Tips for the Weary Mom

We all experience fatigue in this job they call “parenting”.

One moment I can feel on my game, the house is tidy (ish) and the kids are happy, playing, and learning as they go.  The next moment I round the corner into the kitchen and find the dog licking spilled juice off the floor, while one child pleadingly calls to me from the bathroom to help her wipe her bottom.  At times it can feel overwhelming.  I was entrusted with these little humans? To raise, to teach, to keep safe in this world.  Me?  How can I manage?

Interestingly, I sometimes feel the same way at my job.  I’ve been entrusted with helping this child?  The one who struggles to learn?  The one who has such a thin line of perseverance that the slightest misstep can push them into dysregulation and a full meltdown?  The one who has been written off by his teachers, or labeled and filed away by a relative? And yet we do it, day after day, week after week.  We parent, we teach.  Because it does make a difference.  It does matter.

There are a few strategies I’ve learned to help me with those days when I am feeling especially weary.  The days when I wonder if I have it in me.  By focusing on a few things, I can move an otherwise overwhelming interaction into a positive one.

 

  • Let your face light up when your child walks into the room.  The first thing they see when they round that corner should be you, glad to see them, happy to have them here.  It can be a mood changer.

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  • Still your hands, kneel down to eye level, and give your child your calm focus and attention.  If there is one thing I recommend to parents, it’s to kneel down in front of their child when they talk to them.  It does wonders.

  • Listen.  Really listen. Hear your child from where they are.

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  • Give a mental break.  Teach your children how to have quiet time.  Reinforce the idea of alone time with your child, where they can explore their own thoughts.  It might be five minutes at first, but build that resilience.  After lunch is usually a good time, and can give a much-needed pause to the busy day.

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  • When you come back together, center yourself on them.  Snuggle time for the fussy toddler.  Words and eye contact for the preschooler.  Use yourself as their calm center for the afternoon.

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  • Think of what their bodies need.  If the mood is sour, head outside.  No matter the weather, bundle up for a walk and go.  The fresh air and activity will be a game changer.

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  • If you’re staying in for the afternoon, feed their bodies.  Ride bikes in the garage, build forts by the couch, do sensory and physical play.  Put on some music and dance.

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Meet your child where they’re at, setting aside your adult pace to take in the world at their level.  By doing this, you are communicating at their developmental level, building language, problem-solving, and fostering exploration.  Kneel down and look into their eyes: the ones that reflect your image and that reveal their heart.  Kneel down.

Costume Time!

 

Why a dress-up box is so important

Facilitating Pretend Play in Young Children

It starts around the age of one.  I see it with my own daughter as she puts “baby” in the cradle, covers baby with “blankie”, looks up, and, placing a finger to her lips, tells the room “shh”.  She then repeats with “baby”, “blankie”, and “shh” as the running script.  After several rounds of bedtime for baby, the doll goes in a stroller for a “walk” around the room, then repeat.

Facilitating this play in your child can sometimes be tricky for the parent who wants to direct the play.  We want to talk the whole time, praising our children and commenting on every new move we see.  It’s often best to sit on the floor nearby, smile, label slowly, and let your child repeat the sequence until they are ready to move on.  Try this experiment: sit cross-legged near your child, keeping your hands folded in your lap.  When your child looks up at you, give a word or two with animation.  Be consistent in your message, and allow for silence.  See what develops.

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As your child grows with imaginative play, they often take on the character role themselves.  A super-hero cape (or a sheet!) transforms a child into a new role.  If you want to join in the play, don your own cape, but try and let your child take the lead.  Question-asking: “What’s this big mountain over here?” and problem-posing: “On no! I hurt my shoulder!  What should I do?” can allow your child the opportunity to problem- solve and create their own storyline.

My go-to dress-up clothes include the following:

(I opt for things that can be interpreted and manipulated many ways, rather than entire pre-fab costumes)

~Several scarves (for sashes, head wraps, arm wraps, etc.)

~Gloves, hats, and glasses

~Shirt/Skirt/Dresses

~Capes (I have a super-crafty mother-in-law who fashioned a sleek cape with a Velcro closure.  Just be careful of capes that tie around the neck.)

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~Nametag holder and lanyard (like what a parent might wear at a conference)

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Optional:

~Wands, swords (they do make handy weapons, so be careful)

~Masks for older kids (age 5 and up)

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Opt for items your child can mostly put on themselves, to save you time and interruptions.  Once the box is overflowing, purge a few items.  Until then, keep it open and available for free play… and watch what transpires!

Nature Inspires Wonder

We just got back from a day trip hiking the beautiful Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. I mentioned on my Facebook page how my 3-yr-old chatted the entire way up (probably because my husband and I were busy huffing and puffing with the kids on our backs!)

I’m always amazed by the magnificence of nature and how it lets us just “be” with each other. My children had our undivided attention, and the family bonding and communication time was wonderful.

A walk with your child may be just the thing needed for them to open up about their behavior, for them to tell you what’s going right or wrong in their day, and provides endless fodder for a toddler learning new words (“bird!” “tree… Green tree!” “Plane… Flying fast… Woosh!”)

Studies have shown the outdoors serves as a calming environment for children with attention difficulties, and even the most reticent adolescent will open up during a walk. Take a moment for yourself, as well, and enjoy.

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Summertime, and when to take a break…

After a couple of conversations with the parents of a now-9th-grader (get ready high school!), it was decided that he should take a break from services for the summer and tackle summer on his own. Many of the students I serve have received therapy services for most of their childhood.  Some are on-again, off-again services.  Some students have transitioned from early intervention services to specific intensive services within the fields of occupational therapy, psychology, speech-language pathology… you name it, these kids (and families!) have sacrificed many hours to intervention.

As a parent, how do you know if it’s time to take a break?  Some summer backsliding occurs for almost all kids, regardless of their outside support.  But there are also areas of positive growth ~ from exploring during free play, to reading books of their choice, to helping out at summer camp.

It’s hard to do as a parent of a special-needs child.  To say “buh-bye” to the support for a few months and let your child have a break.  But honestly, it’s sometimes the best thing for both your child and the professionals in their care.  Having a break allows for all to reinvigorate for the fall.  It allows your child to just “be”, to not focus on “what’s wrong”, but on “what can we do today?”

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You know your child the best.  I try to challenge my students.  I try to push them just a little bit harder than their other teachers or parents might push them.  I try to increase their resiliency bit by bit throughout the year. And I love seeing their confidence and perseverance grow as a result.  But just like adults, children need to work towards something.  Knowing that hard work will be rewarded with a vacation at the end of the summer.  Knowing that they have two weeks off to just play. Whatever it is, make sure you help your child work towards that “break”.  A time without focusing on therapy appointments. You need it, too!

Just another day in the life…

I thought it was time for an update from the home front. I’ve written before here about when my first daughter hit the Walkie-Talkie stage.  My little Walkie-Talkie spends her playtime immersed in imaginative fairyland, complete with characters and drama.  Most naptimes have turned to “quiet time” at our house, and while she is in her room the stories really run wild.  She sings songs to her animals, talks to her dolls, creates elaborate stories to tell herself, and in general has a fine time high in her tower waiting for her prince (or mommy to come and tell her quiet time is over). I keep meaning to put a tape recorder in her room to hear exactly what she is saying, but what I can glean from my eavesdropping makes me laugh, and amazes me. Kids say the darndest things! This imaginative play has done wonders for my sanity, as I get a few moments every day to sit back and let her daydreams run wild.  I’ve written before about the power of free play, and I am even more of a believer as I raise my own kids.

Our newest addition, the “Roly-Poly”, is already five-months-old!  Her coos and gurgles have turned to bird-of-prey-style squawks, followed by big smiles and sparkling eyes to get our attention. From my “speechie” lens I’m always amazed by how quickly babies can change from day-to-day.  I’ve written before about baby signing here, and my husband and I are starting to use signs with our Roly-Poly, especially when she fusses, in an effort to show her that she can communicate a specific need or want. The circles of communication come so naturally to many babies – it makes me appreciate even more the parents who have to work extra hard for their child’s attention.  Communication is such a vital part of our lives, even from this age humans seek out and reinforce those interactions.  The Roly-Poly also likes to make those flirty eyes at 2:30am when I finally drag myself out of dreamland and stumble into her room.  That little girl know how to get her need met and keep everyone loving her to bunches.

Some of you may remember our family’s big experiment where we cancelled cable for 8 months.  It actually was a pretty easy switch, since we didn’t spend much time watching it normally.  I wanted to see if, as a family, we could stomach what I try to encourage many of my clients to do: significantly reduce our screen time. I have seen children for therapy who spend 3-4 hours every day in front of the t.v., and another couple of hours on the computer.  Seven hours in front of a screen is no good.  When we are focusing on self-soothing, increasing social communication, and exploring pretend play, screen time runs counter to what we are trying to accomplish.

I check my computer or iPad several times a day, and the iPhone has been my sanity while spending countless hours breastfeeding, so I didn’t focus on our overall “screen time”.  I’ll be the first to admit, that “window” to the outside world would be very difficult for me to totally eliminate.  Our Walkie-Talkie only uses the iPad on rare occasions, so our focus turned to the television.  We canceled the cable, caught a few shows on basic cable, but didn’t really miss the tube during our busy days.

But then the Oregon Duck football season started.  Needless to say, in order to get his sports fix, my husband asked for the cable back. We’d already gotten in a nice rhythm of not watching television, and our oldest daughter didn’t expect it as part of her day, so we turned the cable back on.  Realistically, I’d say we currently catch about 3-4 hours of grownup shows a week (mostly On-Demand, I hate commercials!), a couple of hours of sports, and my daughter watches about 1 hour per week. Her favorite shows (again, On-Demand usually) are the Super Why! super reader shows, and Angelina Ballerina. We’ve established that it is a special, irregular treat, so she doesn’t expect it every day. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that as parents we are often on our last strands of patience, and the television can be a sanity saver. Some children are very high-energy and need some forced down time. In my opinion, however, what is important is to continue to practice having your child entertain themselves, because it’s the only way they will learn to regulate their behavior, play through boredom, and explore some of their deeper cognitive capacities.

With that, I’ll leave you with this little tidbit from the Walkie-Talkie tonight: “When you go to bed, you rest your body and your hair… AND your brain!”

Tactile Fun

Free play is wonderful.  With just a little guidance from mom or dad, free play can develop that harnesses your child’s imagination and lets their creativity run wild.  Most of my OT friends (Occupational Therapists) would also tout the benefits of play that builds on all your senses.  I’m a big fan of listening to them (they know their stuff) when trying to make my therapy as multi-sensory as possible.

My daughter recently began to explore the world of playdoh.  Because we have carpet indoors, and it’s raining like a monsoon outdoors here in the Pacific NW, we tried to keep the playdoh confined to an easy-to-clean location.  I grabbed an old plastic placemat and we plunked down on the kitchen floor.  With some “Mom guidance” we were able to the keep the playdoh relatively contained while still allowing for some snake-rolling, pancake-squashing, and pizza-slicing.

Tactile play can keep your child engaged for minutes (if not hours!)  I know my daughter is fully immersed in her play when her breathing becomes heavy and her concentration is intense.  And, although it is hard as an SLP mom, I try to let her experience that play without interrupting or trying to build language too much.  Her little cognitive wheels are turning and I can almost see the electricity in her thoughts as little synapses are formed and strengthened.  Or, in less “brain geek” terms, she’s having fun and learning lots.  Later on, we can use our clean-up routine to fill in words for her play.

Tools for home:

Try playdoh for free play, making shapes, or creating letters.  It can even be “play food” that you feed to dollies or animals.

A serving tray filled with dry rice or beans is a great place to practice drawing letters or shapes.

Create a sensory “board” or “blanket” with swatches of different materials.  Take an old cardboard box, cut off a piece, then attach material to it.  Think of things you have around your house: sandpaper, an old silk or cotton swatch, a piece of carpet, a piece of tinfoil…

Use a tub filled with dry beans to hide small objects (animals, GI Joe’s, plastic insects, etc.)and go on a treasure hunt.

Water, water, water.  As bathtime attests, water is a great tactile medium.  If it’s snowing where you are, fill a spray bottle with water and food-coloring, and “paint” the snow.  If it’s hot, use paint brushes and water to “paint” large letters or shapes on the sidewalk.  If it’s raining for 6 months straight at your house (ahem, are you listening Mother Nature??!) and you are feeling brave, create a mud pie “blackboard” and write notes to each other.  If you’d rather stay inside, 2-hour bathtimes with bubbles, dishes, and animals are just as fun.

And last, sand.  Sand can be used on a tray to write letters with fingers, mixed with water to make “play food”, or “built” into a road or tower.  Playgrounds with sand are the best!  A group of kids playing in the sandbox helps build social-communication skills, whether your child is just observing and trying to understand the social complexities of the group, or joining in the play.  Older kids can serve as great models for your younger child, especially if there aren’t siblings at home.  (We even have a few sandboxes here in the Pacific NW, and the sun does occasionally dry it out enough for playtime.)

So, pat yourself on the back that you are giving your child tactile playtime when bathing.  Have a messy eater?  Congratulate yourself, as this is just more evidence that your child is fully exploring their tactile world.  Happy Playing!