Winter Holiday Sensory Tips for Kids

Is your kid easily overwhelmed?  You don’t need a formal diagnosis to notice sensory preferences, and if you see a trend in meltdowns and over-stimulation, chances are you’ll see more of those over the winter holidays.  I’ve got some guidelines for preventing those meltdowns, and they might be applicable to adults in the family, too.  Ahem. (That bell ringing over the kettle for donations makes me do a u-turn right out of the parking lot, muttering under my breath!)

First, manage expectations: yours and theirs.  Parents with sensitive or sensory kids may review what they think “typical” families do: is that an achievable expectation for your family without getting tied up into knots?  As the family planners, consider i15349645_1354173004595977_3822187472669593966_n-1.jpgf you might need to give up on your vision or modify it. Kids’ expectations can wreck an otherwise great event, and getting a handle on those expectations will help the season go smoothly. A great  way to do that is to talk!  Before you go out, as you plan the holiday meal, schedule events, or invite folks over, find age-appropriate ways to check in with the kids and tell them who is involved and how long you think it will be: 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days?    Will there be food?  Other kids? Will they be expected to sit quietly, sing songs, play tag outside?

Kids’ expectations aren’t always clear to THEM: all the presents, all the sweet treats, read from the Torah, do the reading, not do the reading, light the candles, decorate the tree, travel, crowds, manners, strangers…  take the time to check in before and during events, and be open to offering descriptive language to younger kids and getting more information from them as it dawns on them.

Second, have a plan: Coach your kids on a way to indicate that they are overwhelmed or have had enough.  We agree to two fingers on the arm while I’m talking.  When I reach a break in the conversation, I’ll tend to the kid.  When the fingers push harder, I know it’s a bathroom emergency (or some other “emergency” and we are refining what counts as an emergency haha).  Have an exit strategy — or two.   If you’ve gone over how long you think the event will go, have a strategy in place for if the meltdown comes…. it might even be yours!  Haha.  Everybody gets their own coats and meets at the front door?  Designated parent takes melting down kid to the car?   And waits for a cool-down so they can return, or waits for the family to leave the event (does the rest of the family finish touring the conservatory of leave right away)? A quick review of the family plans can extend how long everyone can stay — just knowing there is a meltdown plan can increase everyone’s endurance.

Third, bring supplies.  Discuss the event, air the kids’ concerns in advance, and take this opportunity to prepare for the overwhelm: bring sunglasses or a hat with a visor for light displays, bonfires, or even crowds.  Bring earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, or even an iPod.  Consider a snack and drink, a comfort toy, quiet entertainment, extra binkies.  A couple of times we even brought a friend!

Kids’ engagement and endurance aren’t 100% predictable.  Even at 13, my son may grit his teeth through an entire event, or he may find his niche and really enjoy it.  His enjoyment may be due to talking to other adults, finding a kid with similar interests, or just finding a place to zone out with a book or tv.  He does always expect to grit his teeth through social events, so having a review of what we think will happen, supplies, and an exit plan help us get there in the first place.  And in case you experience unexpected delays, check out my list of games and bonding activities HERE.

Other things to consider:

Lights: displays, on the house, at events.  Twinkling, flashing, and color-changing lights can be overwhelming to sensory kids.  For kids with seizure disorders, they can even inspire a seizure.

Sound: Malls, adult parties, kids parties, THAT BELL!

Gift expectations: getting less than you hoped for, getting an overwhelming amount, presents that don’t come with batteries, don’t work, or fail in their advertised promises.

Eating schedules: Stealthily sliding your kid a granola bar when you realize that food is delayed, or snacking before leaving home to avoid HANGRY meltdowns, can really save the day!

If you’d like some support around any of these issues, or want to sit down and map out strategies that work for your family, just hit reply to this email.  We can schedule a free 30-minute chat, and if you’d like to set up more time after that, we can!

As always, do follow Funnermother on Facebook. 🙂

 

 

Methuselah Moms: Rise Up

In  Balance is a Bitch, I recently wrote about moms being immersed, about the struggle to achieve a life/work ‘balance’ that works, and about what our kids learn by watching us do work we love.  Older moms like me, caught between two parenting paradigms — the baby boomers and the millenials — need to hear this message about sculpting our own “balance.”

LittleRedHeadshot

Want help with your “bounce”?  Call me.

We older moms are established in our careers or professional/artistic paths, solid, and tired.  This very special position is an exhaustingly rich one, and one we recognize as a gift of this historical moment like none before.  And our kids are seeing new possibilities in what it means to age, to be a working woman, to be a mom.  But we are ready for a new metaphor  — to help us be happy, to help us conceptualize the often incongruent projects of parenting and careering, and to help us see our pattern and be okay with it.

The heartfelt comments that y’all wrote on “Balance is a Bitch” led me to think of  the big long swinging turns of giant slalom skiing: GS turns, strong and loving the turns, always in motion, first one way then the next.  Choose a word that fits your style: Braiding, three strands twisted around one another inextricably: working, parenting, and the self.  Or  weaving: one atop another over-under then under-over — many strands, colors, patterns, working together.  The pendulum has been my term (until the GS turns).  I go through periods of rocking parenting, and of being average, and of needing help.  Success at working, for me, is usually in inverse proportion to my success as parenting.

And that is okay.

Methuselah moms, fear not.  We have it “all.”  Where the ideology trips us up is in imagining that everything is always perfect — and of course it’s not, not in real life. Not always.

twitter-128Click to tweet:  Nothing’s perfect. But imperfection doesn’t mean failure, nor that work & family aren’t both worth having.

Imperfection does not mean it’s never good nor that it is effortless.  And in those moments of seeming failure, when we can’t gracefully patch everything together, those are the most important ones for our kids — because of what happens next.  You know what that is? You bounce.  You get a grip.  You rewind, apologize, hire someone to do it, just do your best, laugh at yourself, cry on someone’s shoulder, or reach out to a friend.  Knowing what to do is important; having coping skills is essential.  And imperfection gives us constant opportunities to model coping skills to the littles.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your braid or pendulum, or if you want someone in your corner strategizing, reach out to me at Funnermother@yahoo.com.  We can have a chat and see if we could work together on brainstorming, making some systems that work, or talking through what it means to bounce.

And as always, you can come on over to Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.  Come on, let’s hang out.  🙂

 

I love Mondays.

vintage black and white photo

Click this image to purchase the digital download from Veetzy Innovations.

“I’m always hungover on Tuesdays.”

On the phone scheduling a date, we laughed, but it’s true!  Monday nights are moms’ night out.  I go with my neighbor to the local pub, where they can set their watches by our arrival.  We catch up, comment on the news, and laugh. Those hard and long belly laughs that cause chemical changes in your brain.  Have we been doing this for half a decade?  Yes, I think so.  That’s a lot of chemical change!

ladies at a party

Click this image to purchase the digital download from Veetzy Innovations.

This is part of my self-care.  I love Mondays!  Who can say that?  It’s just a couple of hours, but it erases so much strife — like how exhausting the mundane can be, especially when there are bumps in the road. A system can’t just be implemented for kids; it’s constant change.  Rethinking the same questions over and over: rules, food, screen, bedtimes, friends.  Keeping them fed with healthy food, fresh air, challenging books and some kind of spiritual wonderings…  Exhausting and mundane is not part of that sexy cultural narrative that convinces us to choose parenting.  But that’s a real part of the experience.  I say that with love, but I don’t know if I could, were it not for Monday nights.

ladies in hats

Click the image to purchase this postcard from Sundew Rose.

On Mondays we talk about those mundane things too, though her kids are grown. There’s still so much to laugh about, so much the same.  And it’s working.  Our proof?  Our mates!  They bend over backwards to drive us, rearrange schedules, give us cash…  They make sure we don’t miss a Monday.  We laugh that we must be pretty hard to live with when we miss a week.

What’s your treat?  Your regular self-care?  Let me know in the comments.  And if you’d like to chat about managing the mundane, drop me a line.  🙂

Seven Phrases to Help You Back Off the Helicopter Parenting

helicopter parents

Click image to purchase this running print from JannaDekker.

I’ve written before about being a helicopter parent, and as my kids moved from private to public school, man, I was on high alert in my very mommy cells!  But my rational brain wants them to be self-sufficient and feel capable, so my mommy cells and my brain continue to fight it out.  As Thing 1 moves into tweenhood, I find it much easier to back off at home — not bring him water after *I* am in bed, ask him to get his own snacks, dinner condiments, whatever — than to figure that out about the rest of the big wide world — how far he can go from home alone and for how long, and when he can have a cel phone…

1. “Oh, good idea, you can do that yourself!  Let me help you with it.”  Then, a few months or years later, “If you need help let me know.”  From getting water for the bedside table to packing up the backpack for school, make it clear that they have the ability and you trust them to do it, and you’re still there if they need you.

running postage stamp

Click the image to purchase this stamp art from PassionGiftStampArt

2. “Ug, I know how much that sucks, I’m sorry. Do you want to talk about it?”  Don’t blame the other kid, the school, or the world for their pain.  Let them feel the pain, move through it, and bounce back.

3. “Everyone fails.  Nobody ever gets it right the very first time, that’s how we all learn.”  Our kids should expect to fail and have some coping skills for when it happens.

4. “Yeah, I think you can!  Give it a try, let’s see how it goes.”  Constant praise and you-can-do-its can be deceiving.  You can still be positive without making them think success is guaranteed.  See #3.  🙂

5.”Aw crap, I messed up.  Let me see if I can make this right or try again.”  It’s a lot of pressure to think of ourselves as models for our kids at all times.  But we are, and that does not mean we don’t make mistakes.  In fact, those mistakes are great opportunities to teach them what to do next, how to fix it.

stylized foot print

Click to purchase this print from OurSoleIntent.

6. “And then this one time, I embarrassed myself so badly {hearty laugh and tell the story}”  Laughing at ourselves is the very best gift we can get. Or give.  It took me until my mid-to-late 40s to figure this out.  One of my kids really resists it, and I work to remember in the moment to laugh instead of being defensive when he catches me goofing up.

7. Everyone has a family story like this one: my father raced my nephews: on foot, all the time, he always won.  ALWAYS.  I said, Pa, that’s rough, you’re being hard on those boys, they’re only 4, or whatever.  He didn’t say a word.  Fast forward 20 years. One day the older boy looked over and slowed down until Pa passed him.  Then Pa stopped.  “Don’t patronize me, kid.  I never let up on you, and now it is your turn.  You earned this.”  My own kids love this story, and they understand.  Their dad never lets them win on family game night.  It’s agonizing, even though I know it’s the right thing to do.  Tell your kids your family story, and beat the pants off them on family game night.  Eventually they WILL stop throwing the game board, they will stop crying, they will stop being angry about it.  And they will be stronger.

Come on over and join me on Facebook as we work together to ditch the helicopter.

Practice letting go

A  hockey game?  A playoff?  In Pittsburgh?  Are you insane?  What if Thing 1 has to sit near someone with horrible cologne that sends him into an asthma attack?  What if he gets hit with a puck?  What if a fight broke out, somebody snatched him, or the stadium collapsed?  What if he experienced a food allergy that we never knew he had, or heard bad words, or got bored?

hockey

Photo by ShawnStPeter. Click to purchase the image on Etsy.

We don’t get out much, and I have to practice.

What if he doesn’t see anything to eat when he sees the stadium food?  He has sensory processing issues, what if it’s too noisy, too crowded, too overwhelming?  What if it’s a mistake?

Running Mate tries to talk me down.  No recent asthma.  Statistics on getting hit with a puck, a fight breaking out, being snatched.  I know I have to listen to logic and I do.  I don’t believe it will be okay, but I listen.  We gave him an allergy pill and a snack before he left.  Rehearsed “help help this is not my parent” and were sure the friend’s parents had my cel number in their phone.  I will happily come get you.  He nods. Running mate drops him off on his way to work, leaving me home with Thing 2.

affghan

Three-color spiral table cover, afghan, or time out spot. Click to see it in my etsy shop. Funnermother.com

Thing 2 asks to have a night of no tv.  I need a distraction!  We soak our feet, paint our nails, camp out in the living room.  The whole time, I am crocheting myself into a frenzy–a red yellow and white spiral that could be a table cover or a couch blanket.  I wait for my inevitable phone call to go get Thing 1.  I nod off.  My phone tinkles; I jump. A picture of Thing 1 cheering…  from the third row!  He’s alive, he’s healthy, and he’s happy.  I nod off again and when the phone rings, it’s to say he is in the driveway.

I did it!  I mean, he did it.  If you want to give your kids more independence, teach them safety and coping, join me on Facebook and stay tuned right here!

FRUSTRATION and what to do with it…

coping skills

Kids and stress – Funnermother.com

I messed up. No gas, dead battery.

Not a good morning!  Running Mate had smoke pouring out of both ears, out in the driveway. I felt like my head was in a vice.

To save the situation I wanted to make it teachable.  So my wary kids, silent and blinking, heard my internal monologue.

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Coping skills – Funnermother.com

That’s right, put words on it.  Narrate: “Ug, I feel like a numb head!  I know we’ll get through this, but I feel so bad right now..Sometimes I think HORSES would be easier than cars! Ug!”  Words help you — and everyone else — make sense of a situation.  Find a teachable moment.  Narrate it.

If you can’t tame your frustration with words, you can always give in!  Really!  With your kids, giving in to them for ten minutes of undivided attention, physical contact, or dancing together can nourish a needy child enough to then allow you to work for an hour.  With your self, my dear late Auntie used to recommend this: Wallow in it.  Go ahead, feel it and cry and feel bad, and rant and rave and scream if you have to.  But set a timer.  And after the time you specify, according to the size of the feelings, you have to move on.  Give yourself ten minutes or two days.  Then get on with it.

What’s your best strategy for dealing with overwhelming feelings?  I’m always looking for tips.

DIY: Building a heart light

self care  and kids

Turn on your heart light!
Funnermother.com

Running mate works weekend nights, and I am not a good single parent.  One bedtime, I could feel it.  You know, increased bickering, picking at each other, elevated kinetic energy, swirling vapors and mom getting flustered.

An idea like a lightning strike! Outgrown tights!  I cut off the legs, filled them with old old dried beans — one got lentils, one got pinto — and tied a knot.

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Warming the heart light.
Funnermother.com

Then, a minute in the microwave.

Then, magic!

self-care

Apply the heart light.
Funnermother.com

One kid is a seeker, and laughs and jumps and kicks and fools around until the instant she falls asleep.  The other is more pondering, more of a worrier, but still can be revved up to a frothy sibling rivalry.

self care

Weight.
Funnermother.com

The “heart light” works for them both, centering and heating, weighting and calming.  I suppose I could sew buttons on for eyes, but it’s working as it is.

This very flexible DIY project would work well tucked into a sweatshirt or coat hood, or as two smaller ‘heart lights’ tucked into coat or hoodie pockets.  It also could be popped in the freezer and used for headaches or booboos.

I hope I get a turn with it soon.

More posts on sensory play include: Here, Feel This Fruit

“Where will they breast feed?”: re-thinking praise

kids

That sound the straw makes – Funnermother.com

Thing 1 is not as confident as I’d like; a few years ago I choked with angst about my former micro preemie: “We celebrated every damned bowel movement!  How could he not be brimming over with love and confidence?”  A couple of his sullen “yeah, I know” responses to my praise taught me that it was falling on deaf, or jaded, ears.  Huffington Post’s Catherine Pearson recently reported that “a new study suggests that when adults shower children with compliments to try to boost their self-esteem, it has the opposite effect, sending the message that they must continue to meet very high standards and discouraging them from taking on new, confidence-boosting challenges, lest they fail.” Ah, yes.

 

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Bugs for protein – Funnermother.com

I am finding it more respectful to engage their ideas than to praise.  My son (10) and I laugh at the tenacity of my favorite questions about his Lego castles, ships, command stations, and bases: Where are the women?  [He includes them now.]  Is there a birthing room? Where will they breastfeed?  Where is the nursery for the next generation of… sailors, royalty, explorers?  Do you know how many scales you drew on that dragon?  Is that a bridle?  Are those wings big enough to carry his weight?  Who is riding him?  Where are they going?  What kinds of bugs are you willing to eat?  My questions reinforce our family values. Yet it feels different to enter his world than to praise him, and I think it feeds him more.  I KNOW it improves our relationship every time I hold still for a minute to think about his creation.  It’s hard for me to hold still.  Harder than praise, and more worth it.

Pearson, C.  “The Over-Praise Dilemma: When Complimenting Kids Actually Holds Them Back” Huffington Post, 6 January 2014.

This is my… um…running mate

“I just can’t read that dad’s work after his comment ‘my kid is so high maintenance I think he’s a woman.'”  Some bloggers I know were chatting about gender. I’m happy, frankly, that someone notices other than me.

partners

My running mate – Funnermother.com

Mommy-blaming and daddy-blaming are everywhere.  It’s funny.  They say.

I don’t bash my baby daddy, he’s pretty cool.  But I don’t include him, either, and our gender chat brought that to my attention.  I feel… a little guilty actually.  The blogosphere is pulsing with strife, industries are built around it, and we all have friends who are unhappily entwined.  Occasionally we all are.  But overall, he’s a great dad and partner.  And I should include our unlikely success story; we are the most unusual couple I know.  We have been together romantically for twelve years, unmarried, and are both fine with that.  “The last of the red hot hippies” I  say.  Before that, we worked together for a few years.  We moved immediately to being a family (more on that here).

partners

My running mate – Funnermother.com

During the last election, Thing 1 (then 9) asked if we were ‘running mates’ and indeed that seems perfect.  We are opposites.  He is a drummer, masseuse, landscaper.  I am a perpetual grad student, recently escaped from a dusty archive.  We complement each other.  Bad Dog Daddy has kept me from dragging the Things to the emergency room more times than I can count.  And I tell him no, they are not always welcome to live with us.  We balance. There is harmony, there is contention. Yep, you might have heard me say “But we women have 500 years of sexism to catch up on!” once… or twice.  But that was before I started this little family project with this bad dog.  We have learned that we have to speak clearly, compromise, and let go of our egos for it to work.  We have surely hurt each other, but we are not trapped and we choose every day to work it out.

I think it’s time to trade gender bashing for an exercise in what we might call diversity… for  extrapolating whatever oddly shaped lumpy arrangement it is that works.  What do you have that works?

Methusela mom in the cockpit!

helicopter parents

Methusela mom in the cockpit – Funnermother.com

parenting

Methusela mom in the cockpit – Funnermother.com

I was a prom night baby, and knew I didn’t want to do that. When I was 9 my parents were divorced, dating, putting distance between them. It was hard to be heard. In the 80s I found family dynamics theories and my “inner child” — and with some blame and some anger I just listened to my own damned self.

I worked, moved away, got degrees, moved in with a guy.  Struggled with infertility.  It wrecked us.

Then…”don’t worry, it can’t happen” and then “oops!” We jumped into parenting after just one kiss.

I was 39. The baby came early, we fought for him, feared for him, settled into being unmarried parents.  He sat up, stood, walked, talked, defied predictions; it was going well.

We did it again. I was almost 43. Now the Things are 10 and 6, and remember my inner child’s anger?  It’s back, like Iago, pointing out every gap, every failure to attain that “good parent” award, even when the award’s rules and goals are shifting and undecided. The judges who decide on the award do not agree, making it an award impossible to win.  Instead we parents point fingers and judge each other, dividing up into sides.

helicopter parents

Methusela mom in the cockpit – Funnermother.com

And I’ve watched the news 20 years longer than my parents had. It’s never good. Diseases, predators, and bullies, oh my! I often ask, “Is it worse, or is it just more reporting in search of news ratings?” — nobody knows.  So being an older parent means that my kids are heard. But it also means they will never see me in my carefree 20s, they won’t be parented by that young, always laughing and dancing, me.  Instead they will see the worry that always seems to walk before me into the room.  They will roll their eyes as I time their screen exposure, sneak junk food at friends’ houses, shrug off unwanted hats and coats.  But I was a prom night baby; I don’t want to do that.