Do the best you can with what you’ve got
In the last post, we talked about how your child is feeling disoriented, upset, scared. Well, so are you — and at the same time, you have to be the parent, the teacher, and the occupational therapist. That’s a lot to handle. Keep in mind that all we can do is our best — so you need to give yourself a break and not expect perfection, from you or from your child.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to stick precisely to the schedule. Start by not planning more than you can achieve realistically. The house doesn’t have to be spotless; you can’t do everything and your child needs you more. It is most important to make sure that your child feels safe and secure, and the rest will follow.
So give her plenty of opportunity to work off energy with gross motor activities, and to recharge in quiet, as needed. Provide structure and support. Remember that when your child is scared, there are going to be behavioral changes, so you need extra patience now.
Give as much transition warning as you possibly can when things change (and they will).
Don’t forget to put on your own oxygen mask
Give yourself a workable schedule too. Be sure to allocate breaks for everyone — your child AND you. When your child is taking a break in her safe and quiet space, don’t do the laundry and empty the dishwasher — take a break too.
If both parents are home, trade off shifts so you each get time to recharge.
If both parents aren’t home during the day, the parent who is “on call” during the day needs other time off duty.
Treat yourself and your partner well and with kindness.
Remember to eat regularly and to drink a lot of water.
Your child can sense your anxiety so for both your sakes, get a handle on it. Breathe deeply. Do yoga. Meditate. Listen to calming music. Do whatever you need to do in order to be the rock your child needs.
Don’t keep the news radio (and certainly not the TV) on all the time. You’re not going to miss anything and if you do, they’ll repeat it later. Constantly hearing about how many people died yesterday is going to make you and your child more anxious.
The kids are alright … and so are you
How you react determines how your child reacts. This means you have extra incentive to stay calm and present everything with as positive a slant as you can. “You don’t have school for now; instead you and I are going to study together and have extra time to do other fun things” is a good approach.
Age-appropriate amounts of information
— Make sure to provide plenty of reassurance in terms your child can can understand, adapted to her emotional and intellectual age.
— Be honest … but don’t overshare. Use language and examples that will reassure your child and not make him more anxious.
— Find the balance between not alarming your child, and making sure she understands the importance of following the rules that keep us safe. Perhaps you want to tell her that most cases, especially in younger people, are fairly mild, like a bad cold or the flu, but it’s a new illness and right now there is no vaccine or medicine so we don’t want to get it.
— Depending on how old your child is and how much he comprehends, you can have a practical conversation about the disease, how it gets from person to person, and how the government and doctors suggested changes in everyone’s routine to help protect people. With older kids and teens you can look it up with them.
– Don’t answer more than your child asks. Start with a simplified version and add information as she asks for it. Don’t overwhelm her with the statistics and your fears for the future. Just answer her questions the best you can: “When can I go back to school?” “Just as soon as the doctors say it’s safe.” “When will that be?” “They are working on making medicine to cure the virus, so as soon as they have that, they’ll let us know.” Keep it simple.
Model the behavior you need your child to emulate, such as washing hands for 20 seconds; not touching his face; cleaning high-touch surfaces often; etc. Involve him in figuring out the best ways to achieve these behaviors. For example:
— Figure out together with a timer how many verses of his favorite song add up to 20 seconds in order to time hand-washing
— Brainstorm different ways to say hello and goodbye without hugging or kissing. You can talk about how in the “old days” people would curtsey or bow
— Practice coughing and sneezing into elbow
It’s tempting to allow your child extra screen time because it’s really hard to keep up this level of activity all the time, but try to stick to the time limits you set for it, for many reasons:
— The extra screen time will disrupt your child’s routine and end up causing more stress and anxiety
— Your child needs the sensory breaks to expend energy. Sitting in front of a screen for too long is going to backfire and may result in a meltdown when the TV or tablet is turned off
— The longer your child is in front of the screen, the harder it’s going to be to break away without a meltdown
So set a timer and when time’s up, it’s up. Distract your child from the screen and engage her by going straight to a fun physical activity.
Help, I’m trapped inside with my kids!
— Try your best to get out (maintaining a safe distances from others, of course) to give your child — and you! — a break from the same four walls. If you’re lucky enough to have a yard, that’s obviously ideal. But even in cities there are places where your child can run around safely, not too close to others. Playgrounds are closed, but many public parks are open, so try to find the least crowded area in the least crowded park. Many streets have been closed to vehicular traffic so take a scooter or a bike out for a spin. Some other suggestions: Nature walks in a large park or quiet hiking trail? City walks in less populated areas of your city?
— Keep following a sensory diet if you already are. if you aren’t, maybe this is a good time to try one out. To learn more about creating a sensory diet plan for your child, start here
— If it won’t make your child overly anxious, try something new or do something different. Has your child shown interest in a particular area, whether it’s model-making, jigsaw puzzles, learning about outer space or horses, building paper airplanes, etc.? Well, you’ve got time now to learn all about it.
— Stock up on things you can use for art projects, both ‘real’ art supplies and household items that can do double duty (cotton balls, aluminum foil, etc.).
— Make sensory snacks together and you’ll wind up with a treat for the whole family as well as a fun activity for your child.
— Bake together. It’s not just fun; it’s educational and sensory too. Educational, because it gives your child the chance to figure out how much to use if you halve or double the recipe. Sensory, because it gives your child the opportunity to touch different ingredients and, depending on what you’re making, to knead or mix with his hands.
— What about practicing social skills over the phone or on a computer call? Your parents are probably feeling lonely and would love the chance to engage with their grandchildren. Does your daughter miss her friends? Set them up on a zoom call!
— Would this be a good time to help your child learn to be more independent at daily living tasks? You have time to practice.
Making lemonade out of lemons
— You may be stuck inside, but at least you don’t have to deal with the stress of transitioning to multiple errands, etc.
— You have a lot of time to spend with your child; enough time to share experiences and grow closer
— Over the phone, tablet, or computer, your child can build a stronger relationship with grandparents or other family members or friends whom he doesn’t get to see often, perhaps who live in a different state or country
Stay strong and calm; you’ve got this. In the next post, we will pick up where we left off discussing how to ease transitions for sensory children.
What is working best for you to keep your child on an even keel? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, let me know there or via email what topics you would like to discuss or hear more about.
Feel free to share or quote from this blog (with attribution, please, and if possible, a link), and to repost on social media.
I look forward to hearing from you!