Get Ready, Get Set: preparing for toilet training by Laura Kett

Are you eager to get rid of the inconvenience and expense of diapers?  Who isn’t?!  Let’s get you on the path to success by getting ready and setting the right expectations.  Extra helpings of patience are key throughout the process!  So, if you are thinking about potty training or if you are feeling “stuck,” your patience and success will blossom if you first consider your child’s developmental stage in these areas:  social emotional, physical and communication.  Here are some questions to assess those areas:

-Is your child showing interest in using the potty? Have they asked to sit on the potty or are they in the stage of “I do it myself” with other activities?  Are they expressing discomfort with wet or soiled diapers?  These are all great indicators of social emotional readiness.

-Is your child staying dry during the day for a couple of hours? Babies start by voiding little bits all the time so they do not even have the feeling of urgency. As they get older, they will get that look on their face and pause in their play to pee.  That is a good sign they can start potty training.  When you notice this change, do frequent diaper checks to see when and how often they are voiding.  This will help you plan how often to put them on the potty.

-Is your child hiding when they are going to poop?  Or, if you have started with training pants, are they asking for a diaper?  Does their elimination have a pattern?  For example, do they poop right when they get up from nap or about 15 minutes after supper?   These readiness signs will help you with developing a timing plan for “potty time.”

-Is your child struggling with anything else? Other issues such as picky eating or dressing may have to be put on hold if you are beginning toilet "training." 

-What else is going on in your family right now? Any big transitions? Do you have the time to devote to this or are you due for a new baby in the next month?  Are you moving or in the middle of other transitions?  You need patience and time for this big transition!  Your child is moving from using a diaper for all voiding, moving from voiding any time they please with no need to plan or be alert to what is happening.  And now they will be asked to sense a need, stop what they are doing, and get to the potty in time to remove clothes, climb up to the potty and situate themselves and let it go!  No wonder this is hard!!

Tips on getting ready:

1. Read all of the above to check for readiness developmental, desire, social emotional, and family life. 

2.  Check out a few books from the library such as Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi or I Want My Potty by Tony Ross.  The Ross book is a totally delightful tale of a child learning to love her potty and becoming successful in using it. 

3.  Communicate consistent words for voiding - poop and pee are pretty common or you could use urinate and BM but it is so much easier for your little one to yell "poooooooop" or "peeeeee" when running to the potty. :)

4. If you have not already done so, move your diaper changes to the bathroom or right outside the bathroom so your child associates the bathroom with voiding.  You can start showing them where poop goes by dumping out the diaper into the toilet and then having them flush.

5. Model going to the bathroom for them.  You probably do, but for those who do not, this is no time to be modest!

6. For some children the bathroom is a place of sensory overload: the echoes of voices and flushing, and the brightness. You might be able to do something about the brightness by dimming lights, but the flushing can be quite an issue!  One idea is to let them be in charge of the flushing:  they can flush or they can leave the room first. It is best to acknowledge that "yes it bothers you, I get that - so I will flush after you leave the bathroom.” Eventually they will come to tolerate it and want to "flush it myself."

7.  Equipment is important, too.  Prepare with a stool and seat insert so they can be secure on the toilet.  Can you imagine trying to sit on a giant toilet and attempting to do a new skill with your legs dangling and your body precariously balanced above a toilet which might flush on you any minute??  Alternatively, you can use a child seat on the floor but then you have to later deal with the transition to the toilet.  ** It is recommended that you use a seat insert that has room for the pee to get away from the body and not splash right back onto them in order to prevent UTIs.

8.  There are a myriad of methods in books and on the internet – and I mean EVERY “mommy blog.”  What works for one person may not work for another.  For example, there is the weekend method where you roll up your carpets and your child wears no pants or diaper. Or you may just start by putting them on the potty every 30 minutes - adjusting if you are not catching them dry. Here are some common practices for success:

-Practice sitting on the potty with no expectations so it gets to be a comfortable place.

-Save special books for reading only while you are in the bathroom.

-Sing a song!  If they are resisting sitting on the potty, tell them they can get off as soon as you sing the ABC song, for example.

-Timers are essential so you are consistent with frequent, regular potty sitting!

9. Are you out in public?  It may help to have them sit sideways on the toilet for stability.  They can hold onto the side of the stall or a bar if available. If there is no bar, they may prefer a portable seat insert.  If using an auto flush toilet, place a post-it note on the motion sensor to prevent auto flushing while they are on the potty

10. Clothing should be easy to pull off.  Some children need to have undies and pants off totally to balance and aim right while seated. Dresses may or may not work as the skirts can get in the way.  No fasteners – those are an added frustration! 

AS HARD AS IT MAY BE, try to stay positive, remembering that this is a big transition! Start when you have time to be consistent.  Praise them when they go, but do not chide them for accidents, because we all know “accidents happen!”. Do not push it before they are ready and accept that for many it just takes a while to make the switch. 


Happy Trails: Traveling With Your Sensitive Child by Laura Kett

“Don’t make me eat this! You stink and you’re squishing me! This is taking too long!”

Don’t these exclamations make you wish you had never left home?  That’s what your child is probably wishing, too.  Chaos, no personal bubble, changing schedules, different foods, and new smells can make a sensitive child anxious and uncomfortable.  And, because sensitive souls are usually pretty expressive, (in one way or another) they share their feelings clearly with the whole family.  They may be short with you, moody, resistant, crabby, or just plain scream.  Are we having fun, yet?

Here are 10 tips for traveling with sensitive souls which may make for a more enjoyable vacation:

1-      Let your child know what is happening tomorrow.  Go over it verbally, use a calendar, make a list, draw pictures, and develop it into a story.  Sensitive souls do not like surprises and prefer predictable routines.

2-      With your child helping, gather their favorite things and tuck them into their backpack.  At least these items will be familiar and hopefully comforting.

3-      Bring some favorite foods.  This is especially important if their list of “favorites” is limited.

4-      Use clocks or timers to give them an idea of “how long” - or maps for “how far.”

5-      Use music and headphones. Music often helps to sooth and regulate those moods!

6-      Give breaks:  breathe, stretch, give “space” breaks, a walk (even on a plane).

7-      Minimize your list of “must do, must see” in the interest of all of you.

8-      Consider what your child generally responds to for calming – fidgets, drawing, reading, and manipulatives like putty or squeeze balls can all help to relieve stress.

9-      Gather pictures prior to the trip of what you will see - and if you are going to visit people, try to get pictures of them also. This helps set expectations.

10-   Let them bring their own camera! You can review the day using the photos as talking points (aren’t you glad you live in a digital age?).

These tips are all things in which you have some control.  Try to look at the trip through their eyes.  Process with your child all of the things that are staying the same (family, favorite object, car, clothes) and what will be different (where they sleep, some food, what they see).  Preplanning can help your child start in a calmer state for when you encounter the unexpected or changes over which you have no control. 

Here’s to an enjoyable vacation for all!

More Books by Laura Kett

*Part Two of Books that I find valuable in guiding parent along the way – everything from eating to confidence!

How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much by Ellen Satter.  Satter is a dietician and social worker who is known for developing the golden rule for parenting with food entitled “The Division of Responsibility in Feeding:  Parents are responsible for what is presented to eat and the manner in which it is presented.  Children are responsible for how much and even whether they eat.”  Most of us could use these guidelines, right?!  The idea is to set up healthy eating habits and a positive atmosphere at the table.  In this book, she gives advice on eating for a range of ages – from babies to adolescents – and  reviews the division of responsibility at each stage.

French Kids Eat Everything:  How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon.  I hardly need to tell you what this is about since it says it all in the title!  The 10 Rules generally summarize what Ellen Satter does in her book:  eat healthy food, eat together in a relaxed atmosphere, everybody should be presented with the same food, and parents are in charge of what is on the table.  I most like the chapter on “tips and tricks, rules and routines” which goes over the 10 rules.  She also includes some recipes that she developed along the way.

Baby-Led Weaning:  The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater by Rapley and Murkett.  The trend of long titles continues – so, again, I do not have to tell you what this is about.  It’s a great book for those of us living in the first world countries who have been taught that the solid food journey starts with rice cereal and then proceeds to spoon feeding our babies:  step 1 – puree, step 2 – mixed purees (woohoo), step 3 – puree with chunks (gag).  This book gives guidance and confidence to skip the spoon feeding and let your baby explore food in a safe and enjoyable manner.  Oh, yes, it’s messy! But with this approach, most children will not have an aversion to textures. 

Grace Based Parenting by Kimmel.  This title may be short, but it accurately conveys the content:  how to incorporate grace in parenting as you guide your child to being confident, having the freedom to be different, and developing tools to meet challenges – all while feeling securely loved.  This is a faith-based book, and if you prefer something else, I also have a lot of respect for Love and Logic 2006 version (Cline and Fey).  It is more directive in its approach and their online site now offers a host of materials, articles and classes if that interests you.  Both of these books help with setting boundaries in a kind and clear way to help you enjoy your children.  Who can have enough parenting books?

And more!! I am going to mention two other books which are considered Occupational Therapy sensory basics.  One is Lucy Miller’s Sensational Kids. This talks about all different profiles of children with sensory differences.  This is very easy to read, has charts, all kinds of “case studies” (my favorite thing) and strategies for home/school/community.  Generally it is meant for kids with some definite sensory issues.  The other book, I totally love - Tools for Tots:  Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Henry, Kane-Wineland and Swindeman).   My worn out copy was loaned to many parents until the authors came out with a CD for creating handouts.  It gives ideas for any child who:  resists bath time, is challenged with transitions, doesn’t like being touched or having nails clipped, cannot seem to settle for sleep, etc.  There are a host of sensory based suggestions for each area of challenge.  Not a “cure all,” but a great way to look at the challenge from your child’s skin.

So, this is definitely not an inclusive list, but I am stopping at 10.  I’d love to hear from you about your favorite child raising books!  Right now I am reading Little Flower Yoga for Kids:  A Yoga and Mindfulness Program to Help Your Child Improve Attention and Emotional Balance by J.C. Harper.  Again a mouthful, but it’s just plain fun!  And who can argue with breathing, stretching, doing fun poses and learning a life long activity?

Book Reviews: Parenting, Sensory, Quirky, etc. by Laura Kett

I frequently purge my work bookshelves full of work related titles and some of the same books always make the cut and stay put.  These are books I tend to lend out, skim through occasionally, or use as a reference.  Here are 10 of my favorites:

Living Sensationally:  Understanding Your Senses by Winnie Dunn.  Dunn is one of the gurus whom OTs defer to in the world of sensory processing.  In this book she is speaking to adults, helping them to identify their sensory preferences.  Once you have identified the preferences, she helps you explore how these could be affecting your relationships, comfort level and overall interactions in your daily life.  From a sensory perspective, this awareness can help you better understand other adults in your lives as well as your children.  I often recommend it to parents of children with sensory issues and then they start saying things like:  “oh, I have that, too” or “ah, that’s why that bugs me!”

The Myth of the ADD Child:  50 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels or Coercion by Armstrong.  If you can ignore the controversial title, you will find some classically great ideas in this book.  Armstrong does agree that there exists a profile of behaviors which could receive the ADD label, and he states that some people could benefit from meds.  What he promotes, however, are a host of ideas for working on attention which should also be considered such as diet changes, therapy, music, energy channeling activities, and so on.  It’s a 1997 book and since that year there have been a plethora of books and workshops developed on attention and executive function skills (which include organization and emotions and focus).  The strategies in this book are still relevant.  Finding what works for each individual is hard work.  No gimmicks, no magic – but these ideas are worth considering.

Quirky Kids:  Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn’t Fit In – When to Worry and When Not to Worry by Klass and Costello.  These authors summarize their approach in the title of this book and go on to entitle Part I:  A World Full of Quirky Kids.  They describe behaviors of the kids who “march to the beat of a different drummer” and “quirky” is so much better than the label “weird,” right?!  I love this book, maybe because I am a little quirky.  Maybe because I bristle at the idea that all kids need to “fit in or get a label and be fixed.”   However, I have received hundreds of referrals from parents who are concerned that their child does not “fit in,” or that something is “off,” and that needs to be addressed. Testing may be inconclusive or not really giving the full picture of who your child is.  The emphasis then should be to look at your child as a unique individual possessing many strengths and preferences.  You can devise strategies to meet with challenges and develop modifications in their setting (or choose a new setting altogether).  You may want to consult a professional to give you guidance.  Quirks are not a problem until they interfere with relationships and daily activities.  The goal is not to get rid of the quirks!

Helping the Child Who Doesn’t Fit In by Nowicki and Duke.  This is old – 1992 – but still so good.  Can you tell where my heart is?  This book is a guide for professionals and parents to help children who have experienced rejection.  The portions I used are on personal space, body language (hands on the hips means…) and facial expressions (being aware of yours and learning to read others).  However, I would recommend one of the many user friendly books now available on teaching your children social skills (e.g. Social Rules for Kids by Diamond 2011).  Look for a book with good photos.  A photo is worth a thousand words!

Overwhelmed With Toys? by Laura Kett

10 Classic Toys for Little Ones and Ways to Expand Their Use

If you are not overwhelmed with toys covering your floor, maybe you do not need to read this.  However, if you want fewer toys that can be used for multiple purposes, read on! And while you are at it, forward this article to friends and relatives as a gift wish list.

Playing is a child’s “work” and delight as it gives them many opportunities to develop their visual-motor, language, thinking and imagination skills as well as independent play and social skills. You can have such fun interacting with your little ones while they are “working” their brain!

Here is a list of TEN basic toys for those first years.  Each of these appeals to more than one sense, can be used in different ways over a number of years, are classically appealing, and provide opportunity for growth across all areas of development.

1. Rattles: They are great for the really little ones–especially before they are moving around!

   They can be hung on mobiles or attached to strollers to encourage visually focusing and reaching out.

   Give little ones time to react when holding the rattles up for looking or touching. Do not initially overwhelm them with too many bells and whistles! 

   When your kids are on their tummies, these toys can help develop head turning, head lifting, visual tracking, reaching, banging objects together, and transferring from one hand to the other.

   Tip: don’t buy too many!  Rattles will soon be a less desired toy.  The ones that are more multifaceted will be favored for a longer period of time.  For example, choose rattles with sensory properties: like the one that vibrates when a string is pulled, or the one that has rings for those little finger to play with, one that is squishy or squeaks and feels good in the mouth. 

2. Music: It can sooth the savage breast. 

   Interesting Fact: did you know that even tiny babies have a discernible breathing pattern change with calm music?

   First musical toys can be shakers or drums or other simple toys to squeeze or tap.

   Singing and listening to music can be so soothing for a baby. And as they grow and gain head control, you can sit them on your lap to do interactive songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” They can bounce to music and eventually “dance” and sing along with you!

3. Books: Who could have too many of these?

   Start with board books as it helps them learn to turn the pages and allows some independence with books. If you have regular books, they are likely to tear the paper as they would with any paper or magazine because it's FUN!  They still might put the book in their mouth but try gently pulling it out and saying, "Let's look at the book" and model that way of using books.

   Choose books with photos or good pictures, but few words. They can be silly or sweet, have fun sound–try them all!  Get books you like because you will be reading them over and over and over (you get the idea).

   Read to them often on your lap or next to you. This is good for their visual attention, stimulation, language literacy and snuggles.

4. Wooden blocks: The possibilities are limitless. 

   Find the kind with a variety of shapes and sizes.  If you also get colored blocks, you can later use them for color, size and shape sorting.

   Stacking:  start out with stacking 2 for initial success. Just learning to release a cube is a skill to acquire. They will soon stack more and crash the tower.

   Building:  a road for play cars, a house, a barrier to crash into with cars or trains.

   Matching: shapes and colors.

   Stand some rectangular shapes on end in a wavy line to knock down (as with dominoes).

   Banging: this is going to happen so try to get them to bang on a bigger block instead of your nice coffee table.

   Check out block play research:  this NPR article discusses the advantages block play can give your child in the areas of cognition and language skills:

Check out this NPR article on Blocks:  Tools of the Trade :)

5. Stuffed animals:  Did I hear a groan? Every child will get them for gifts no matter what you say, so here are some ways to welcome a sane number into your home.

stuffed animals.jpg

   They are a great source of "friends” for make-believe play such as tea parties and trains and riding in boxes or larger cars.

   They can be cuddled, carried, soothed, squished (good alternative to squishing a pet or new baby), fed, changed and dressed. So many skills are learned this way!

   Hint for calmer bedtime: one or two may become a comfort toy for naps and bedtime, but too many can over stimulate.

6. Cars and trains:  Yes, they are for boys and girls!

   Crawling around or "driving" something is so much fun. They can go all through the rooms, over and under furniture and through the blocks!

   Tracks are fun and give little ones the practice of putting things together.  But this purchase is not necessary if you don't have the space or money.  It's fun to drive them through a channel of blocks or around and under furniture, too!

7. Lego Duplos:  The larger pieces are a source of fun through 3-4 years of age. They are a safer purchase as it is natural for toys to go into the mouth for the first year or two.

   Texture alone is great as there are holes on one side and pegs on the other for little fingers to explore.

   Building towers and shapes will begin to develop in the second year.  Before then they will enjoy clapping them together and pulling them apart. The pieces will be easier to pull apart if you start by putting them together at perpendicular angles.

   Extend the fun by giving them various containers for the blocks.  Putting in and pouring out is great entertainment.

8. Stacking cup set:  These have so many purposes! 

   Stacking is a great visual motor skill that can transfer from these cups to other toys. Of course, knocking the tower down is the best part.

   When practicing nesting, just use two at first, using only a large and tiny one for success.

   Use them as containers to put items into and then dump them out (again, the best part!).

   These can be used as bathtub or sandbox toys for scooping and pouring.

   Some versions can also be used for color sorting, counting or as stamps for playdough.

   Later these make great cups for tea parties.

9. Balls:  You might think a baby wouldn’t benefit, but balls are fun at any age!

   You can get nice textured soft rubber balls, balls with projections, or any non-toxic sports ball.

   They will try to mouth them initially, but you can show them how to roll the ball. This is a good interactive game which helps with visual tracking. Eventually, motor skills will advance and they will learn to pick it up and toss it (usually a pretty unpredictable arcJ).

   Balls can also be put in and out of containers and rolled down a slope.

10. Puzzles:  Too soon you think? Start with wooden puzzles with large basic shapes.

   At first they will just dump them and put them in their mouths.  At some point they will start aiming at the shape hole and enjoy doing the puzzle over and over.

   There are a multitude of skills a child learns with puzzles from problem solving, manipulating items in their hands, and asking for help if they are stuck

   Some of the chunky piece puzzles have critters which can be used for imaginative play as they stand on their own or can be put into cups or other containers.

   Tip: extend the challenge. After they are successful completing single puzzles, take two or three puzzles and dump all of the pieces into a container. Then have them pull out one piece at a time and match it to the correct puzzle.  This gives practice with visual scanning and problem solving.

As your child decreases mouthing behaviors, you can start adding in some more messy sensory play with sand and soapy bubbles.  And when they are developmentally ready, you can continue to increase the gooshy and sticky components with playdough, paint, stickers, paper tearing and gluing. Hint: use a tray with sides for paint, glue, cutting and playdough projects so they have a clear idea of boundaries and the mess is somewhat contained! 

Is this list missing your favorite toy?  Of course there are many others you may want to consider.  In fact, I was just thinking about how much fun a little pail and shovel is!  Just remember it’s not so much about the stuff as the joy found in play.

And this is only part of the fun!!  Social games, outings to the park, walks around the block or along the water’s edge or through a woods, playfulness during daily routines, playing “I Spy” on your outings, giving them a safe kitchen drawer to rummage through–these all add to the adventure of exploring and growing. 

Praise your child’s efforts as well as their accomplishments!  Enjoy their discoveries. Enjoy them!

Calm and Alert: How Activities Can Affect Your Attention by Laura Kett

Swimming, digging in dirt, chewing gum, playing with playdough, jumping, and coloring – what do they have in common?  All of these activities can affect behavior and emotions.  The big question is which activities work for you?  Which ones work for your child?  The same activity may have a different result from one person to another.  For some people digging in dirt or sand is calming, for others the feel of sand in between their fingers would be totally irritating!

In past posts, I have written about how we can use activities to help us move from one state of behavior to another.  For example, we may go for a run to help us organize our thoughts or even decrease feelings of anxiety.  Similarly, children may intuitively choose the swings at recess or the climbing structure to release pent-up emotions.  After recess they may be able to concentrate better.  Hooray for recess!  And if they have a hard time calming down when they come back from recess, the teacher may have them do some deep breathing before transitioning into seat work.  It may look like this:

“Take a deep breath.  Hold.  Let it out slowly.  Again.  Now give yourself a hug.”

In the world of sensory processing, there is a host of strategies categorized as heavy work activities. The list is endless and varies from deep breathing to jumping on a mini-tramp.  There are considerations for particular environments and for personal choices.  Some activities are more appropriate for larger spaces (pushing a loaded cart) and some for smaller spaces (squeezing a fidget).  Some are appropriate for home (bike riding) and some for school (carrying books to the library).  The goal is to choose an appropriate effective activity or mix of activities. 

One of my favorite suggestions for a calming activity is coloring with the use of colored pencils or crayons because they give you good feedback and require more pressure (heavy work J).  I was recently talked to a bookstore owner who told me about the explosion of coloring books for adults, especially mandalas.  There are many with the express intent of soothing the adult soul with books such as Color Me Calm and the Zen Doodle Coloring Book.  Maybe this is something to put into your schedule before or after a challenging bedtime routine! J

Choosing activities and seeing how they work with your child is a challenge! Contact me if you would like help talking through activities which may be helpful for you or your child to help with transitions and daily routines.  I would love to help you develop a plan. 

Here are some resources and related articles:

OTMama blog has 40 heavy work activities listed which you can use and expand upon! 

NPR interview on adult coloring includes the benefits of coloring followed by an interview with a Scottish author of adult coloring books (love that accent!).  The comments at the end of the article are a great promotion for coloring

Dover Publications has some great low cost coloring books for all age levels.

NBC news article on fidgeting and movement which incorporates ideas on heavy work.

Not This Again! When Daily Routines are a Struggle** by Laura Kett

Everyone has daily routines – like your routines for getting up, dressing, eating meals, transitioning to and from the car, and going to bed.  When I say “routine,” it doesn’t mean that you have a fixed way of doing things, but rather that you have a “typical for your family” way of doing things.  It may be, for example, that you struggle every day to get your children to bed and that bedtime is a chaotic time for your family.  Like it or leave it, that’s your routine. You may be the lucky family who gently guides your child through the toileting and toothbrushing, tucks them in bed after a book or two, and listens as they sing themselves to sleep.  Or not.

If you are challenged by helping your child to get to sleep you are not alone.  One indication is the host of books on the subject:  just try googling “children and sleep.”  And then there’s Amazon’s “top selling book which promises to put your child to sleep.”  What desperate sleep deprived parent wouldn’t run out and get that?!!  Yes, my daughter ordered it.  I am curious, too, and intend to find out what the magic is within those covers.  It could be a great addition to the bedtime routine, but I doubt that it can “stand alone.” *

What this plethora of books tells me is that there is no single, definitive answer – not for sleep routines or any other routines.  And when your child has sensory differences, you may have to make even more intentional efforts to calmly get through these transitions and routines. 

So what goes into creating a successful bedtime routine?  This routine needs to have some components of flexibility, but overall, the goal is to give your child clear expectations and a consistent order to the process. It needs to be individualized, and, in order for you to be consistent, it may help to write out your bedtime routine.  This written plan, or story, will also help if different people put your child to bed.  It may reduce anxiety and gaming behaviors.

Here is a case study:  I recently started working on a bedtime routine for a delightful, bright little three- year-old girl (my granddaughter).  She went through a pleasant phase as a two-year-old where the routine developed and was fairly smooth for bedtime. Then she reverted to challenging early behaviors stretching out the bedtime process sometimes to two hours.  When I assessed her sensory needs, I realized she seems to crave a good amount of jumping, running, swinging and climbing.  These are things she needs in order to be calm.  She also seems to do best at the end of the day if she has had a good nap and timely dinner.  When devising a plan or “bedtime story” for her, I took into account her great verbal skills, her need to move, her skill at manipulating (!), and which sensory strategies she generally responded to positively. 

I drafted a bedtime story called “Every Night I Go to Bed.”  I drew simple pictures to illustrate eating, jumping, bathtime, towel snuggles, donning undies and nighties, talking about the day, reading two books, singing two songs, back rubs and listening to music as the lights are turned off.  We read the book during the day.  We read it several times at night.  How did it go?  Pretty well at first, but then not so successful.  I mean, some nights were dreadful.  Did we tear up the book?  No!  This was a good starting point and now it was time to look at what was working and what we needed to change.

This leads to an important part of creating a routine:  modification.  I talked with her parents and we decided she needed more movement during the day, a written-out daily schedule to bank on her verbal skills and help with any anxieties about what was happening the next day. Further, we needed to reassure her and be consistent with the plan where it worked.  We continued to repeat the story during the day and it is gradually working into more consistently pleasant bedtimes!

In summary, here are some tips for developing and writing out a routine:

·         Keep what works, modify what doesn’t, and get rid of the ideas that you dread – then write those changes into the story.

·         Use visual supports integrating pictures and words.

·         Keep it simple for each item whether you use a list style or book form. (in book form write no more than one or two activities per page, such as “Then I go potty and brush my teeth.”)

·         Incorporate sensory components:  touch, movement, music, pre-bed snack, calming lights.

·         You may find it helpful to add a time to the activity: “Mommy rubs my back for 5 minutes” or “I play in the bath for 10 minutes.” Also, you may find that use of a timer reduces resistance.

No matter what daily routine you are hoping to improve, consider your child’s unique needs and strengths along with their developmental level. Consider your own strengths and needs, too!  If you continue to struggle, seek input from your friends, family members or even a professional for some fresh perspective, ideas and compassion!

*I read this book and it nearly put me to sleep, but only because it was tedious to read.  It was quickly tossed as it was not a good style for me or for my daughter.

**This article was previously published in ParentMap online.

HANDWRITING: a target skill for late summer (or anytime) by Laura Kett

For many, summer vacation is about the break from “seat work” – but this break also provides us with s great opportunities for development! Recently, I heard that Shari Lewis of Lamb Chop fame developed her wide variety of skills by focusing on learning one skill during each summer vacation.  I know some wise parents who follow a similar approach with their children’s summer vacations.  We had one neighborhood boy who had numerous challenges.  One summer, his parents decided he should learn how to ride a bike.  He spent his summer riding happily around the neighborhood.  A great life skill! 

Many children attend sports camps in the summer. But maybe your child needs a more relaxed approach to building their basic gross-motor skills - like spending time riding a two-wheeler, bouncing a ball on the driveway, kicking a ball around the yard, or just building confidence on the playground without competing with 150 kids for the equipment. 

Summer can also a great time to work on handwriting skills (okay, I hear that little groan) – including catching up on improving the formulation of letters as well as the fluidity or pace of writing.  When your child has great things to write and say but their peers, teachers, and others find reading their writing challenging, they may get frustrated and just “give up.”  A great deal of writing is expected in school, with the pace and amount of writing increasing rapidly beginning already in first grade.  Why not use the time that summer allows to work on building confidence and foundational handwriting skills in a fun, no-stress environment? Even though most of this summer has slipped past, anytime is the right time to work on handwriting skills!

Here are some ideas for young writers:

1-      Play!  Many fine-motor activities are good warm-ups for writing activities.  Ideas include:  playdough play, writing and drawing with sidewalk chalk, sticker play, stamping, tiny wind-up toys, small building blocks, Legos.

2-      Form letters using materials with different sensory properties.  Ideas include:  playdough “snakes,” Wikki Sticks, sticks from the yard, pencil or stick tracing on a slab of clay, finger tracing in sand or salt in a tray. (Provide a model as needed.)

3-      Write letters and numbers.  When you get to this step, it can still be fun!  A couple ideas include: playing tic-tac-toe using letters or numbers; writing the letter in the air first; tracing letters with eyes closed; using a variety of media to write with (paint, vibrating pens, markers, sparkly crayons) and to write on (dark paper with white crayons, strips of paper, colored 3x5’s or papers decorated with stickers). All of these pave the way for motor memory and automaticity of letter formation.  For an app to help with motor and visual memory, try Letter School

4-      Put everything together in a “writing suitcase” or another special box.

Here are some ideas for your older writers:

1-      Try some fine-motor activities as a warm-up.  Ideas include:  Legos, clay play, drawing step-by-step, painting.

2-      Writing practice – not drills!  Ideas include: playing games such as Mad Libs; making lists for shopping or places they would like to visit; writing postcards or letters to relatives or friends (I know – old-fashioned!).

3-      Writing.  Older students should do a writing sample to ensure you are focusing on the letters or numbers that are a challenge.  When reviewing the writing, don’t assume that they know what “messy” is – instead have your children learn to self-critique by looking at formation, spacing, and letter placement one at a time!  The goal is not to have perfect handwriting, but to produce legible handwriting.  Practicing letters is not helpful if the child is repeating mistakes!  This is a time to build skills and confidence on the basics so they can then spend energy on content.

4-      Keyboarding.  If you have a child who is finishing 3rd grade and struggles with handwriting legibility, find a good keyboarding program now (such as Mavis Beacon).  Instead of searching their keyboard for letters when they are trying to produce writing in school, they can concentrate on their creative content! (If they are younger than 3rd grade, there are some more fun-based programs like Sponge Bob, but focus should be on handwriting.)

For a skill like handwriting, designate 20 minutes a day for maybe 3 or 4 days a week.  Include in that time the fine-motor preparation activities for the “writing.”  Use a powerful reward if necessary, but do everything you can to make it fun!  And if your child has a lot of writing homework, make sure you give time for "brain breaks" and "eye breaks" -- stand, stretch, breath!

I occasionally brush up on my handwriting and find it calming.  I am now using a cursive workbook for which uses the Italic Handwriting style.  There are so many ways to go!  If you have questions, please contact me.  We could even do a one-on-one or small group session.

Here are some websites with useful ideas especially for using a variety of lined paper and making your own worksheets:  Writing wizardDonna Young. For complete handwriting programs here are two I recommend:  Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting Handwriting success and Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting.  These are both beautiful and give consideration to warm-ups, print and ease into cursive without teaching a whole new way of writing.

Need more convincing of the importance of handwriting?  Check out this article in the New York Times or these findings from an Educational Summit regarding handwriting research.



Relating to Your Sensory Self by Laura Kett

So far, my posts have been focused on your child’s challenging behaviors and sensory processing differences.  Before we continue, I want to emphasize that we all have differences!   However, sometimes these differences are more extreme and become a challenge to us.  I always tell parents that the sensory processing differences that they observe in their child are only a problem if those differences interfere with family or school life. In terms of sensory needs, is your child comfortable in his or her daily environment?  Are sensory patterns affecting social interactions or ability to focus in school or follow a daily routine? 

Before you consider your child’s patterns, reflect on your own sensory processing patterns. Winnie Dunn wrote an insightful book called Living Sensationally:  Understanding Your Senses.  She helps adults view their own behaviors through the lens of sensory responses in daily living. The responses are then grouped into four basic patterns:  avoiders, sensors, bystanders and seekers.  Her questionnaire helps you to determine your own patterns as well as the degree to which they influence your social interactions, activity choices, clothing and so forth. 

I took the questionnaire myself and the results show that my behaviors appear to be moderately influenced by avoider and sensor patterns, some mild bystander characteristics, and virtually no influence by seeker patterns of responses.  It confirms, from a sensory point of view, that I am a mixed bag:  I avoid perfume but like spices, love haircuts and going barefoot, but I do not touch others when I am talking to them – in fact, I respect a substantial personal bubble.

My primary take-away from this book is that no one pattern is better than another; however, how you experience and respond to sensory input can impact your activity choices and how you relate to other people.  While this is particularly true in marital and roommate relationships, just consider how much this can influence your relationship with your child!

If you are a “seeker” parent and have a “sensor” child, you may clash in your idea of what is fun!   A seeker may love the big crowded playground and all of its activities, but the avoider child might prefer his or her own backyard with a friend or two.  A seeker child might like the front row of a parade, while the bystander parent might like to watch from a few rows back. The avoider parent would have someone else take their child to the parade.  A sensor child might only be comfortable in cotton clothing with tags cut out, while a seeker parent might love bright lively fabrics - and it doesn’t matter what it feels like. 

Pay attention to how you perceive sensory input and respond to it. This may prove to be vital in your relationship with your child.  No matter what the results, it is important to honor the fact that your child may be experiencing the input in a totally different way. 

I can help you decipher the sensory patterns in your family.  Being aware of your own sensory processing patterns is a key first step!  Contact me to start the conversation.




The Sensory Sensitive Child by Laura Kett

“Is the fire alarm going to go off?  The lights are too bright!  It’s too noisy in here – it hurts my ears! My tummy hurts.  I want to leave!”

Do you have a sensitive child?  This is not an uncommon phenomenon and yet these children can feel alienated and misunderstood.  When I have had children referred for sensitivities, it’s usually because it is interfering with their concentration and even with social skills.

Noah came to me and could not get off the topic of the possibility of the fire alarm going off.  His mother said he also had a hard time entering public bathrooms because of the anticipated noise of the hand driers.  My nephew has extreme sensitivity to pain to the point where a hang nail can make him miss a piano lesson.  The other afternoon I was attending a child-friendly concert—or should I say friendly for most, as one child was brought out plugging his ears, screaming about the noise and his parent looked equally stressed saying, “just play outside then!”

It can be so frustrating for the adult, but even more anxiety producing for the child! When I try to explain to parents and teachers how real this is to a child, I ask them to imagine standing in front of a car and the person inside is poised to hit the horn.  You know it’s just a horn, but you would feel better if you were the one who was going to honk it.  Or, imagine that you are experiencing a nasty headache and you are stuck in traffic in a construction zone.  The point is, a child feels like there is no escape.  Or maybe they do escape and they bolt from the house or classroom or away from you in a crowd.  Or they just melt.

As discussed in past posts, it is good to think of your own sensitivities and try to think about how your child is experiencing the environment.  It is helpful to think of yourself on the same side as the child and honor their sensitivities.  Just take their word for it that it truly “hurts.”

If you were stuck in traffic, hearing someone say, “Get over it, there is nothing I can do!” would simply add to the frustration.  But it might help you to hear something like:  “Oh, getting stuck in traffic is the worst!  Can you find some good music to listen to? I heard the funniest story at work today.”

Similarly, a child might like to hear:  “Oh, I am so sorry that noise is bothering you and hurting your ears.  It does not bother me, but I know it bothers you.  What about putting your hands over your ears or using these ear plugs or these noise-blocking headphones?”  If they are not at the peak of anxiety, it may help to divert them with a story or song. I had one little guy who just needed to have the ear plugs in his pocket.  At first he used them, but eventially he would just finger them for reassurance.

Sometimes if you anticipate a “sensory event” it helps to talk it through, talk about ways to handle it and go through the time table for when it will be over.  Help them practice tolerating the noise.  Even have them imitate the noise.  In the case of pain, try to give the child some deep calming back rubs or find another calming event for them such as music on headphones.

*If you would like to go on an outing with your child who has sensitivities, there are venues which accommodate those needs.  Libraries offer smaller group times with less stimulation.  Also Seattle's Child Magazine has pulled together a list of possibilities you may want to check out.

**If your child is overwhelmed and you are overwhelmed, seek a professional to help you work through these very real challenges.  It can be an occupational therapist, or for babies you can contact the people at the FussyBabyNetwork: (Seattle area)

May 5, 2015