays across several cultures.  One thing that many cultures have in common is:

holidays = food; family; fellowship/friendshipDSC_0992

With these gatherings comes a wonderful opportunity to teach our children many things, such as social skills, family traditions, following directions, responsibility, etc.  Food preparation is often the hub of such experiences.  Where there is food…. there are people.

If you have a school-aged child, you know all about patterns.  A fantastic way to integrate learning patterns into family fun time is to make kabobs.  Kabobs are a versatile entertaining finger food because there so many options to make them appealing, without excessive utensils.  They also allow for little fingers to help with the food preparations.

Here are 12 ways that you can integrate these traditions with some positive mental health skills building:

Kabob Pattern Core
Apple/Blueberry AB (represents Hanukah colors)
Strawberry/Blueberry/Blueberry ABB
Banana/Strawberry/Mini Marshmallow ABC (Santa’s hat)
Strawberry/Strawberry/Strawberry/Blueberry AAAB
Strawberry/Blueberry/Blueberry/Banana ABBC
Yellow Cheese/White Cheese AB
Yellow Cheese/Pepper Jack Cheese/Pepper Jack Cheese ABB
Red Pepper/Orange Pepper/Yellow Pepper ABC
Pepper/Mushroom/Mushroom/Tomato ABBC
Marshmallow/Strawberry AB
Marshmallow/Strawberry/Banana ABC
Strawberry/Pound Cake/Pound Cake ABB

Why should you bother to consider making kabobs in your family?  It is simple.  Food brings people together over non-controversial topics, if you are focused on the food’s preparation.  There are little steps within collaborative food preparation that naturally build strong attachments between family members and strengthen social skills.Santa Hat

When you give instructions to children, you should always look them in the eyes.  This often means you must stoop a little or ask them to look up at you.  Intentional eye contact is one of the key ingredients for healthy attachment, which builds a child’s resilience to life’s ups and downs.  Making good eye contact is also an importance social skill that will benefit your children as they enter adulthood and the workforce.

Another way attachment is strengthened when making a dish such as kabobs is that there is opportunity to collide hands, arms, and shoulders as you reach for the same item.  This is healthy, safe touch which often leads to laughter.  It’s possible to become hyper-focused on the pattern you are making.  When you and another person reach for a strawberry out of the same bowl, your hands run into each other and you are brought back to the awareness of others around you.  This incident also creates an opportunity to practice appropriate social skills.  Saying excuse me.  Negotiating turn taking. Saying thank you.  Problem solving if there is only one strawberry left in the bowl.  The horrors….DSC_1004

Direction following and responsibility may be targeted by how you set up the activity.  One option is to make a sample of what you want and ask your children to copy it.  In order to follow the directions, your children must exercise self-regulation.  Another option is to assign each child with a certain pattern and ask them to make a specific number of kabobs using the designated pattern core.  After a set number are made, switch the pattern core they are responsible for creating.  You could also use full-sized kabab skewers for some patterns and extra long toothpicks for others.  This requires your children to concentrate, forcing eye contact, communication skills, self-regulation, etc.

Happy pattern making!

5 Ways to Help Your Child Master “The Force”

WIN_20171201_07_56_28_ProChildren learn best through play, so when you address really big issues with your children I recommend having an interactive approach to teaching your lesson.  “Jedi training” can be utilized at several points within your child’s development.  It can be used as a foundational teaching for self-control that is proactive in helping your child learn effective life skills.  The training can also be used to help a struggling child learn how to utilize more effective skills.  Finally, it can be used to help teach siblings how to develop effective interpersonal skills.

First, it is important that your child understand who a Jedi is, which I accomplish through a list on a white board.  I ask the children I work with to tell me about the characteristics of a Jedi, and modify language to align with age-appropriateness.  For me, I dress in costume to help the children engage more fully in the activity, and I tell them they must earn their light saber.  That typically gets them to pay attention a little more eagerly if they struggle with attention.

WIN_20171201_08_14_53_ProNext, I utilize yoga poses from the Yoga Pretzel cards to help the children find “the force” within them.  The Yoga Pretzel cards can be used with modified names that reflect Jedi training.  For example, I start with breathing cards and work my way up to more difficult poses.  One of the breathing poses is called elephant breath and requires moving your arms up and down while clasped together to form a trunk.  Instead of a trunk, I ask the children to hold on to their training light saber.  As they swing their arms upward, I tell them they are charging their light saber.  As they swing their arms downward, I tell them they are using their light saber.  Charging the light saber is breathing in and using the light saber is breathing out.

When I get to the more difficult poses that require balance there are often children who become disruptive.  The poses require more concentration which is challenging for most of us.  When disruption happens, I make a statement about how a strong Jedi notices the distractions around them but can remain focused on what is happening with themselves by accessing “the force”.  I reinforce the concept by stating a good Jedi has self-control.  Be sure to explain tWIN_20171201_08_14_29_Prohat this task is hard for everyone, including adults.  Normalizing a struggle gives children hope that they can master it and not feel so isolated in attempts to conquer it.

After the children have been able to master some level of control over their physical bodies they will be ready to focus on control of their emotional and interpersonal functioning.  The first step is for them to identify everything that gets them into trouble or causes them problems at home, school, extra-curricular activities, and other contexts.  Just like when adults solve problems, kids will not know how to get started until the problem is defined.

I use a dragon activity I learned through training from Heartland Play Therapy Institute, so I cannot post the directions here.  You can use whatever dragon template you would like to represent a dragon though.  Pinterest likely has some good ones.  I know they have dragon faces for coloring pages and other purposes. I have the children write out each situation that gets them in trouble on their dragon.  I also have them write what causes them to become angry, anxious, sad, worried, or afraid.  If needed, I recommend reading the book “So You’ve Got Dragons?”.WIN_20171201_08_02_03_Pro

Next, I use a Jedi coloring page, which can be found on Pinterest, to help the children “fight” their dragons.  The children cut out their Jedi and write on the backside all the things they need to fight their dragons.  Mostly this list comprises coping skills.  It is customized to a specific child’s abilities.  What coping skills work for them?

Initially, they are responsible for creating their list.  If they need help learning coping skills, you can help them brainstorm new and effective ways of preventing their feelings from becoming dysregulated.  Instead, they can use their emotions as information to help them make healthy decisions rather than being controlled by them.  This activity helps them become aware of their own ability to solve their problems as well as learning to ask for help.

Now, what would Jedi training be without an epic battle?  Light sabers can be made out of paper towel rolls.  One should be colored red and the other green.  Red is for the Sith Lord.  Green is for the Jedi Master.  The children take turns being either the Sith Lord or the Jedi Master.  Select a dragon.  The Sith Lord tells the dragon all the poor choices to make while the Jedi Master tells the dragon the healthy choices to make.  It is a good role-playing game to help the children think, literally, on their feet about how they should respond when they become upset.  Do not be surprised if the children ask to fight YOU!

May The Force be with you all!

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What Do Depression and a Turtle Have To Do with One Another?

The activity I am about to share with you is an activity that was birthed during an art contest I was having with my eight-year-old.  Don’t worry.  Everyone was a winner!  And, my eight-year-old is in possession of the entries.WIN_20171027_14_48_20_Pro

In my work with clients I am often thinking about resources they need for processing EMDR targets.  EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.  It is a form of trauma therapy founded by Francine Shapiro.  As I began to work on my art contest entry I thought about what I might want practice for creating resources in my sessions.  My first one was a bear.  It was a pretty cute bear……. for a non-artist.  Emphasis on non-artist!

During this process I decided to draw a turtle for the heck of it and began to put the shell pattern on my turtle when an idea was hatched.  A turtle shell is pretty heavy and depression is a common experience for my clients.  What if each section of the turtle’s shell was something that was “weighing you down” in the form of depression, grief, anxiety, etc.? 

For each section on the turtle’s shell, write down something that “weighs you down” emotionally or mentally with a fine tipped permanent marker.  After you have written down all the things that feel heavy in your life, or at least what fits on the turtle, reflect on each section.  What does this weighty circumstance feel like?  Color the section according to how that circumstance makes you feel with a colored pencil.  That way you can still see what you wrote through the emotion color. WIN_20171027_15_02_03_Pro

In my office I use this for various therapeutic reasons.  For you, at home, you can use this activity to help your child with emotional awareness and to build their emotional intelligence.  Don’t stop at the completion of the activity.  Have a conversation with your child about what they wrote down and their feelings about that circumstance.  If they need help finding a solution be sure to ask non-leading questions that help them come up with an answer for themselves.

Examples of non-leading questions:

1.    What do you think you should do?

2.    That sounds really hard.  What is like for you?

3.    I didn’t know you felt this way.  Would you tell me more about what is going on?

4.    Is there anything I can do to help?

5.    What would you like to do about this?

If something abusive is revealed in the activity or following conversation then you must take action yourself and not leave your child to resolve the problem on their own.  If they are not being abused, this is a good way to open the conversation to helping your child solve their own problems when they experience strong emotions.  Just like a turtle, the process can be painfully slow.

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4 Ways Apple Picking Can Calm Your Child and Strengthen Your Bond

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Apple picking is a common tradition in the Saint Louis Metropolitan area.  If you have a child with a sensory processing issue or other challenges that interfere with social activities, you might think twice about going to the orchard.  I would like to encourage you to STOP thinking twice!  Instead, I would like to encourage you to rethink how you engage with the activity, rather than removing it from your favorite activities list.  Braving the crowds with a child who has a sensory deficit, processing disorder, behavioral challenges, or emotional regulation difficulties could sound overwhelmingly stressful, or even a little like a nightmare.  With a few modifications, you could turn a trip to the orchard from a situation that depletes your emotional resources to one that benefits all family members.  How?

The first step to enjoying a trip to the orchard might simply be selecting the right orchard for your family.  A large, crowded, commercial orchard may be too much for your child, or even you, to tolerate.  Selecting a smaller, family-owned orchard may add a little extra time to your commute, but it might be that little extra time that saves your sanity.  Starting an activity on a supportive foundation can go a long way toward ensuring a positive experience for everyone involved.  Selecting the right orchard is the foundation for a positive apple picking experience.

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Second, I would like for you to consider rethinking your perspective on what an orchard experience can provide for your children and YOU.  Video game research suggests there are benefits to playing video games, including violent games.  This research surprised me since I see adults and children who struggle to separate fantasy from reality, which often causes interpersonal problems or trouble at school.  Most likely the answer to this challenge is not to eliminate video games from our lives.  Instead, it is likely that we need to balance our use of video games with other activities, such as “old fashioned” apple picking.  An essential ingredient for discerning fantasy from reality is grounding.  Visiting an apple orchard, especially a small one, is exactly that type of activity.  Literally.

Apple picking gets you and your children out of the house and onto uneven surfaces that put natural pressure on your joints as you walk out into the orchard or walk between the rows within the orchard.  Natural pressure on our joints is self-regulating.  It helps our bodies know where they are in space, which slows down body movements.  When our body struggles to know where it is in space it moves in fidgeting patterns as it tries to figure out its spatial orientation.  This is why physical education in schools is so important.  Running, jumping, push-ups, pull-ups, human wheel-barrow races, the bear walk, climbing, and orchard walking all put natural pressure on our joints to send signals to our brain about where we are in space.  Our bodies can then slow down our movements once the information is received by our brains.  Let your child jump off the last step of the wagon, jump up to reach that perfect apple, run down the rows, etc.  It’s great for them!  Smaller orchards reduce the risks associated with a child running the way a child is meant to run. Free.DSC_0021

Another way you can help a child ground themselves through an orchard visit is by encouraging them to notice all that their senses are picking up.  As a therapist who works with a lot of clients who are recovering from traumatic life events, my first step is almost always to complete an activity that brings awareness to what the client is experiencing in the therapy room through their senses.  Integrating mind-body connection is the first step in helping my client’s ground themselves and bring regulation to their bodies before processing traumatic events.  If we are going to regulate our bodies in beneficial, healthy ways we must first know what is going on with them.  Bringing awareness to your surroundings through all five senses is a big step toward this goal.

 

You can help your child improve their mind-body awareness by asking them questions about what they are experiencing while you are in the orchard.  What does the apple smell like?  If the child says the apple smells like an apple then you can ask if it smells like a sweet apple or a tart apple. 

Other examples of questions you could ask are:

  • What color apple do you want? (then look at all the apple colors and talk about differences)
  • Do you feel how lumpy the ground is?
  • Can you see any fun shapes in the clouds?
  • What does the apple-type you are picking taste like?  (Let’s be honest.  Sampling happens.)
  • Can you hear the wind blowing the trees?

You could also use a statement followed by a question to bring awareness to your activities and encourage your child to engage their senses.  This is particularly helpful with younger children who often need modeling of a behavior as a precursor to learning the targeted behavior.  Here are some examples.

  • I feel hot/cold.  What about you?
  • The sun feels warm on my skin.  What about you?
  • The leaf on this tree is darker than the leaf on that tree.  Do you see it?  I wonder why the leaves are different?
  • The sky has some pretty clouds.  Do you see them?  Can you see any fun shapes in the clouds?

 

DSC_0048The goal of cultivating sensory awareness is to strengthen the positive experiences of the apple orchard and your attachment relationship with your child.  By creating a strong positive experience with your child you are strengthening their feeling of security.  What we know from the research is that a child who feels securely attached to their primary caregivers is more likely to be resilient in the face of difficulties.  Visiting an apple orchard with intention improves your child’s resilience to the challenges that life brings.

Fourth, the attachment and grounding experience of an apple orchard can continue beyond the orchard as well.  Your apple loot can be turned into family activities that build stronger attachment, interpersonal skills, and further the sensory experience.  For example, you could make an apple pie.  Preparing an apple pie from scratch is a good way to bond with your child through a tradition that focuses on your relationship rather than digital or material possessions.  And, making an apple pie sounds harder that the reality of making it.

DSC_0057Talk about EVERYTHING you are doing.  Notice EVERYTHING you are doing.  You accomplish this through explicitly talking about each step, including noticing how sharp the knife you are peeling the apple with is followed by a safety instruction.  For example:

Wow!  This knife is really sharp.  Sharp knives are for adults only, so I will cut the apples.  Why don’t you stir the apples and sugar with a spoon.DSC_0060

Then, talk about how it feels to stir the apples.  Is it difficult because the apples are an odd shape for stirring?

It is also best to make the dough from scratch for this particular activity.  It is easy!  You mix butter and flour together until it crumbles.  The best way to make a pie crust is to use your hands to rub the butter and flour together, so let your child do this part!  Don’t forget a pinch of salt.  Next, you add ice cold water to the mixture until you get the texture of dough.  You can talk with your child about the feeling of the dough, particularly how stretchy it is as you roll it out and try to place it in the pie plate.

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To round out this activity, be sure to talk about how the pie smells while it is baking in the oven. Have a taste test together while sitting around the table sharing your favorite parts of the experience.  The activity will be messy, though it can be cleaned up.  The memories will last forever.

 

 

Orchards in Missouri to Consider:

http://thierbachorchards.com/ (smaller version of a commercial orchard and family owned)

http://centennialfarms.biz/ (small family owned orchard without additional activities for kids)

Read Your Child to Emotional Security

How often do you read to your child?  How much do you read each time you read to your child?  Reading has been shown to be the single most predictive variable for success in school……but what if that is a very narrow view of the importance of reading?

 It is true that reading to your child from an early age will help them learn language skills crucial to effective communication.  Those language skills are also the foundation for learning math and science.  Having a child within the deaf community I have witnessed the importance of reading in the development of language first-hand.  What if that was not the most beneficial picture of what reading can provide our children?

 I would like you to take a moment to reflect on the last time you spent reading with your child or children.  Was it hurried because you’ve had a long day and just need the kids to go to bed so you can have your down time or catch up on household chores?  Were you clenching your jaw because you’ve asked your child 20 million time to put on their pajamas, and you know you are speaking clearly, yet they are still half naked trying to have a conversation with you…or doing anything but putting those jammies on?  Did they asked you to read yet another book and you’ve surpassed your threshold for needing your adult time?

Bedtime routines can be exhausting, which includes the ritual of reading to your child.  I would like you to take a moment to consider a new view of reading to your children.  What if reading, as the most important predictor for academic success, does not simply teach your child language skills but also helps your child form secure attachment to their primary caregiver, YOU.  Children who are securely attached to their primary caregivers, often their biological parent(s), typically thrive in school.  They also demonstrate healthier emotional regulation which leads to few problems in school, like being sent to the principal’s office.

How can reading help with emotional regulation?  Well, we know from various research studies that appropriate physical contact, such as snuggles, releases neurotransmitters that reduce cortisol levels and help us relax.  If you snuggle up to read, your presence alone is a stress reducer and natural antianxiety therapy for your child.  At my house, we have a special reading chair, complete with special blankets.  The first blanket is a fleecy warm blanket to feel a little cocooned.  The second blanket is a less comfy, heavier blanket to provide a small amount of “deep” pressure which contributes to a feeling of calm.  This dual blanket system is a similar concept to a weighted blanket without spending the money for such an expensive item.

Another way that reading may help children regulate themselves is the routine of reading before bedtime, or whenever you choose to read.  As you read, the neurotransmitters mentioned above can make you both a little drowsy, or at least very relaxed.  Often what happens is the breath of parent and child synch up.  A calming affect! In my experience, the rhythm of my breathing can put my child to sleep if they have had a stressful day.  The rhythmic sound of your voice can also be soothing.  Having a regularly schedule time where these things happen helps the body anticipate this time and creates a healthy habit for calming our minds and bodies every day.

 Okay.  We have talked about the biological factors that can help your child regulate themselves.  Now, let’s talk about YOUR creative role in the self-regulating process.  First up are your inflection skills.  You’re what skills?  Your inflection skills!  Reading teaches children about emotions when we read with inflection in our voices.  This is not a natural skill for everyone, including me.  Eventually I got the hang of it, and you will too.  Use different voices for characters.  You probably won’t be a Robin Williams.  It’s okay though.  Your child will not care.  Give your characters inflections that represent the emotion the story reports for them.  The best way to achieve this goal is to imagine yourself in the story.  Your child will likely develop an understanding of a broad range of emotions and develop emotional flexibility. 

You need to select a large variety of story lines as well.  Different story lines will further the development of emotional flexibility.  Different story lines will also expose your child to more circumstances than they are likely to experience on their own.  Experience is the best teacher, when you can get it.  The second-best teacher is a story.  Children develop some of their problem-solving skills through reading stories that present various problematic circumstances that require a solution.  Ask your child what they think happens next before you turn the page to teach them how to think of solutions on their own rather than being handed instructions.  Ask your child what the characters are feeling before the story tells them. 

 As they mature, select more complex story lines so your children will continue to be challenged to solve problems.  Make sure you pick story lines that include an interpersonal relationship problem.  It does not have to be a dramatic problem, just a problem that creates an interpersonal relationship decision.  The more problem-solving capacity a child has the less likely they are to be emotionally rattled by the unexpected, such as activity transitions or someone else’s behaviors.  They also become skilled in assessing their environment for non-verbal communication, which also helps with emotional flexibility and regulation.

So…what book are you going to pick up next at the library?

5 Ways to Help Your Child Understand Personal Space Boundaries

WIN_20170605_22_20_37_ProIf you have a school-aged child, there is a good chance your child has already read the book “Personal Space Camp” by Julia Cook.  Stories are a wonderful way to educate children about behaviors, character traits, and skills we would like them to learn.  Children often need the addition of hands-on or experiential activities to solidify the message the book communicates.  To help address the topic of personal space I have compiled several activities that present the same message in diverse ways.  The best foundation for teaching personal space is to start with a story like the one by Julia Cook.  Reading is also an activity that helps calm children down and can assist them in regaining self-regulation.  Many of my activities will connect to the story of the “Personal Space Camp” book as well.

First, I start with an activity that develops the concept of space.  Before you get started you will need to select a filler item.  Typically, I use rice since you can buy it in larger quantities at the dollar store at a lower cost.  You could also use beads, beans, cheerios, poly beads (stuffed animal filling), poms, or whatever inexpensive item comes to mind.  If you want inexpensive yet creative options just browse the dollar store and see what catches your eye.

Next, I select a variety of containers that are the same and different.  Initially, I prefer to use nesting dolls.  You can purchase an unpainted set rather inexpensively and after you complete the activity you can let your child(ren) pick one that represents them and decorate it.  Wait until the end of the activity to decorate them though.  Also look for other items that are the same and different such as boxes.  I usually use some unpainted wooden boxes I picked up at a craft store though you could likely find less expensive options if you shopped around.  I like to use unmarked items to drive the point home about personal space without distractions.  If the items look the same on the outside the size characteristic is isolated.  Full attention is on the topic you are addressing, which is often difficult for kids with personal space struggles.

After I have selected my filler objects, I begin by asking the child(ren) to describe what they notice about the nesting dolls.  Be okay with the silence and give them a few minutes to pick them up and observe them.  If they do not draw the conclusion themselves, I point out that the dolls all have the same shape and basically look the same on the outside.  I point out that we all have bodies that basically look the same too.  We all have one head, two arms, too legs, a torso, etc. If you have children with medical situations where this is not true you will probably want to avoid this part of the exercise.  Next, I ask them to guess how much rice they think each nesting doll will hold.  Only fill the bottom half of the nesting doll with rice.  Then, I have them look at the nesting dolls filled with rice and ask them to tell me which they think holds more.  If you have several cups the same size, then pour the rice from each doll into a corresponding cup.  It is best if the cup is transparent though it does not have to be the case for this activity to be successful.  Ask them to mark the rice level on the outside if the cup if not transparent.  Do not separate the doll from its rice cup. Talk with your child about how each of the dolls takes up a different amount of space.  Each of us needs a certain amount of space for our bodies.  We also need a certain amount of space for our bodies to be comfortable and everyone’s need for personal space is different just like some people like fruit snacks but others like chips.  Connecting personal space to something more tangible helps bring grounding to this complex topic.

Repeat most of the activity with the nesting dolls with other containers, such as the boxes mentioned above.  Get creative with your containers if you can and your child is grasping the concept.  The goal is to increase the complexity of the teaching with each container exercise if you can.  If your child gains a significant understanding of this concept then slowly move toward items that are not identical in anyway and talk about the difference in the space these items take up.

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The second activity requires hula hoops.  You can purchase two sizes of hula hoops at the dollar store.  If you have multiple children or can invite friends over, this activity works best.  Have one child select a hula hoop, then ask them how it feels to be in the hula hoop.  Add additional children to the hula hoop and continue to ask how it feels to be in the hula hoop.  Stop once you have reached the maximum capacity of the hula hoop. Ask the children to walk around.  Repeat with the second hula hoop.  Talk about how you can fit fewer people into the smaller hula hoop before it becomes uncomfortable.  This is where the lesson can get a little confusing depending on the age of your child.  Talk with the children about how people with a smaller personal space bubble can fit more people into their personal space before becoming uncomfortable, but those with a larger personal space become uncomfortable with fewer people in their personal space.  The fact that the hula hoops are the opposite size to the concept you are teaching is what can make the lesson a bit confusing for younger children.  Skip this if your child is not ready.  Instead, talk with younger children about being cramped and uncomfortable when too many people are close to you and that how many people make someone uncomfortable is different.  They should always ask someone if they are uncomfortable. 

You can also talk about some of the behaviors they might see if someone’s personal space bubble has been invaded: cranky, trying to play by themselves, not wanting to share, etc.  I also have the kids sit in the hula hoops and point out how the children often do not fit in the smaller hula hoop and it becomes uncomfortable to try to fold themselves into it.  Additionally, you can address how easy it is to invade someone else’s personal when they do not fit into the smaller hoop.

The third activity is to blow bubbles.  Teaching self-regulation, an important skill for successfully navigating personal space, is often taught through activities that require step-by-step instructions.  Step-by-step directions naturally require self-regulation and the incentive is having fun.  That said, I typically have children make the bubbles we are going to use and find several random household items to blow bubbles with, such as cutting off the end of a water bottle, a kitchen funnel, straws of varying sizes (make sure they are old enough they will not drink the soap!), small paper cups with a hole in the bottom, etc.  The sky is the limit!  Blow bubbles and ask your child to notice the varied sizes of the bubbles.  Ask them to think about how much space each bubble takes up.  Explain that the bigger the bubble, the more space it represents a person needs between themselves and their friends unless they ask and receive permission to enter their space.  Then, blow a bubble for each kid and ask them to tell you to stop when the bubble represents their personal space.  Make sure they understand that the larger the bubble the fewer people they want to be close to them.  If you want to get fancy you could add a little food coloring to the bubble mix.  I use the bubble mix recipe from the 365 Days of Science book by Usborne though I am sure you could search for one online.  Homemade bubbles work better for this activity due to the consistency of the bubbles.

WIN_20170605_22_20_37_ProFourth, I blow up balloons.  Ask each kid to blow up their balloon until it represents their personal space, just like the bubble activity.  Inevitably there is one child who claims they do not care how close people get to them.  Balloons are a wonderful way to illustrate that everyone has a personal space bubble even if it is very small.  Show the children an empty, never been filled balloon.  Talk to them about the importance of breathing and how important it is for us to have air in our lungs.  Ask them what happens if we do not have air in our lungs, then talk about how we cannot stay alive without at least some air.  We suffocate without air.  Personal space is just like having air in our lungs.  Without at least a small amount of personal space we are smothered or suffocated.  Even if it is only a little bit of personal space, we need some space to be comfortable and stay healthy.  This illustration combats ideas that not having personal space means you are stronger and promotes healthy self-care during formative years.  The earlier we learn healthy self-care the more natural it will be to practice self-care throughout our lives.

Fifth, I have book that includes a copy of an empty fish bowl.  I am sure you could find a fish bowl template on Pinterest to make this activity work.  Each child needs two fish bowls.  For fish, you can use goldfish crackers or Swedish fish.  You could also use whatever you have on hand, like raisins or skittles.  Count out 20 fish.  Ask the child to put one fish in one of the bowls and all the other fish in the other bowl.  Depending on the age of your child, it is also important to emphasis they may not each the fish until you tell them it is okay.  Ask them which fish bowl is the most comfortable.  Ask the child to create a bowl that represents what makes them feel comfortable.  How many fish are in their bowl?  What happens if you take a fish out of the bowl?  What happens if you add one more fish than what the child states is comfortable?  What happens if there are no other fish in their bowl?

 

After all these activities, I ask the kids to make a t-shirt logo or placemat that helps other people understand their personal space.