Tag Archives: parenting

Feeling Gratitude during the Hectic Holidays

The holidays are upon us! We  look forward to the extended time off,  busy holidays, and being thankful for time with family and friends – or most of it anyway.  

Shopping,  cooking,  company,  family, and more! The holidays present activities and expectations that can create stress or even guilt. We are not all going to have a Hallmark Moment Holiday!  

How can we find ways to have  quiet time and gratitude  for all  we do have? christmas-cookies-2918172_1920

Gratitude is a deliberate and active practice for any time, but especially when times are busy and stressful due to family/personal difficulties,  hectic  holidays,   or troubling world news.   It is easy to feel overwhelmed and forget the good things that will endure. 

I only have to view a news program to remind myself to be grateful for a place to live, food to eat,  and people to be with,  because so many people are tragically going without those basic comforts.  We can’t control all that is chaotic in the world, but we can take steps to make our worlds a little calmer and more appreciated.

Some positive activities and thoughts for  the holidays:

  • As a family,  donate some items that you no longer use.  Organizations are always looking for clothes, household items, etc.  This also helps children understand what to be grateful for that others are not always as fortunate as we are.   Charitable organizations  are always grateful for donations of time or food  if you are able.
  • Remember those who are alone for the holiday. Send a card to someone you miss.  Call family who are far away.  Bring dessert to a neighbor.
  • Take a break. Go outside and play football with the family or take a walk.   You will all remember playing and looking at nature as much as the wonderful meals.
  • Count your blessings — and not just the big ones! Make this a practice for every day.  Oprah Winfrey often suggested thinking of three things a day to be grateful for.  Some people like to write them down.  Being able to get out of bed, walk, speak, and eat are things we take for granted most of the time. Be mindful of them during these distracting times. Name the people who care about you.  Don’t forget small things like getting a hug, making someone smile, walking your dog, accomplishing a routine task.
  • What about big, family dinners? Take charge of things you worry will be problematic.  Plan ahead for seating.  Decide who will do best sitting with whom.  Have children make place cards for guests.  Find ways for children to be included – then set them free.  Holiday meals can be a long stretch for kids.  Plan something fun for them to do when the adults are lingering at the table, after the meal.   Have a simple craft project set up or a familiar movie for them to watch.  Ask willing teens or adults to take a turn supervising or playing with the younger ones.  Sharing the load is something to be grateful for, too!
  • Have a guest who likes to be a food critic? Ask them to bring a special dish to share. Too busy or tired to bake? Take a breath and pick up some prepared desserts.  Everyone will be just as happy. Guide the conversation topics, and steer away from hot topics like politics. Turn off the world and the television.   Have everyone name something they are grateful for.  Although it may seem corny, it is interesting and uplifting to hear what others name, and it reminds us what to add to our own list.

Studies have shown that cultivating gratitude in daily life contributes to a more positive mood and a greater sense of emotional contentment.  If it can help us in daily life, imagine the benefits for busy holiday times!

By Allison Weideman, Chatham school psychologist

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Pets & Children with Special Needs

Thinking about a pet for your family?  Pets can be a wonderful addition to a family for many reasons and have a positive benefit, especially for children with special needs. 

Girl with dogResearch involving children with autism has found that having a family pet from a young age tended to improve social behaviors, such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to people’s questions.

The fact that animals are non-verbal can be a positive and soothing factor for children with sensory or communication issues As we pet owners know, there are many lessons a child can learn through pet ownership and care. 

The benefits of pets include:

  • Relief from anxiety and stress.
  • Learning about compassion and emotions.
  • Greater emotional knowledge about companionship, building a bond and making a friend.
  • Encouraging socialization and development of related social skills.
  • Understanding rules and chores in a concrete way.

Before you jump into adopting a pet, recognize that owning a pet is a lifetime commitment. Like any long-term decision, advance thought and preparation is key!

Also, consider adopting a rescue animal, but carefully evaluate if this choice is  suitable for your child. There are many wonderful dogs and cats patiently waiting for a “forever” home at your local animal shelter or pet adoption agency. 

Choosing the Right Pet

Dogs and cats are popular pets for good reason. Dogs come in all sizes and personalities. They provide unconditional love and acceptance; enjoy being touched; can play with the family, and can go places with you.

Dogs do require a high level of care, such as regular walking, brushing, and training. It is important to research breeds that are child-friendly and suitable for your home and lifestyle. Consider whether barking or dog play behavior might frighten your child.

You may be surprised to learn that there are more pet cats than dogs across the county. Cats are the top choice in part because they require much less daily care and are less expensive to own than dogs. They also live longer, on average, because they are smaller than most dogs. 

CatIf you are considering a cat, just as with dogs, it is important to find the right match. Cats tend to have distinct personalities and don’t exhibit the same type of behavior as dogs. As cat lovers know, cats are affectionate, friendly and will bond with you. They enjoy closeness and petting and play.

However, cats do not roughhouse like dogs. Cats tend to be more quiet and sensitive than canine companions. For those reason, cats can be a good choice for a sensory -sensitive child who might be frightened by loud barking, jumping and lively dog behavior.

Not all children, or adults, are comfortable with animals. This can create a very stressful situation for both people and pets! If you are in doubt about your child’s comfort level with any animal, it is not the time to bring home a pet.

If you would like to have some type of pet experience in your home, fish may be the answer. Fish are low maintenance pets, and watching water movements has been found to be soothing. No guessing why they are the No. 1 pet in America!

fish-bowl-846060_1920Fish, require maintenance and good, consistent care. Learning responsibility is important, but as the parent, you will always need to monitor and supervise the care and ensure the safety of both your child and your pet. Small, furry pets such as guinea pigs and hamsters are often appealing. However, they have to be handled very gently and care must be taken to have their cages always locked, so escape or unwanted attention from other pets does not occur.

No matter what you decide, a good suggestion is to expose your child to the pets you are considering before you bring one home. Here are some ways to check out pets:

  • Spend some time with friends who have pets, visit a rescue group or foster a dog before adopting.
  • Prepare your child by reading some books about pets together.
  • Create a checklist, social story, or visual images of what to expect and how to behave with your pet.

Additional articles on this topic:

By Allison Weideman, ECLC Chatham School Psychologist

Let’s Plant a Sensory Garden!

Garden

What is a Sensory Garden? A sensory garden is meant to appeal to ALL the senses, not only our visual sense. They are often utilized with special needs populations and are found to have therapeutic value for many individuals.

We are most familiar with the sights of a garden. Enhance the visual appeal with plants of varying flower colors, including red, soft grey and mixed color foliage. Consider plants with different textures and shapes and some (like grasses and tall plants) that will sway with the breeze.

The sense of sound will be enhanced with features, such as wind chimes,  grasses that rustle and textured paths that make sounds as you walk on them. Having a birdbath will add bird calls and visual interest. If you have a pathway, incorporate  gravel or stones that produce sound when walking.

For the sense of touch, include plants that can tolerate some touch and “petting.” Hosta, coneflowers and yarrow are all quite tolerant of touching. Vary the textures of plants, so that you have some smooth leaves and flowers and some larger or fuzzy textures (purple sage). Some plants are just fun to touch, such as lamb’s ears, astilbe (with its fern-life foliage) and sunflower heads.

For the sense of smell, choose plants with appealing scents, such as roses, lily of the valley, honeysuckle, and the annual nicotinia, which produces a scent at night. Grow some annual herbs, such as mint, thyme or rosemary. Pick them for a salad or crush the leaves in your hands to experience the scent.

What are native plants and why should I have them? Native plants and trees grow naturally in a geographic area, and provide food and sustenance to birds and butterflies.  Many of the plants and trees we see in garden centers are lovely, but they are not native to the United States. They don’t provide the needed support for our native wildlife and are not as hardy.

Consider plants, such as coneflowers, sunflowers, yarrow, hosta, beebalm, coreopsis, veronica and native blueberry shrubs. Any variety of milkweed is an important food plant for monarch butterflies. These are all perennials, so they return each year.

How to get started! Planting and tending a garden is a wonderful child and family-friendly activity,  and a fantastic way to welcome Spring! And, of course, when your plants and flowers come into bloom, you can enjoy them all season. Whether you want flowers or food,  there are easy growers to get start started on this Spring.

A garden can be a large plot of ground, or as simple as a container or a flower pot.  It can be fancy or as simple as three ingredients (pot, soil and seeds).

There are many seeds that will grow well  when planted directly in the garden. Some easy and hardy annual  flower seeds are zinnias,  sunflowers, marigolds, cleome and alyssum. Seeds are available at garden centers,  home stores and even some supermarkets.

It’s fun to look through the seed packages together and decide what to grow. Easy, high-producing vegetables include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini, which are easily planted from small containers. If you are adventurous, hot pepper varieties are pretty. Luckily, all seed packets have instructions! Watering and weeding your garden are two activities everyone can do together. And, then, pick some flowers for your table, or make a salad, and enjoy what you have created!

 

Pretty Plans

Among many flowering native shrubs you can consider planting is this gorgeous Hydrangea quercifolia plant!

For further information:

10 Steps to Building a Garden.

Top 10 Native Plants for the Northeast.

10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard.

Why Native Plants Matter 

Sensory Nature Adventures and Play – for families of children with disabilities.  

Gardens for the Senses. 

Written by Allison Weideman, Chatham School Psychologist

 

 

How to Increase Your Child’s Attention and Focus

Staying focused can be challenging for any child but particularly those with special needs. But there are tools and techniques to help keep your child happy and on task!

Find a tool or technique from the list below. Then, start your child with a task they enjoy for up to 20 minutes. Take a break, using one of the techniques, whether it’s a time clock, weighted blanket or music. If it works, have your child try a task they perceive as more difficult for 5 to 10 minutes, followed again by or using one of these techniques.  Repeat this strategy until you see that your child is able to show improved attention. Gradually increase the time on task.

Here are tools and techniques to try at home:

Visualize Time — A timer can reduce stress for your child, as they see how long they have until a task is over. You can go low-tech or high. Time Timer makes a clock as well as software for the computer, which shows a child how much time he/she has left — or how much has passed — via a diminishing red disc. Search for “visual timer” apps on your iPhone, iPAD or Android device. Or, an old-fashioned sand timer does the trick too.

Play Memory Games — Memory isn’t a muscle, but it can be exercised to improve focus. Memory games are fun and do not have to be complicated. Games, such as memory matching cards or Concentration, can be played as a board game or on an iPad/iPhone or Android device. Even a simple game of red-light, green-light, I-Spy or Simon Says forces a child to concentrate.

Puzzles — There are many types of puzzles that can help boost your child’s awareness, while building fine motor skills. But keep in mind that puzzles don’t always have to be something you touch. For example, word searches, crossword puzzles, tic tac toe and logic puzzles, use the power of deduction to help your child discover answers, by relying on the mind, not just eyes and hands.

Movement and Breaks — Give your child opportunities to move around. Schedule regular breaks and change work sites. For example, a child can work several minutes at the kitchen table and several minutes at the dining room table. Each time the location is changed, the student may experience a burst of mental energy. A 10- to 15-minute break for light to heavy physical activity can also help increase concentration.  Examples of activities include walking on a treadmill, wall push-ups or a brief walk. Learn about relaxation through breathing techniques at “Go Zen Mindfulness and Breathing.”  Additionally, it may help for children to do something with their hands, while seated. They might doodle, roll a piece of clay or play with thinking putty.

Deep Pressure — A weighted blanket/pillow used for 10 to 20 minutes, while working can provide deep pressure and increase attention.  Additionally, compression tops, like those worn by athletes underneath their shirts, may work similar to a weighted blanket/pillow. Have your child wear the shirt for 10 to 20 minutes.

Tuning In — Taking a 10-minute break to listen to quiet classical or calming music can help a child refocus to a task that may be difficult or monotonous but necessary to complete.

In addition to these techniques and tools, setting up a regular routine and work area is important.

Plan It — A child should use a structured daily planner to help them organize activities. A planner that is broken down by days of the week or days of the month and has sufficient room to write all the information needed or to place stickers in the date box is preferred. Using a calendar or a calendar app on an iPhone, iPad or Android device is also a good life skill.

Child’s Home Office — Help your child set up a well-organized “office.” Parents should schedule a weekly time that their child/adolescent will dedicate to straightening up the office and making sure all office supplies are well-stocked (e.g., Post-Its, pencils, pens, highlighters, paper, paper clips, etc). The child should find their best time(s) for studying (most alert times of day), and post these times as their “Office Hours.” This may also be a good time to experiment with different kinds of background noise levels that work best for doing homework. Some children/adolescents concentrate better in a noisy environment or while listening to music, while others may need to use ear plugs or sound blockers.

Results will not be immediate, but with practice and consistency, your child’s attention and focus should increase over time!

By Cindy Collins, Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant, ECLC Chatham Schoolread-316507_1280