Keep the Peace: phrases to protect your sensory kid

Have you ever done a ballet or tap recital? Synchronized swimming or skiing? Line dance? Waltz? You learn, train, practice, rehearse, perform: building muscle memory. Families are just like that!

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You might have moved away and changed your dance, maybe you took up modern jazz — but when you come home, the old gang is still doing the funky chicken. The old dance. Your muscle memory kicks in and you flap your elbows, shake your booty to the floor, and your hands “cluck” like you never stopped. But stick with me, and you don’t have to dance that old dance. Nor do you have to pull the rug out from under the other dancers.

Let’s rehearse some ways it could work for you, your kids, and your extended family. Then work your plan both ways – you are the hinge between your parents and your kids. Work your plan with both of them. Scripts are great for this.

twitter-128Scripts help us decide what’s important & how to speak up about it — respect our parents & protect our kids. <= Click To Tweet

Scripts help us keep relationships with our extended family.

Plan with or speak with your nuclear family, your partner, kids, lodgers, and pet-sitters about the holiday plan. It has taken me some time — and embarrassing momfits — to see that sometimes I should not try for the democratic process. Either I really have a plan or I don’t, but sometimes I (or Dad and I) need to be in charge of how we play it by ear with our families, or maybe I just don’t have the energy for the kids saying, “I vote we just stay home.” Sometimes they don’t get a vote.  And that’s ok.

Lately Thing 1 has been exemplary at checking in with himself and explaining how he feels – he doesn’t like to be surprised by my last-minute planning. Sigh. Teaching self-help skills means having to deal with it when the kids use those skills.

Think in advance – be prepared to compromise. Think about your top three foodie areas where you do NOT want to compromise around your kids’ food. Write them down. I’m a big fan of sleeping on it – go back to your top 3 list later, and then decide if they fit with your desires and travel plans – are you willing to do the work during a 3-day drive to ensure that the family eats leafy greens at every meal? Keep it realistic, reasonable, perhaps even easy.  Are you going to be mad at the extra work, or mad at missing your greens? Weigh that out.

snowman If you are having guests coming, ask if you need a backup food for their fussy or sensory kid, and withhold your judgment … they may show up doing a waltz, but you can still show off your jazz hands.

Your kids. It’s tempting to just buy chicken nuggets or prepared mac and cheese, and while that is one strategy that I use on occasion, I want to propose some ideas that taught our family to be better guests.

  1. Tell social stories about the trip – why you’re going, what to expect, how it might go, another way it might go, how they might feel and it’s okay to feel our feelings. Give them some scripts, too: “Mom, it’s too loud in here, can I sit in the car?” “Mom, I don’t think I can wait until dinner. I’m hangry. Can I have a healthy snack?”
  1. Strategize about where a kid can get some peace and quiet. In the car, bathroom, a big cardboard box, grandma’s porch, even under the bedcovers. Tell them how to excuse themselves, where to go, and what to do when they are overwhelmed — even if it’s at the dinner table.
  1. Teach them how to decline politely. Don’t hurt the cook’s feelings and don’t “yuk on someone else’s yum.”
  1. Discuss in advance that your family “new food” rules always apply (if they do. If they do not, clarify what the traveling rules will be), then expect them to stick to your one-bite rule, or smell or lick, or a bite for each year old they are. Tell them this before you go.
  1. Tell your kids that they can come to you if someone says something that makes them feel sad, mad or bad so that you can handle the situation for them — or if they are being pressured to eat something or to clean their plate or whatever else happens. Be sure they know that they can, and how to do so with respect, perhaps out of earshot or even by text message.
  1. Show your kid(s) three recipes and have them choose a healthy one that they will eat to make and bring – even if it’s not a potluck. Veggies-n-dip, fruit-n-yogurt, a side of snap peas, or a healthy yeast or sweet bread, all make great hostess gifts. Or consider a bowl of melon, pomegranate seeds, or berries.  Older kids might be trusted to peruse the cookbook, but set some parameters – a slice-and-bring dish? High fiber? Crockpot warmable? Bring a side, a vegetarian or gluten-free or allergy-free dish, offer to bring a side and bring 2, and even something just for your kid.
  1. 15349645_1354173004595977_3822187472669593966_n-1Involving them in making the dish is a great way to teach executive function. Have them decide, list the ingredients, shop for what you need, make the recipe, clean up, store the dish, and make a plan for warming and serving it when you get there. “Math it” out loud if you are doubling or halving the recipe. If you can include granny when you get there, all the better.
  1. Look away if you can. If the food is not a dangerous allergen, let them flounder just a little … if they’re hungry, they may stretch a little or a lot. Also, looking away changes the food dance. Your stepmom, mom, or dad become the food bearers, which changes the dynamic.
  1. At the same time, set them up for success. My pickiest eater would cross a line and just not be hungry any more – especially when he was smaller. So before grown-up dinners, parties, plane rides, and the like, we would snack him or full-on feed him. As he got bigger, around 5th grade, I started looking away more. He is usually well-mannered enough to at least try. Be sure to teach them the manners that they need to take care of themselves without offending.

Your parents.  You are the hinge between these two generations. You don’t want their judgment, but don’t give them yours either. A friend says “apathy is your personal savior.” And that’s a good phrase to remember when bringing toddlers to grandma’s house. Explain to them, “We’ll be out of our schedule, we’ll be on the road three days, no, this is not the way we live all the time, but I’m going to let them stay up late or eat junk (or or whatever it is) so I don’t spend our time together punishing them.

Everyone has someone who needs to be “always right.” I have those people; families are full of them! Haha. But you can protect yourself by actively believing that they just want to help, or make themselves feel better, or be loved – no need to bristle at them. I am not above taking All. The. Blame.   Then we can get on with dinner or building a fire or skiing or whatever it is we are doing.  I’m willing to do that.

  1. Some people have no skills for respecting boundaries, being kind, or self-regulation and many of those people have kids – you might even be a kid of someone like that. If you’re here reading this, chances are pretty good!  We’ve solved some of these issues by staying in a hotel in town, staying in a camper in the yard, scheduling a couple of short trips instead of a longer one – we may break up a week with grandma by spending a few nights with Pa, or Auntie, or with my old high school friends. When you are in their house, they may ask you to abide by their rules, and if that’s a conflict, offsite housing or offsite visits might work best if you’re not willing to go toe to toe on why junior does not have to clean his plate, even if s/he is at grandpa’s house.15673533_10155788423513916_1458279869_n
  1. In advance, tell your parents social stories about the trip – what they can expect, how it might go, or another way it might go. You can say something like “It’s just impossible to stay on schedule while traveling, so we’re going to just go with the flow in terms of planning the week, or sticking to time limits on the ipad or eating leafy greens at every meal.” And then repeat that in person when your kid throws a fit, or when you don’t bring down the hammer on some infraction – even if you would at home. My dad is a merciless tease, and before one trip I just came out and said “he wants to grow his hair and I just don’t care – it seems like harmless self expression. But he’s very sensitive to being teased, and I just don’t want you to hurt his feelings.” He might have rolled his eyes over the phone, but he did not tease my kid about his hair. Or his disdain for chewy meat!
  1. When they make suggestions about how to solve a parenting problem, nod, give a thoughtful look (this is usually called active listening – or just acting haha) and say something like:

Huh, I’ll have to do some research on that.

Oooh, I’ll look into it.

I’ll ask the pediatrician about that (or physical therapist, feeding consultant, teacher, school psychologist, occupational therapist…. defer to a higher authority than either you or your parents).

  1. Or you might shrug, give an apologetic look (even if you feel annoyed) and say something like: **We’ve consulted with the pediatrician and we are just going with this for now.

 

I love my elders, but they do drive me nuts. These tactics have helped me keep my relationships with them, keep them in relationship with my kids, and teach my kids both how to be respectful to their elders and also how I want to be treated when they are adults.

Good luck and happy holidays!

If you have a sticky situation or shocking success, drop it in the comments and I’ll chime in or cheer you on!

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. 🙂

 

 

Chocolate, Gummis, and HUGS, oh my! Three interventions in the Halloween hangover.

THIS year I walked the hood instead of handing out candy, and it was glorious, like a tiny suburban, clean (but scary) Mardi Gras!  It has taken me a long time to come to accept that Halloween will happen.  Year after year.  I’ve slowly chipped away at my “candy is immoral” position, eeking my way toward a more workable, reality-based one.  I’ve actually come to enjoy dressing as, say, Phyllis Diller.  14938286_1310713398941938_580177616813119416_n.jpgSharon Osbourne. PeeWee Herman.  And I’ve got strategies for the candy!

First, managing The Candy: 

Lots of trading and organizing and negotiating happen between the two kids, and those are ALL GOOD SKILLS!  Haha.  We’ve consistently said that the kids could have 2 pieces after dinner. On weekends they negotiate for more, and *I* think we’re lenient, but Running Mate does not.  Nor do the kids.

Running Mate does ask for and eat some of their candy, the Dad Tax.  That’s the closest we get in our family to tithing, but we are community-oriented parents who believe in taxes and community services.

Second, teaching with The Candy:

Candy overload is a great teaching tool for both kids and parents, as we learned from a kid vomiting in the car because of too much birthday cake and ice cream.  Twice.  I just did not get it the first time, I guess.  It was ages ago, and it didn’t take much cake.  Vomit is a great tool for parents;  we can talk plainly about the perils of evil evil sugar, and about moderation, and about taking our advice.

Stupid tiny wrappers are a great chance to practice picking up your own garbage. Ug.

A few years in a row, Thing 1 wanted to melt down and mix together a bunch of candies and make some kind of Frankencandy or fudge.  Kitchen experiments are fun sensory experiences, they encourage executive function skills and basic chemistry lessons (probably more than basic if I knew more).  The Frankencandy looked too yukky to garner more than the obligatory taste.  The fudge concoction looked edible, we nibbled on it a little, but it wasn’t what he’d expected and we didn’t eat it all.

This year, while  doing dishes, Thing 1 made a joke and I laughed and laughed.  He offered me a peanut M&14955805_1312471322099479_4602202210808270260_n.jpgM. He was sweet and funny and we hugged. He offered me a peanut M&M.  I thanked him for helping me with the dishes, UNASKED.  He offered me a peanut M&M.  Big Bang Theory fans will know why I stopped laughing and asked, “Are you trying to Penny me?”

His turn to laugh.  HARD.  “Yes.”

Third, giving The Candy:

This is a great opportunity for the kids to GIVE!  Yes, you have a large amount, you have things that other folks might want more than you (trying to say nicely to give away the stuff you don’t like) and lots of people on your “thank you” list: send a special piece to each grandparent, give to the crossing guards on your way to school, to the neighbors who did not participate this year, sadly, because their kids are grown.

Your candy will be gone in no time.

As always, I’m here for you.  Please do follow along on Facebook, and share this post widely.  🙂

Summer ain’t what it used to be. But it can still be fun!

As a kid, Maine summers with Dad stretched on endlessly. I had a friend or two but spent my time on my treadle sewing machine, watching old movies, going to the library and reading the Nancy Drew series, walking downtown to look at fabric, or sitting on one of the big rocks around our little pond in the woods with my orange plastic typewriter, tapping out profound things.  I. Loved. It.

I had kids late, and summer ain’t what it used to be.

Forty years later, my childhood summer is unavailable…Children’s Services snaps up kids on their own, or worse, someone else does.  And though it’s statistically unlikely, the news warns us about both and we are all thinking about it all the time.  The little orange typewriter has been replaced by a keyboard in each pocket. It’s a long walk to the suburban library in the next town; we don’t have woods or pond.  And “kids these days,” including mine, don’t even want to do these things.  Harumph.

When I worked in academic libraries, my kids were in care or camps.  Basically, year-round school.  I couldn’t wait for them to spend the day reading on the lowest branches of our maple tree, or finding a little nook on the path that caresses the side of our house.  Or laying on a quilt with me and watching the clouds, you know, like you do.  For hours.

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None of those things has happened.  None!  I’ve stopped feeling bad, almost.

Click to tweet: twitter-128Expectations about our kids’ summers set us up for disappointment or guilt. We think they’ll be just like ours, or magical, or full, or blissfully empty.  On the other side of that, of course, is only compromise.  We can’t force a 1970s summer; authorities would step in! Ha!  But I’d love to help you work out a summer that leaves you and the kids happy.

With a plan and a laugh about how our kids don’t want our dream summer, we’ll hash out what you want and what will work. We’ll work out a screen contract, build in touchstones during the day and week.   We’ll make a fun summer bucket list, and a plan for moving those kids to the next level of independence and contribution before school starts up again.  For all the details click here, and if you’d like to talk about my Summer-Saver VIP day, let’s schedule time to talk.  Just email me at Funnermother [at] Funnermother.com or message me on Facebook.Facebook.Facebook.  Let’s make summer funner.

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!

DIY: Birthday Jarlights

DIY

Birthday Jarlights
Funnermother.com

You’ll need:  clean clear jars for everyone, poster paint, white glue, paintbrushes, shiny star stickers, colored paper and a tea light for each jar.  For younger kids, battery operated.  

Mix poster paint and glue to make the paint adhere to smooth surfaces like glass and plastic – about 1/3 glue and 2/3 paint.  

crafts for kids

Birthday Jarlights
Funnermother.com

Cut out football shapes to serve as lit candle wicks, glue them around the jar.

 

 

 

Paint over the shapes, then glue ‘candlesticks’  to the jar.  I used some flashy origami paper, but plain construction paper would work, too.

crafts for kids

Birthday Jarlights
Funnermother.com

Peel the football shapes off while the paint is still a little wet, then allow paint to dry.

 

Then, and this is my favorite part, put in a battery-operated tea light!

My crafters were 6 and used glass with close supervision; younger kids should use plastic but the paint/glue combo should work just as well.

 

DIY

Birthday Jarlights
Funnermother.com

 

This craft could be adapted for older kids, who could paint more elaborate scenes, more layers of paint, and use real tea lights.

We’ve done this for Halloween, Christmas/New Year, and birthdays.

DIY

Jarlights
Funnermother.com

Even the tiniest kids can paint a jar and the light will still shine through.

 

If you give jar painting a try, I’d love to see the results, just post them on Funnermother’s Facebook page!

Light-up Pumpkin Craft

halloween

Pumpkin Craft – Funnermother

kids activities

Pumpkin Craft – Funnermother

Thing 2 had a play date.  ALL they do is play and laugh and whisper and giggle.

It’s awesome.

But we did have a quick structured craft activity.

You’ll need:

clean clear jars for everyone, poster paint, white glue, paintbrushes, and a tea light for each jar.  At this age, battery operated.

Halloween craft

Pumpkin Craft – Funnermother

Mix orange poster paint and glue to make the paint adhere to smooth surfaces like glass and plastic – about 1/3 of this bowl is glue.

Paint a jar.

They are 6 and used glass with close supervision;

younger kids should use plastic.

This craft could be adapted for older kids, too,

who could paint more elaborate spooky scenes and use real tea lights if you are so inclined.

Halloween

Pumpkin Craft – Funnermother.

Let the first layer of paint dry.

Use black poster paint to paint your

Jack-o-Lantern’s face.

Halloween

Pumpkin Craft – Funnermother

The second layer of paint adhered to the first,so we didn’t use glue for the second layer.

Then, and this is my favorite part, put in a battery-operated tea light!

No messy pumpkin guts, but still fun and festive!

Sensory play in the kitchen

Thing 1 was a micropreemie. We were ON ALERT and it was the very least of our worries when he was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and Sensory Integration Disfunction (I don’t remember in what order).  Ten years later, he still has a hair-trigger gag reflex and is particular about ripe fruit, chewy meat, the feel of his blankets, clothes, and dirty hands.

sensory

Sensory play in the kitchen – Funnermother

cooking with kids

Sensory play in the kitchen – FunnermotherHere you see instant oatmeal, sunflower seeds, cheerios, maple syrup, oil, and… yes… mini chocolate chip cookies.

He likes to have control over his sensory play, and is drawn to the kitchen and actually making his culinary ideas.  Here we are making the granola recipe in his head.

granola4

Sensory play in the kitchen – Funnermother

sensory

Sensory play in the kitchen – Funnermother

Here you see instant oatmeal, sunflower seeds, cheerios, maple syrup, oil, and… yes… mini chocolate chip cookies.

He can be hesitant. His culinary dreams often have multiple layers of sweets, so between my ‘no sweets’ position and his hesitation we have room to negotiate. 🙂

I like to give total control, and then have a sudden ‘Just put in a handful’ or a quick ‘here, hold this’ moment.  Not enough time to hesitate.

For my kid, that works.

You can see he doesn’t want to touch the sticky granola.

But he did.  A little.

More important, for me, is that he saw how the separate ingredients looked and tasted on their own, how they looked and smelled being stirred and cooked…

sensory play

Sensory play in the kitchen – Funnermother

and tasted!

I’d call this a great afternoon of gross and fine motor practice, imagination, planning, process, results, and sensory exploration!

Do you sneak in sensory experiences?  Please leave a comment telling us how.

Other posts on sensory play include:

Here, Feel This Fruit

Recycle Freestyle

My Big Fan – caught on film!

rainbow fan

My biggest fan, caught on film! – Funnermother

I think they LIKE my nutty ideas,

actually.

We got Thing 2’s paints

and

a giant 25.00 fan from

kids activities

My biggest fan – captured on film! – Funnermother

some cheapie store.

kids activities

My biggest fan – caught on film! – Funnermother

Thing 2’s face was completely

LIT UP!!

I was appealing to her

appetite for 6-year-old mischief.

Hugely.

I wasn’t even sure what would happen.

We opted out of green and indigo,

but

followed the ROY G BIV convention as closely as we could.

We were DELIGHTED with the launch, which resulted in rainbow-like throbbing colors as you’ll see in this YouTube video:

http://youtu.be/I22mafKrYlQ

The other part  we loved: fan blades were not completely dry and the rim got paint-splattered!  🙂

Other posts about sensory play include: Here, Feel This Fruit