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!