Archive for: Advice

WHY CHOOSE US?

Managing Strong Emotions

Managing Strong Emotional Reactions in Children and Teens

Woman in Gray Tank Top

Have you ever been so overwhelmed with an emotion that it felt all-consuming? Like you were stuck in a deep, dark emotion pit without a ladder? When emotions take the reins, they can make it really hard to focus on the situation at hand, to process logical reasoning, and to problem-solve. The crippling impact of overwhelming emotion is even stronger for children and adolescents, because they are still developing neurologically and don’t have the same capacities as adults to self-regulate. So what is a parent to do when their child is swallowed up by fear, worry, anger, or sadness? Following are some tips to help you help your child manage strong emotions:

Address the Emotion

Father holding cheeks of son in face mask

When children or teens are having meltdowns, many parents try to speak to them rationally. While parents do this with the best of intentions, the problem is that when somebody is in an emotional tailspin, the logical part of their brain is completely shut down. Even the most revelatory comment will go straight over their heads until the emotional arousal comes down.

So when emotion carries your child away, instead of trying to problem-solve, start by addressing the emotion. If they are too far gone to access language, label the emotion for them (e.g., “I can see that you are very upset”) and validate why they feel so upset, even if you feel they are behaving inappropriately (e.g., “I understand that you are really mad that you have to finish your homework before you watch TV”). Oftentimes having somebody acknowledge how you feel helps bring the level of the emotion down to a tolerable level, which then makes it easier to reflect, redirect, and problem-solve.

Help Your Child Ground

Person Wearing Red Hoodie

Another way to bring down emotional arousal is to force the brain to think about something else. “Grounding” skills are techniques that are designed to direct your focus to something occurring in the present moment, rather than having your brain carried off by emotion.

One helpful grounding skill is the 5 Senses Activity. Guide your child to identify:

  • 5 things they can see
  • 4 things they can hear
  • 3 things they can touch
  • 2 things they can smell, and
  • 1 thing they can taste.

In a pinch, you can do even simpler grounding activities, such as counting activities (e.g., How many light switches do you see in the room? How many tiles are on the floor? How many surfaces can you sit on?). Try it yourself right now – the more you have to focus on something in your immediate environment, the harder it is for your brain to get distracted by anything else, which gives your emotions time to cool off.

Preempt the Emotion

Close-up Photography Of A Girl Eating Bread

These first couple skills are for use in the moment, when the emotion has already taken over. In the long run, it can help to identify patterns and warning signs. Spend some time observing your child and getting a feel for common triggers. This can help you preempt significant escalations in emotion (for example, if your child tends to get “hangry”, save difficult conversations for after they’ve had a snack).

That said, it’s also good for children to learn to “build the muscle” of tolerating difficult emotion (the world won’t always be able to accommodate them as well as a parent can!), but this needs to happen in a graduated way. In calm, quiet moments, work with your child to help them identify when they tend to get upset and how they know their emotions are rising. What do they feel in their body? What thoughts go through their head? Once they become familiar enough with their own signs of emotional arousal, they can practice self-regulation skills before it’s too late, such as deep breathing, positive mental imagery, or separating themselves from a difficult situation. At first, you may need to help guide them to use these skills when you notice an uptick in emotional arousal, but in time, these skills will become more automatic, and they will be better able to initiate self-regulation strategies independently.

Model Self-Regulation Skills

Child With Woman Holding Map

Children learn about emotions from those around them. The more you are able to regulate your own emotions, the more they learn to do so themselves. This doesn’t mean being an emotion robot – many parents worry about their kids seeing them upset. What’s most helpful to kids is to see that it’s okay to feel these feelings (at safe levels), and that there’s something they can do about it. So when you’re upset about things, it’s healthy to let it show in front of your kids in small doses, to talk about your feelings in developmentally-appropriate language, and most importantly, to talk about what you’re going to do to help yourself feel more calm. Young children will enjoy joining you in self-regulation activities, such as the ones listed above, and it will be good practice for them to get into the habit!

Build Your Own Tolerance For Their Distress

Ethnic father and kid relaxing in bedroom

While children are growing, their bodies are too small to handle the big emotions they sometimes feel. It is typical for children to have big reactions to strong feelings while they get the hang of self-regulation. The goal is to help them feel confident in their abilities to self-soothe, but this doesn’t happen overnight, and too much pressure to regulate faster than their bodies are capable of can hinder the process. 

When your child is having a meltdown, remind yourself that they are doing their best in that moment, and you can continue to help them build their regulatory muscles when they are calm again. Take a few deep breaths, and trust that if you are able to stay regulated yourself in those most difficult of moments, it will help your child see that they are safe and protected by you even when they don’t feel safe and protected in their own bodies. And remind yourself that you are doing your best, too! Learning to self-regulate is hard work for everybody. It’s okay if it feels impossible sometimes. It will become easier in time!

Still too much?

As always, reach out to us if you need more information or help.

Benefits of Heavy Work

Think about the feeling that you have after exercising or doing yard work: your body is more awake, you’re aware of all the muscles you were using, and your mood improves. These incredible benefits are produced through the work of proprioceptive input and heavy work!

What is Heavy Work?

Junge im Park zusammen mit Freunden beim Wettbewerb im Seilspringen im Sommer

Heavy work is defined as any type of activity that pushes or pulls against the body and/or lifting heavy objects or items. This specific type of movement provides proprioceptive input (sensations that underlie body awareness) to the muscles and joints. Like children need food or water to survive, their bodies require sensory input in order to stay focused throughout the day. Every child has unique sensory needs that can be assessed and discovered through clinical observation. Through the combined efforts of professional intervention and sensory tailored activities, the effects can be instantaneous, effective, and, most importantly, fun!

Who can benefit from Heavy Work?

Watch out for pool sharks though (Photo by VisionPic .net)

Everyone can benefit from heavy work activities! Especially with the sudden transition to remote learning and social distancing, everyone is spending an increasing amount of time sitting still. Movement is a critical aspect of everyone’s routine that is utilized to increase stimulation, focus, and alertness. Children and adults with sensory processing disorder and other mental health conditions in particular can especially benefit from implementing these types of activities into their daily routine.

Benefits of Heavy Work

These are all siblings, I think… (Photo by Karolina Grabowska)

There are a multitude of advantages to incorporating heavy work activities into your child’s daily routine. Heavy work can be used to calm a child’s body through organizing and regulating their sensory systems, subsequently reducing their anxiety and stress. Often times, children with sensory processing difficulties don’t know where they are in time or space. This results in children seeking input through crashing into things, typically in an unsafe and uncontrollable manner. Heavy work activities can be utilized to give children the sense of grounding they are searching for and increase their body awareness. Think about how your arms feel after you’re carrying something really heavy. Even after you put the object down, you can still feel the weight; you’re more aware of the muscles in your arms. This results in a residual effect, where given the right amount proprioceptive input, can prevent sensory overload. This can keep a child calm and focused long after the activity is completed. Additionally, heavy work activities will decrease the need to chew in children who self-regulate through chewing on objects such as their shirts or sleeves. Lastly, heavy work releases Serotonin which is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter and is responsible for improving your mood while simultaneously regulating your sensory system.

Examples of Heavy Work activities:

  • Swimming;
  • Monkey bars;
  • Wall push ups;
  • Push ups;
  • Tug of war;
  • Chewing crunchy/chewy foods;
  • Jumping on a trampoline;
  • Jump rope;
  • Doing chores;
  • Wheelbarrow walking;
  • Crab walking

Tips & Tricks

  • Finding the “just right challenge”! The goal of the “just right challenge” is choose activities for your child that is neither too easy nor too hard. The purpose of these activities is to empower, motivate, and challenge your child.
  • Make the activity functional and enjoyable! It can be difficult to engage a child in an activity if it is simply carrying something heavy. Give your activity purpose! For example, have your child help out with the gardening by carrying items over to you.
  • Don’t use these activities as punishment! Although heavy work activities can be calming for some children, it is important to not have your child associate regulating activities with negative reinforcement. It’s not their fault that they do not know how to accurately regulate their bodies.
  • Have your child complete heavy work activities prior to remote learning! This will increase your child’s arousal and help their bodies stay regulated and organized while sitting still, even for long periods of time.
  • Heavy work activities affect everyone differently! It is imperative that an adult closely watches the child’s reaction to these types of activities. As always, consult your Occupational Therapist if you have any questions about what you observed!
  • HAVE FUN! (:

Want to know more?

Email us at hello@sascoriver.com with your question!

Seven Back-to-School Strategies

Set your child up for school success in 2020-21 with these back to school strategies.

Most years, the back-to-school time is filled with excitement and hopefulness for kids, and relief for parents glad for the return of the structure of a school schedule.  This year, of course, is not a typical year.

As we move into the new school year, the range of emotions expressed by our children, parents and teachers could not be broader. While there is certainly the excitement of seeing friends, and the hopefulness of a bit of normalcy, there are also feelings of uncertainty, confusion, and stress regarding the many unknowns and things beyond our control. As we navigate the new environment, we will all need to be prepared to “roll with the punches.”

Although these months will require significant flexibility on everyone’s part, we have compiled seven strategies to help your child (and you) during these topsy-turvy times:

  1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  2. Enter the Home Classroom
  3. Meet the New Assistant Teacher
  4. Allow For Transition Time
  5. Create Structure & Consistency
  6. Strike The Home / School Balance
  7. Learn New Behaviors

1.    Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Hopefully you’ll find a better method (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio)

Be as fully prepared as possible to answer your child’s questions and establish good communication with school staff.

  • Attend school activities and meetings, albeit through the remote platforms that we are able to access. During these meetings, your school will be disseminating information, answering questions, and soliciting feedback.
  • Clarify how your child’s teacher/school will be communicating with you. Stay up to date on emails/websites/texts so you know what your child is supposed to be doing.
  • If your child is having trouble staying focused and motivated, consult with your child’s teacher or a designated member of your school’s social-emotional learning team, and be creative to incorporate more hands-on activities.

2.    Enter the Home Classroom

The apple is for you (Photo by Photo by VisionPic .net)

Create a “Home Classroom” to help your child stay productive, engaged, and focused throughout the day.  Whatever the new school year brings, students will be engaged for part, if not all, of their week in remote learning, and either way, it is essential to get your home school space ready to go.

  • Have all possible school supplies necessary in one space to limit your child’s need to get up and down during learning time.
  • Limit distractions in this area by removing extra electronics, games, and toys.
  • Having a space designated for “school” allows the child to differentiate between school and home time. If space does not allow for a separate area, identify a designated workspace with all their supplies in a tub or laundry basket nearby. Ideally, this should be an open space where you can visually check in with your child to ensure they are engaged in their learning. If possible, your child’s workspace should not be in their room (though for some older kids/teens this may work fine – it depends on your child).
  • Keep usernames and passwords readily available.
  • Have a water bottle and snacks (fruit, almonds, etc.) nearby to limit the ups and downs throughout the day. Having healthy choices readily available will improve your child’s overall functioning and provide them with the fuel they need throughout the day.

3.    Meet the New Assistant Teacher

No, that doesn’t mean you do the work for them (Photo by August de Richelieu)

Like it or not, you’re now the new Assistant Teacher.  While few of us have actually been trained for the role, there are some things we can do to do the best best job we can.

  • Be prepared to help. If your child is struggling, they will likely quickly become frustrated and unmotivated. After a couple of independent attempts, try doing a practice example together and then move on to the next problem/question.
  • Help your child organize tasks. Assist in breaking down large tasks. Prioritizing tasks helps them become less overwhelmed throughout the day.
  • Do regular check-ins. Whether or not your child is working independently throughout the day, plan a check-in at the end of the day (or multiple times throughout the day depending on your child’s level of independence) to make sure your child is on track with learning and teacher expectations. This allows you to ensure they do not fall behind and provides an opportunity to teach them life skills about organization, procrastination, and asking for help when needed.
  • Create a reward system, particularly for younger children who may be less intrinsically motivated. Based on your child’s age you can provide rewards by the day or week. Rewards can range from a special dessert if all school tasks are completed during the day to a bigger reward such as a new game for completing their work throughout the week. Relationship-based non-monetary rewards are even better, such as choosing a family game to play or movie to watch together, choosing what’s for dinner, or an extra book at bedtime.
  • Create visual signs to maintain boundaries. When you are working from home and your child is doing schoolwork, there are times when you cannot be interrupted. Setting up signs can help give visual cues to teach your child when they can ask for help and when they need to wait. For example, you can put a stop sign up at your workspace when you cannot be interrupted and take it down when you are available. You can similarly create “Help” signs for your child that they can put on their workspace.

4.    Allow for Transition Time

*Child’s desk may not be as neat (Photo by Burst)

Plan for time between different activities: hybrid learning, working with pods in the neighborhood, or even sharing time between two homes.

  • Coordinate with those sharing responsibility in your child’s education to create as much consistency across environments as possible. (Examples – scheduling, expectations, use of reward systems, etc.)
  • Share successful strategies with teammates.
  • Help your child to create checklists to ensure needed materials are successfully transitioned between locations so your child has the supplies they need each day. (Depending on your child’s age, you may be responsible for the entire list.)

5.    Create Structure

Chalk walls are always fun, too (Photo by Julia M Cameron)

Provide structure; consistency is key is success in the new learning environment.

  • Create a schedule. Your school will likely provide you with a schedule, noting times for check-ins with teachers and peer-to-peer group learning opportunities. If your school does not provide a specific schedule, creating one can help your child stay on track. It allows your child to establish a routine so they understand expectations and can work more independently. A schedule also increases the child’s inner sense of “control”, further reducing stress.
  • Include both movement and brain breaks throughout the day (put them in the schedule). Some great ideas are doing three yoga poses between academic tasks or drawing a picture. To foster independence, you can write each activity on a popsicle stick and put them all in a cup. When a break comes up in the schedule, your child can randomly pick one and do it! (FYI- TV, video games, etc. can make it difficult to re-engage in school activities.)

6.    Strike the Home / School Balance

You won’t find me up there (Photo by Marcelo Moreira)

Support your child’s emotional health by keeping the balance and boundaries between “home” and “school.”

  • Be ready to manage stress…your child’s and your own. Make sure you are allowing times for self-care, individual recreational activities, and family activities. Both stress and calm are contagious. To set your child up for calm, it is essential that you are taking care of your own emotional needs first.
  • If you and your child are experiencing conflict surrounding school, it is especially important to balance them with positive experiences unrelated to “school” to maintain a healthy parent-child relationship.
  • Include transition activities at the beginning and end of the day. The trip to and from school provides this by allowing your child to “gear up” for school and “wind down.” If your child is learning remotely, it is important to keep these transitions for your child. It may be as simple as cleaning up, organizing, and preparing the space for the next day. The point is that by scheduling “transition activities” creates closure and separation between various areas of your child’s life.
  • Establish expectations surrounding screen time. Given screen time will naturally increase with virtual learning, it is important to limit additional screen time. The neurological and emotional impacts of screens can occur regardless of the content. The point here is to find a balance between tech time and other activities.
  • Keep the social connections. This can be virtually or in person with distancing. Ongoing peer interactions will foster healthy social and emotional development.
  • Exercise. Get your child moving and get them outdoors.
  • Schedule family game night/movie night/basketball night, etc.

7.    Learn new behaviors

Now, if she’d only stay six feet away (Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko)

For those returning to the school environment, there are some new behaviors you need to introduce or reinforce. With the return to the classroom, we want behaviors to protect their safety to be second nature.

  • Practice wearing a mask in as many environments as possible. This includes washing your hands before and after you touch your mask.
  • Model social distancing. Increase your child’s awareness of their personal space and space of others keeping 6 feet apart.
  • Point out one-way signs and floor tape indicating directions to walk.
  • Point out floor markers showing spacing while waiting in line.
  • Show your child what 6 feet is with a tape measure or piece of string.
  • Identify items in your child’s environment that are 6 feet long (their bed, the width of the dining room table, two hops, etc.).
  • Teach and practice coughing/sneezing etiquette. Reinforce coughing and sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, then immediately washing your hands.
  • Avoid touching your face. Some tips to help kids do this include keeping their hands in their pockets or sitting on them.
  • Model and practice proper hand washing. Use soap and warm water, singing “Happy Birthday” twice, using a paper towel to turn off the water (not their clean hands). Create a habit of all family members washing their hands as soon as they return to the house.
  • Be on the lookout for hand sanitizer and use it frequently.
  • Teach your child about lunchroom practices for their school which may include eating in the classroom, eating with their pod, or eating in individual spaces in the cafeteria. Their lunchtime structure will likely look significantly different than it has in previous years. Being prepared for change helps.

Remember

If you or your child are struggling with the “new normal” you are not alone. Some of us have handled these challenges admirably, but the reality is that children and adults alike have been asked to adapt to huge changes in a very short period of time with limited clear guidance on best practices. (For proof that you’re not alone, see this NYT piece “School Chaos Is Breaking Me”)

Keep self-compassion and self-care as your top priorities, and help your child prioritize healthy ways to stay emotionally and physically balanced. At the same time, do not hesitate to seek out personal and professional supports to help see you through these challenges and pave the way for smoother transitions ahead. If interested, see our Services page, or send us an email at hello@sascoriver.com.

Screen Time & COVID-19

Screen time was already a contentious issue for parents and children before coronavirus hit. But now that everything is digital – school, work, social engagements, even extracurriculars – many families are struggling to figure out what limits are appropriate.

“Just one more game, mom?” (Photo by EVG Culture)

Pre-corona, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended avoiding all screen time for children under 18 months (other than video chatting with family and close friends, which, if the person is engaging directly with the child, can actually help develop early social skills!). For children 18-24 months, a small amount of screen time can be introduced (about 25 minutes tops per day). Ideally, however, this is high-quality educational programming that is viewed with the parent, so the parent can help the child engage meaningfully with the material. For children ages 2-5, parents are advised to keep screen time to one hour or less per day (and ideally only high-quality educational programming with parent involvement).

The guidelines are less specific for children age five and older, with the emphasis more on what children use screens for than for how long. The AAP basically advises parents to limit screens to the best of your ability and to preview any shows/games/apps kids and teens are using to make sure they’re developmentally appropriate. Whatever your household rules are, the AAP encourages you to stick to them, and make sure that screen time does not interfere with your child’s other needs (sleeping, eating, physical activity, social time, and studying).

A New Normal

But now that everything is digital, parents are struggling to figure out where to draw that line. Many are concerned with the risks of increased screen time, such as physical inactivity (which can lead to obesity), sleep disruption, and attentional, behavioral, and social issues. The good news is that these risks are smaller than we think. Additionally, they can be at least partially mitigated by intentional screen time (more on that below) and parent involvement/supervision.

These days, there is simply no avoiding screen time. In fact, in the age of #WorkFromHome, this very article is being written with a five-month-old in my arms. To help alleviate any guilt about additional screen exposure (while still maintaining control of the household!), read on for some guidance about navigating screen time while stuck at home.

Be Flexible, But Don’t Throw Everything Out the Window.

It’s okay. (Photo by Julia M Cameron)

Whatever rules you had about screen time before have probably been shifted by now. That’s okay! Letting your children use screens for more time per day is not a sign of giving up or giving in. Like the AAP says, it’s more important to consider what your children are using screens for than to harp on how much they’re using them.

Children are currently facing bigger risks than screen exposure. Their access to education has drastically shifted, so they need screens for their learning. Children (and adults, too!) are also now at risk for social isolation, so they need screens to stay connected to peers. Depending on your living situation and family resources, children may also be limited in terms of space to engage in physical activities or access to extracurricular activities. Again, enter screens… child-friendly exercise videos or online classes (think art classes, cooking classes…even karate classes are available online now!).

So yes, it is warranted these days to flex your screen time rules to make space for all the ways screens are currently helping our children thrive. That said, if you throw the rules out the window completely and let your kids have access to screens all day long (and without any guidelines about what they can use screens for), it might be difficult to walk it back when life goes back to normal. It pays to try to find a balance somewhere in the middle that still allows your kids some free time on screens (in addition to screen time used for school, friends, family, and engaging activities), but also encourages them to use some hours of the day for screen-free activities, like spending time with household members, reading books, playing outdoors, etc.

Make a Corona-Specific Family Media Use Plan.

The AAP has a free and easy-to-use Family Media Plan generator that you can individualize for each child in your home based on their age and your household rules. The media plan includes personalized ground rules for screen use as well as a system to help parents decide how many hours per day to allow each child in the family to use screens. 

In general, when deciding your corona system for screen time allowance, it can help to consider making a more specific plan about how much time can be used for different types of screen exposure (i.e., how many hours can be used on social media apps such as TikTok, Snapchat, or Instagram; how many hours can be used on educational programming, how many hours can be used watching YouTube videos, etc.). To help you keep track of your children’s screen use, you might even consider using an app to monitor how they use their screen time.

Encourage Healthy Activities

Show them the way. (Photo by Julia M Cameron)

Coronavirus has led to wonderful displays of generosity from individuals and companies around the globe in terms of supporting children’s engagement in healthy and stimulating activities while at home. Help your kids use screens in ways that support their development by guiding them towards online activities such as…

Keep Evenings Screen Free

Does he even read French? (Photo by Maël BALLAND)

Finally, to avoid disruptions to sleep, you may want to institute a Screen “Curfew”. In other words, create a time of night ideally an hour or more before bedtime where children hand over their devices to be charged in a room other than their bedroom. This will avoid loss of sleep due to staying up scrolling on their Instagram feeds or disruptions to their circadian rhythms because of blue light exposure.

However you decide to manage your family’s screen use, make sure you find a system that works for you. What matters most is that everybody is able to thrive, that family conflict not soar through the roof, and that everybody in the house is able to maintain some safe connections to the outside world. If that means screen time goes up substantially, that’s okay! At the end of the day, you are doing what you need to do for your family, and that is what parenting is all about.

As always, contact Sasco River Center if you need help with your child, or parenting in general.

Behind the Mask

Getting Used to Masks: Strategies for Tolerating Face Coverings

Is your child struggling to tolerate a face mask? Does the mask end up on the floor instead of their face? Well, looks like they’re here to stay so hopefully we can help them get used to masks

Child wearing Mask
You can’t see it, but I’m smiling. Photo by Janko Ferlic

After months stuck at home, wearing a face mask will help to reopen your child’s world. They will be able to safely engage during play dates, participate in camp activities, or visit family members they haven’t seen in a while. In fact, tolerating a mask either has or may become a daily demand as face coverings are now required to go to the dentist, return to school, or shop in a store. For many children, however, this new mask requirement can feel overwhelming, anxiety-inducing, or sensory overloading. The ability to wear a mask for longer than a few minutes may take time, patience, and practice. Remember to frame the mask experience positively. Be mindful of how you, as parents, talk about your own mask wearing experience. This is a difficult time for all of us. Empower your children to feel in control of their health and safety by wearing a mask. 

Masks: Sensory Overload

Masks cause light touch sensations behind the ears, across the nose, over the mouth, and just below the jawline. Many of these areas of the face and neck are very sensitive to tactile input and, in general, light touch input is more alerting than firm touch input. At first, wearing a mask may make your child feel more on edge or alert. 

The tactile sensation of the mask may not be the only input alerting your child. Their auditory system is also working harder to interpret garbled verbal communication. They are most likely struggling to interpret body language without the nonverbal cues we can usually read on someone’s face. These factors can all contribute to sensory overload. 

Fortunately, there are several strategies you can utilize to increase your child’s tolerance level for wearing masks. 

Incorporate Calming Inputs 

When practicing wearing a mask, pair the experience with calming deep pressure and weight bearing inputs. A weighted blanket, yoga poses, or gentle squeezes up the arms may help to offset that light touch alerting response. 

Getting used to it: Feel and Fit

Is that a bunny?

Many of your child’s preferred clothing brands have released their own lines of masks which can be a great place to start your search! Consider the different textiles used to make masks: cotton, nylon, polyester, spandex, etc. Take fabric scraps or clothing materials and have your child explore the different types against their cheek. Ask them which one feels the best. 

Consider the type of mask. Does your child tolerate a mask with elastic that goes behind the ears? If not, perhaps a mask that ties around the head or has adjustable ear loops would be more comfortable.  Maybe your child does not tolerate the metal wire that sits along the nose. Explore wire-free masks whose shape and flexibility still provide that contoured fit. 

Get creative!

Repurpose their favorite shirt they’ve outgrown and turn it into a mask. There are tutorials available online to help create a mask that is the right size and fit. 

Have a Fashion Show 

Work that mask

Together, try out a few different masks! Let your child pick their favorite one based on comfort and appearance.  Whatever type of mask they choose, pick a fun way to describe face coverings like “ninja” or “superhero” masks. This has the added benefit of giving your child additional practice wearing masks.  

What Did You Say?

My bear can’t understand you.

Masks can affect speech, making language sound more muffled or muted. Hearing the difference between similar sounds (think a “p” and a “b”) can be  harder when speaking through masks. This can be challenging and frustrating. Sensory overload can affect your child’s listening skills, emotional regulation, and frustration tolerance. When giving them verbal directions through your mask, speak slowly and check for comprehension periodically. Use visual cues and exaggerated body language to help get your point across.  

Mask Game Night

Hold a masked family board game, trivia, or karaoke night. The interaction necessary for these games will allow your child to practice communicating with this new obstacle in a low stakes environment. The whole family can practice tolerating, speaking, and listening together!

Funny Faces Game

Masks can significantly impact our ability to read facial expressions or recognize even a familiar face. This can feel unsettling. For a child who struggles socially, masks can make it even harder to pick on on social cues. 

Play a facial expression game with family members. When you are all wearing masks, have your child try to guess if you are making a happy, sad, silly, or surprised face. This will help your child to learn to rely on other parts of the face and body in order to pick up on others’ feelings. 

Don’t Forget: Take a Moment to Breathe

At first, the new experience of a mask may lead to increased feelings of anxiety. While wearing a mask, remind your child every half hour to take 5 deep belly breaths. Have them place their hand on their belly to feel their belly rise and fall. 

Get used to Masks: Small Steps Lead to Big Changes

Some children may have to begin by touching the mask to their nose or giving it a kiss. From there, trial wearing a mask for just a few minutes at a time while doing a preferred activity. Build stamina by wearing it at home before branching out slowly to familiar places. Just like other sensory work, this will take time. Remember that every time we wear a mask we are working towards a future where we will no longer have to!

Remember, if you or your child have sensory issues, we can help. We are the area’s leading practitioner. Head over to our Intake tab to get started!

Reference:https://paautism.org/resource/desensitization-mask-communication/

The Power of “And”

The language we use carries weight. Don’t be fooled by the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me…” – words can pack a punch! What makes language particularly tricky is that our word choice often sends messages beyond those we intend.

“But”

So, which is it?

For example, perhaps one of the most insidious words in the English language is the word “but”. So often, that little, seemingly harmless, three-letter word can become caustic. Think about it… what happens if somebody says to you, “You worked really hard on that project”? What emotions does that bring up? Could be pride in your accomplishment, could be excitement that somebody acknowledged your success, could be relief that your work was well-received, could be contentment to have all that work behind you… Now what if we extend that statement to, “You worked really hard on that project, but it took you a long time to complete”? Suddenly, all the positivity conveyed in the first half of the sentence is gone, erased, stripped away. You now might feel disappointed, downtrodden, angry, or even unseen.

Love & Hate

When the word “but” makes an appearance halfway through a sentence, it effectively negates everything that was said beforehand. It denies the fact that both halves of the statement could be true. It may be true that you worked very hard on a project, and it may be true that it took a long time to complete. Embracing these two ideas as simultaneously true is an example of dialectical thinking. Dialectical thinking acknowledges that two opposite ideas can be true at the same time, and that when you accept both ideas as simultaneous truths, it creates a new, greater truth.

LOVE/HATE

Love / hate is a common example. We often think of love and hate as opposites, yet we can feel both feelings towards the same person. In moments where we are swept up by romance, we may only acknowledge the love we feel for a partner. In contrast, when they do something upsetting, we can get swallowed by feelings of hate. If we think of love and hate as incompatible, these moments may guide our decision-making in harmful ways. We may rush into a relationship with someone too quickly if we only acknowledge the feelings of love. We may damage an otherwise functional relationship if we only see the hate. However, if we are dialectical and embrace the love and hate, we have a more honest and representative perspective on our relationship with another person.

“And”

1 and 1 equals 3, this time

Enter the word “and” – one of the most powerful vehicles of dialectical thinking. Instead of thinking, “I love him, but he drives me crazy,” or, “He drives me crazy, but I love him,” we can work towards validating both sentiments – “I love him, and he drives me crazy”. Instead of saying, “You worked really hard on that project, but you it took you a long time to complete,” we can honor both truths: “You worked really hard on that project, and it took you a long time to complete.”

If you practice observing yourself over the course of a day, you might be shocked to hear how many times you use the word “but” – with your colleagues, with your family, and even with yourself. The word “but” is unintentionally invalidating and may be causing more friction than you realize. Think about how some of these statements might come across:

  • I appreciate that you want to help me with chores, honey, but you loaded the dishwasher wrong, and I had to redo it. (cue a partner who will never load the dishwasher again!)
  • I’m glad you got A’s in English and Math, but I see that you got a C in History. (cue a child whose focus is now directed towards their areas of difficulty).
  • I know that I’m trying hard to work on my temper, but I keep losing my cool. (cue a drop in your own self-esteem).

Try It Today

To maintain a more balanced perspective on yourself and others, as well as to be more mindful of effort, progress, and moments of success, try decreasing your use of the word “but” and replacing it with the word “and”:

  • My partner and I don’t always see eye to eye, and we love each other very much.
  • My child’s temper tantrums are getting on my nerves, and he’s working on using his words.
  • I can do this, and it’s going to be hard.

You might find that replacing one small word for another has a pretty big impact on your perspective and your relationship with others. It may even improve your relationship with yourself.

A Letter to Our Community

The Sasco River Center team wants you to know that we, too, are feeling the crushing weight of the tumultuous events of 2020. We have all been weathering the storm of the Coronavirus pandemic for nearly three months.  And now, with the tsunami of protests, both peaceful and violent, that are occurring in response at present to the death of George Floyd but ultimately to decades of aggressive acts against people of color, many of us are left questioning our own perspectives in the face of privilege and explaining race to our kids.

Parents and adults, you may be feeling a buckling of your stance. Trying to work from home while maintaining the roles of teacher, social captain, entertainer, and counselor for your family is overwhelming in the best of times. Doing so during a time of required social distancing is daunting even for the most organized among us! We all have been charged with being “older, wiser, and stronger”. We are expected to be role models and to captain our respective ships, but what if we are not feeling confident? What if we are actually feeling terrified? Oxygen is the through-line of all we have been exposed to this year; not being able to breathe, literally or metaphorically, makes it impossible to function or focus. The question persists: as parents, are we remembering to put on our own oxygen masks first?

Our children are facing challenges not seen in our own childhoods. Being forced into distance learning and forbidden to attend school and social activities has left even the most seemingly well-adjusted feeling isolated, depressed, anxious, and angry. And now, with any exposure to the news of the past week, anxiety levels are sure heightened.  We–and they–have had our respective emotional wells tapped, so to speak.

So now what do we do? How can we fight the good fight? How can we take on one more traumatizing event? It’s more important than ever to bring awareness about racial injustice to our children.  Research has shown that children develop more open-mindedness about others when issues like racism and privilege are openly discussed at home.  These are tough discussions to have, to be sure.  But especially now, there is a wealth of resources available to help us navigate these rough waters.

Below is a list of links we have gathered from varied sources. We hope you will find these resources helpful to help educate you and your children on current events.

Resources from the Connecticut Psychological Association

ADVOCATE

EDUCATE

Educate ourselves and be willing to re-examine our views and actions to become better allies and address racism. 

COMMUNICATE

Help our youth make sense of current events and educate children of all ages about racism.

CREATE

Develop and implement healing spaces for staff, students, and clients of color.

DONATE

Donate to organizations dedicated to racial equality and justice.

Sasco River Center is a comprehensive, collaborative environment that provides evaluations and testing, psychotherapy, psychiatry and treatment, occupational therapy and sensory processing, speech and language, learning support, parenting and family support as well as many more services. Please review our website to learn more https://www.sascoriver.com

Developed by Rebecca Strang (parent Coach) and Dr. Lindsay Blass (Psychologist)

Developing Social Skills While Social Distancing

Developing Social Skills While Social Distancing

Photo by cottonbro

If your child had been working steadily on social skills before schools closed, extracurriculars vanished, and playdates ground to a halt, you might be asking yourself, “Well, now what?” Many parents are citing frustration and concern about their children’s social development in an age where socializing is extremely limited. The good news is there are plenty of ways to fill the void and help your child continue to make progress…

Stay Connected

A helpful way to think about what we are doing as a society is not so much that we are “social distancing” but rather that we are “physical distancing.” There are still plenty of safe ways to engage with people outside of the home, and maintaining a strong network of support is helpful for everybody in the family.

  • You may already be on this train, but virtual play dates are all the rage! With free videochat options from FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Zoom, kids can get together with one or more peers for some good old fashioned bonding time. There are plenty of web sites that offer fun activities kids can do within video chats (some include Caribu, Messenger Kids, and Jackbox Games), but you can also help your kids come up with fun games they can play with their peers without depending even further on technology. For example, they can have scavenger hunts (e.g., “Find something in your house you’ve had for over 5 years and tell the other person the story of how you got it!”). Other ideas include playing “I Spy”, putting on talent shows, and even writing stories together (each person takes turn writing one sentence!).
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood
  • A great way to help your children think about and stay connected to others is to write good old-fashioned handwritten letters to loved ones. You can encourage your kids to share stories about what they’ve been doing since they’ve been home and think about what messages they’d like to send to family and friends near and far.

Learn Through Play

Photo by cottonbro

There are plenty of games (that you may already have!) that actually require a lot of social thinking skills. So time to whip out the board games and plan a family game night!

  • Apples to Apples is a great game for four or more players where players are given a prompt and have to pick from a set of cards in their hand which one best matches the prompt. The tricky part is that the person who decides the winner is a “judge” that rotates every round. This game actually requires a lot of perspective-taking skills. Your child will have to think about who is judging each round and what they know about that person in order to predict how they will behave. For example, if mom has a great sense of humor, they should play a funny card. If dad is more serious, they might try to pick a more literal descriptor. To encourage these skills even further, have each “judge” explain why they picked the card they did, so that your child can learn how each player thinks differently!
  • Guess Who is another game that encourages good social skills. Your child will practice thinking objectively about the characters, using deductive reasoning to come up with helpful questions, taking turns, and tolerating frustration if they lose.
  • Charades or Celebrity are games you can play anywhere, anytime, that also build social skills! In order to be effective at these games, one must be able to communicate skillfully while observing the rules (e.g., in charades, you have to communicate only using your body, not your words). Your child needs to think about what they know about their partner that might help (for example, if the celebrity is January Jones, it really helps to know that dad’s birthday is in January!), and they need to be flexible if they pick a strategy that just isn’t working.

More Directed Activities

And if you’d like to go a little further, you can engage your child in some of the same social skills work that a therapist would! Following are a couple of activities you might try.

  • Read books together about different social situations. Ask your child questions about the characters, what they felt during different events in the story, how their actions affected other characters, etc. A favorite book that encourages prosocial thinking is Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller.
Photo by Gustavo Fring
  • Have practice conversations. Help your child learn to have a balanced conversation by sharing information about him or herself and also asking appropriate questions to learn more about the other person. A fun way to develop conversation skills is to play a game where the goal is to have as long a back and forth conversation as possible. Stack tokens or blocks every time someone makes an utterance that keeps the conversation going, and see how tall a tower you can make! If your child has trouble moving the conversation along, pause the game and help them think about a question they could ask or a comment they could make that would help the tower grow taller.

What About You?

Finally, the best way to help your children with their social skills is to examine your own. How do you make friends? Handle conflicts? React in awkward situations? What can your children learn from watching you?

Although opportunities to be physically near others are limited, opportunities for socializing are everywhere. So fear not – with a little creativity and an open mind, you can help your child keep up all the great work on their social skills!

Navigating Disappointment Related to COVID-19

We Are All Missing Out

Remember Parties? (Photo by Lee Hnetinka)

Prom, graduation, birthday parties, weddings, baby showers, school reunions, retirement parties… these are just a few of the major life events that have been put on pause this year. Not to mention sports tournaments, opening night of the school musical, art showcases, weekly play dates, after-work happy hours, family vacations. The sheer number of events we all looked forward to that have been canceled or postponed is mindboggling, and deeply disappointing.

How do we help our kids navigate the upset when we don’t really know how to navigate it ourselves? Nobody knows how long this will last, how many more events will be canceled, or when we will safely go back to life as we knew it. When our children stare up at us teary-eyed asking questions we can’t possibly have answers to, it can bring up a wide range of emotions in ourselves.

If you are struggling with how to have conversations with your children about the things they’re forced to miss out on, you are not alone. None of the parenting books seem to cover pandemics! As parents, we often put pressure on ourselves to hold it together emotionally for our children, but COVID-19 makes that harder to do than ever. And if we work too hard to keep our emotions in check, we might actually miss out on some valuable learning opportunities, both for our children and for ourselves.

So read on for some considerations about how to work with your and your children’s emotions to cope with corona-related disappointment.

Make Space for Emotional Expression, Whatever It Looks Like.

Sadness comes in many shapes and sizes (Photo by Pixabay)

We are all impacted by COVID-19, but in many ways, our kids are among those impacted most directly. So much of a child’s day-to-day life is dependent on social interaction. By this point in time, every parent in the country is well aware that distance learning simply does not hold up to in-person instruction. And beyond formal instruction, so much of what children learn comes from activities outside the classroom – sports, after-school activities, and even play dates are loaded with opportunities to experience joy and work on teamwork, frustration tolerance, prosocial skills, etc.

Children have every right to feel robbed of this time in their lives. As parents, one of the ways we can help the most is simply to give them the space to feel the upset they are so entitled to. Just be aware that since children and teens are still developing their emotional expression abilities, they may not always articulate their feelings very effectively. While yelling, door slamming, and talking back might rank on your list of unacceptable behaviors at home, you might consider flexing these rules just a bit these days.

Now hear me out… children are currently facing emotions that may be bigger and more consuming than emotions they’ve ever felt in the past. On top of that, their lives are so over-controlled by the virus (as are all of ours!) that they can’t even leave the house without serious care and precaution. And finally, the amount of space they have to let off steam is now largely constricted to the home environment, where there are no guarantees of privacy (it’s hard to vent to friends over video chat when you never know if a younger sibling might throw open your door, or if you’re not totally confident your walls are soundproof!).

So instead of holding them to the same expectations we might have had in the past for how to express their emotions, give them some extra space to feel their feelings however they manifest. Short of being aggressive towards themselves or others, which is never safe and can’t be overlooked, you can show them that you understand how difficult this is just by accepting their emotions in any form.

Notice What Comes Up For You.

Whatever It Might Be (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio)

When children experience a surge of emotions, it often evokes strong emotional reactions from parents. Especially when we see our children in pain (particularly pain we can’t control!), we may have an urge to reassure them as quickly as we can in order to get the discomfort over with. Or we may get upset or even defensive because we are doing everything we can to manage the situation, and it can feel awful when it seems like everything we’re doing is not enough for our children.

Whatever it is you feel in those moments, observe your emotions. Don’t try to control or shape them– give yourself the space to feel your feelings by watching your emotions float in like a cloud. Then watch them pass by. Honor what you feel in the moment, and remind yourself that emotions are constantly changing, so any pain or discomfort you may observe will eventually fade away. Mindfully attending to your emotions and allowing them to come and go helps you feel more in control. This practice also models a healthy relationship with emotions for your children.

Listen to What Your Emotions are Telling You.

Connect (Photo by cottonbro)

Now that you’re practicing tuning into your emotions rather than trying to change them, you might find that they offer you some valuable information. For example, if you find that you’re getting upset when you hear how upset your child is, your emotions are cluing you in to how he’s feeling and helping you be able to connect to him. Making connections between your own emotions and your child’s can help empower you further in talking to your child and being able to validate where he’s coming from.

Talk About It Openly.

Talk it out (Photo by cottonbro)

You’re probably disappointed about the things you’re missing out on, too. It’s okay to feel that way. Trying to be a picture of positivity for your kids invalidates your own feelings, and it also usually doesn’t pan out in the long run – it’s like trying to hold a beach ball under water. It takes a lot of effort to keep those emotions tamped down, and the second you let go, they pop up and make a big splash.

So rather than jumping to make-it-all-better mode, it can be really healing for both of you to talk about how COVID-19 has affected your lives. And this includes the good and the bad! For a great bonding exercise, use the following prompts to guide your discussion:

  • What is something you’ve missed since being in quarantine?
  • What is something you’ve enjoyed about being in quarantine?
  • What is something you’re looking forward to when quarantine is over?
  • What have you learned about yourself during quarantine?

Nothing about the situation we’re in is normal. So it’s only natural for our emotions to come out in unexpected ways (such as your child suddenly refusing to eat his favorite food or your teen exploding out of nowhere). The more you can both accept and put words to your emotional experiences, the easier they are to recognize and understand.

So give yourself and your children the leeway to let those feelings breathe, then come together to make sense of what everyone is feeling. By openly acknowledging and sharing about the many losses you each are facing, you might find there’s actually quite a bit to gain.