5 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Calm Your Kid’s Anxiety

You can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies.

Did you know that anxiety worsens with time if nothing is done to help kids learn to manage anxious feelings appropriately? Although some children are born with a more anxious disposition, cases of chronic anxiety in kids are rare.
In other words, you can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies to help your anxious child:

1 | It is okay to be anxious

Children are rarely able to define their big emotions, especially if they have not yet learned to differentiate between emotions. A child experiencing anxiety is therefore likely to struggle to communicate this anxiety. Parents can have a particularly difficult time identifying children’s anxiety, because different kids will show their anxiety in different ways.
It can be easy to identify feelings of anxiety when your child cries each and every time he has to go to school, or just before his swimming lessons, or when he acts clingy and never wants you out of sight. But anxiety can transform into pain and physical symptoms (headaches, tummy aches, vomiting spells), into bad moods and tantrums, or into inappropriate behavior such as violence and aggressiveness.
The first step to help your child manage anxiety is to teach him to identify and manage his emotions using age-appropriate techniques. Let your child know that it is okay to be anxious. Talking about anxiety and anxiety-provoking situations can be therapeutic for your child.

2 | Create an anxiety toolkit

Children who have learned to identify their anxiety and what triggers it are better able to apply appropriate strategies to deal with it. An anxiety toolkit is a container in which your child can find objects to calm her anxiety. Keep in mind that some objects are more effective than others.
For instance, sensory activities, visually calming activities, and activities that help your child release tension (trampoline) or focus his attention elsewhere (mandala) are all effective in helping your child calm down. The key takeaway is your child understanding that anxiety is a normal and manageable emotion.

3 | Neither over-protect nor under-protect

Just like pushing your child to get over his anxiety does not help him overcome it, protecting him from anxiety provoking situations does him little good. Overprotection may make things worse. Rather than shield your child from anxiety, take very small incremental steps to help him face what triggers it.
You can gently nudge your child out of his comfort zone by talking about anxiety-provoking situations, going over worst-case scenarios, and brainstorming appropriate reactions to these scenarios: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “What do you think would happen if…?” “What can you do if…?”
Tread carefully when nudging your child out of her comfort zone. You do not help an anxious child who needs you present by leaving her alone at a party. However, you reassure her by gradually reducing the time you spend with her during her social events.

4 | Manage your own anxiety

Evidence suggests that anxiety-prone parents are more likely to raise children with anxiety-related disorders. The biggest problem parents with an anxious disposition face is the employment of ineffective strategies in an attempt to shield their child from anxiety. Addressing your childhood trauma, dealing with your fears, and knowing when to walk away will make it easier to help.
Remember, how your child interprets situations largely depends on how she sees you interpret those situations. Choosing to be more optimistic about how you perceive everyday life events and not presenting situations as dangerous or irresolvable will help lessin your child’s anxiety.

5 | Get help

Child anxiety, unfortunately, can point to more serious issues. It is time to seek professional help if:

  • Your child’s anxiety causes him or her considerable distress
  • Your child is withdrawn and difficult to be around
  • Your child’s anxiety prevents him or her from participating in school-related or social events
  • Your child also displays many behavioral problems
  • Your child avoids eye contact, even with family members
  • You are overwhelmed and feel unable to help your child

Multiple resources have been designed for parents to help children deal with anxiety-related issues. In most cases, children can respond to their anxiety in appropriate ways, but only if they are taught how using effective, age-appropriate strategies.

Why I Don't Worry About the Small Stuff Anymore

When your child is born with a heart that’s broken beyond full repair, you learn what you can and cannot control.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
I used to have a recurring, panic-inducing dream about an underground parking garage. The garage lies beneath the children’s hospital where my son receives ongoing treatment of his heart defects and other serious medical conditions.
Picture incredibly narrow parking spots with load-bearing columns scattered about everywhere, creating an obstacle course that even the most compact of vehicles must navigate carefully. Scuff marks with glimmers of auto body paint litter the sides of every single one of those load-bearing columns: a reminder that many who have gone before me have failed to make it out unscathed.
I’m a horrible parker, hence the nightmares.
Thanks to my poor depth perception, visuospatial tasks have never been my forte. I’ve hit more than a few stationary objects in my nearly 15-year-long driving career.
Throw in the previously unfathomable level of sleep deprivation that accompanies the job of parenting a medically complex child (which exacerbates my depth perception problems), and I stand no chance against this parking garage.
For the first several visits, I have my husband park the car, or I give up and drop it off out front with the valets. But this arrangement eventually becomes unfeasible. Sometimes my husband and I need to arrive separately, and the valet booth has limited hours.
I realize I’m going to have to learn how to park the car in that hellish garage so that I can always be there with my son while he’s in the hospital. There’s just no way around it anymore.
I take the scholarly approach, as I tend to do. I make diagrams of the precise angles necessary to maneuver my way into one of the spots without scraping a column or a neighboring car. I visualize the garage and imagine myself parking. I even ask my husband for pointers, but he’s not much help since he’s been graced with a natural gift for this sort of thing: “I dunno, I just turn the steering wheel and park the car?”
After all that preparation, I get a chance to put it into practice at the next scheduled appointment I must take our son to by myself. I meditate on (that’s my code for “obsess over”) the task at hand the whole drive to the hospital, and I briefly contemplate saying, “Screw it, I’ll just do valet parking” before turning into the garage.
I choose my target. I take a hard pass on the spot between two huge SUVs that are barely within the lines and decide on one with well-behaved neighbors instead.
Much of the elegance of my diagram was missing in this real-life attempt, but I managed to get my car in the spot. Never mind that I’ve wedged myself into a position that will require a nine-point turn to exit. That’s a problem for “Future Me,” and it’s beside the point.
When your child is born with a heart that’s broken beyond full repair, you learn what you can and cannot control. I can’t control whether the cardiac surgeon I’ve handed my son over to will return him in a better condition than he was in before – or if I’ll even get him back at all.
I can’t control the fact that I’ll probably outlive my child.
But I can learn how to park the damn car. I can conquer that fear and make that nightmare go away. I can let go of all the anxieties that used to plague me, the worries about issues that seem so trivial in retrospect.
Now I know that if the worst-case scenario in a situation is a scraped fender or having to file an insurance claim, that’s not something worth worrying about. Those are problems we can solve if the worst should happen.
It’s the unsolvable, uncontrollable, life-threatening types of problems that are the real stuff of nightmares, anyway.

How Babies Uncovered the Mystery About Our Common Fear of Spiders

A fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.

Ghosts, skeletons, and vampires may give us the creeps this Halloween, but a fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.
This fear, technically called arachnophobia (as the 1990 movie by the same name made famous), can cause crippling anxiety for some people and impact their daily life. For years, scientists have been trying to figure out why so many people are afraid of spiders, even in places where they hardly ever come in contact with them. While some experts assumed that we learn this fear from our surroundings as children, others believed it was innate.
Now scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences discovered that the fear is quite real and, in fact, hereditary. During their research, the scientists showed pictures of spiders along with more typically pleasing images, like flowers and fish, to a group of six-month-old infants. The scientists noticed that the children’s pupils dilated significantly when they looked at the spiders. Dilated pupils are a typical measure of the fight-or-flight stress response. The average pupil dilations were 0.14 mm when viewing the spiders, but only 0.03 mm for the flowers – a considerable reaction.
Remarkably, past studies found that babies did not have this same reaction when shown pictures of rhinos, bears, or other typically dangerous animals. This latest research, therefore, proves that babies as young as six months felt stressed out from looking at spiders long before they could have been taught to have this reaction from their parents or through experience.
The research team went on to conclude that arachnophobia has evolutionary origins. There is a part of our brain that causes us to identify certain objects as dangerous so we can react quickly in order to survive. This inherited stress reaction ultimately led to humans associate spiders with fear and unpleasantness, and that we must avoid them at all costs.
According to evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians in his book “Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare”, many responses to our environment throughout history have been rooted in our survival mode. These experiences led to some of the ingrained, instinctual fears that are genetically programmed in us today.
Other common fears include snakes, microbes, pointed objects, leopard spots, rugged terrain, and eyes. Maybe it’s time to stop singing the “itsy bitsy spider” song to your littles, and definitely don’t dress up like a tarantula for Halloween.
In all seriousness, though, it’s crucial to understand where certain fears stem from so that we can address them properly with our children. Talk to your kids about their worries; if they bottle them up, it will only get worse. Let them know their concerns are common and that others experience them, too. Show that you understand what they’re going through by sharing your own personal anxiety stories, and reassure them that you’re there to support them whenever they become frightened.
It may take some simple distraction techniques to help kids overcome their fear instincts. If it becomes so bad that their fears interfere with their daily life, you may want to talk to your pediatrician.

The Determination of the Tiniest Fighter

They told us that our contact with you needed to be limited to a short hold a day. They said you couldn’t handle being out of your incubator for too long.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
They told us not to think the worst when we didn’t hear a sound. They said a baby of your gestation wouldn’t have lungs developed enough to cry. That tiny, determined cry as you were pulled from deep within me is etched in my mind for the rest of my life.
They told us you wouldn’t be able to breathe by yourself. They said you would need a ventilator until you got stronger. I can so vividly recall watching your tiny lungs, fighting hard to push out breaths by themselves, under your paper-thin skin.
They told us that our contact with you needed to be limited to a short hold a day. They said you couldn’t handle being out of your incubator for long periods of time. I held you, skin to skin, tucked down my top, your tiny little head resting on my chest for hours at a time.
They told us that you were too early to know who we were. They said you didn’t know I was your Mum. But I know that you turned to me when you heard my voice, that your heart beat slowed when I held you, that when I looked into your eyes, there was a connection.
They told us that you would need to be tube fed as you were so early. They said you were not yet at the stage where you would have mastered sucking, swallowing and breathing all at the same time, that these skills were mastered in the womb. I remember watching you in awe as you drank your first sip of milk from a bottle, your tiny mouth barely big enough to take the teat.
They told us it was unlikely you would breast feed. They said that I could try and nurse you for the comfort. For six weeks I pumped for hours a day to have the milk ready for you when you were strong. I knew you were a fighter and I knew you could do it. I was right.
They told us you would be in special care until your due date at least. They said they had not let a baby as tiny as you leave the hospital. Four weeks before your due date we carried you out of that hospital. At six weeks you weighed under four pounds.
They told us that there was a chance your development may be impaired. They said you might experience delays and to look at things in terms of your adjusted age. By 12 months, you had not only caught up with any developmental milestones, you were ahead of them.
My tiny little fighter, beating the odds from the moment you entered the world. A world you shouldn’t have been in yet, a world you fought so hard to stay in, a world that you weren’t ready for, but thrived in all the same. I know you will continue through life with this same desire and determination to succeed. My little fighter. Don’t ever stop fighting for what you want.

The Snip: 7 Things We Didn’t Expect From a Vasectomy

My husband’s vasectomy was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

A long time before we were ready for children (possibly before we were married) my husband and I agreed that after three kids, he would have a vasectomy. This was an assumption that we both simply carried through our married life, and when our youngest daughter was a few months old, he went to our family doctor and asked for a referral. What followed was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

1 | We didn’t expect questions about why

For many people, the assumption that the final child is followed by a vasectomy isn’t a given, and when it came up in casual conversation my mother-in-law asked what prompted the decision for him to have the operation rather than me. There are, of course, many reasons: it’s more effective, less risky, a much shorter recovery time, and generally just simpler for the male to be the one to take care of permanent birth control. It never even occurred to me that he might object to this plan and ask me to undergo major surgery instead.
“Gabi did the pregnancies and births three times, so it only seemed fair that I do this,” replied Andrew, my husband.
Fair is a bit of an understatement – I would have gone for “the least he could do” – but it was a sufficient answer for my mother-in-law.

2 | I expected questions about our family that he didn’t get

Andrew made the appointment for the initial consultation and went to see the doctor. Aside from some general health questions, it was as straightforward as signing a consent form and booking in the surgery for three weeks later. The doctor did ask how many children we had, but Andrew tells me it was more small talk than something the doctor might have had an opinion about – we also have a friend who had the operation in order to remain happily childless. But I had been prepared for him to ask about our kids’ ages, our ages, whether I was on board with this decision or not. Nope. The doctor treated Andrew as a man who had total autonomy over his body and his relationships.

3 | We didn’t expect recovery to be so quick

The appointment was made for a Friday morning, which was usual practice for the surgeon. He explained that this was so that his patients could take Friday off and return to work on the Monday. The doctor said there would be no need for prescription strength pain medications, just paracetamol (Tylenol) or ibuprofen would be fine.

4 | We didn’t expect the operation itself to be so quick

The whole thing was over and done with in less than an hour. I drove him home, but the doctor did say that some of his patients drive themselves. If you’re a man worried about having surgery, let this be a reassurance that a vasectomy performed by an experienced surgeon really is quite simple. And maybe skip the next paragraph …

5 | We didn’t expect recovery to take so long!

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. On the Friday morning, we arrived earlier than needed and pulled up to a cafe near the surgery. As soon as I opened the car door, our three-year-old vomited on the pavement. And as it turned out, she spent the rest of the day vomiting. That evening, our five-year-old son started. And in the middle of the night, my poor husband stumbled to the toilet, the feeling of being kicked in the balls compounded by an untimely dose of gastro (or stomach flu, as it’s sometimes called). So in the end, he wasn’t back at work on Monday as the surgeon had anticipated. And every male who has heard this story since has winced in sympathy.

6 | He didn’t expect the little things (but should have)

Things like shaving his pubic hair beforehand. The awkwardness of a female nurse applying numbing cream before the anaesthetic. The itching as the hair grew back, which by the end of the week was more irritating than any residual pain from the operation itself. The three to four months of continued condom use before he could take a semen sample back to check if the surgery had worked. Having to abstain for at least four days before producing this sample. These were the things that made sense, but he simply hadn’t thought about beforehand.

7 | I expected a change to his hormones and libido that didn’t happen

It’s not that I expected a permanent adjustment, mind you. But you’d think if there’s any time the phenomenon of morning wood might take a break, it would be the morning immediately after a vasectomy and a gastro bug. Nope. While Andrew himself wasn’t ready for sex for a week or two after the operation, his hormones continued exactly as normal. This probably added to his discomfort a bit, but it might be reassuring to know that you can expect your sex life to bounce back pretty quick. Certainly quicker than after having another baby!

A Mother's Proclamation About How This Day is Going to Go

Today, we will get out of the house. This will be no easy feat, but we will get out of the house.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Today, we will get out of the house.
This will be no easy feat, as I will need to dress both of you while you are fully committed to this riveting episode of Paw Patrol. It will be like attempting to tug clothes onto an angry octopus, or actually, like trying to dress two fighting octopi that can’t keep their tentacles to themselves.
But we will get out of the house.
I must pack enough snack rations to feed an entire small town for a week, even though we’ll only be gone for a couple of hours and you just ate your weight in muffins at breakfast. And I need to make sure I have exactly the same number of banana applesauce pouches for each of you. Strawberry applesauce is obviously not acceptable.
And you, my dear daughter, must go potty. I realize this is a 42-step process, and that you will shout “I pooped!” just as I am trying to wrangle your brother to the ground, pinning him down with my body weight so I can change his diaper. But we can do this. We must.
And then we will be ready – hooray! Dressed, bag packed, faces (somewhat) clean, hair brushed. We will just need to find your shoes and socks and put them on. Easy-peasy, right? Yes, I know we are missing one of your gray socks with blue whales, and that it is nearly impossible to go on living without it, but we will prevail.
Despite all of this, we will get out of the house.
We will figure out a way to get in the car, even though you will each insist that I buckle you into your car seat first.
We will go to the library to return our overdue books and pick out new ones, even though you, my sweet son, will sob, your little face scrunched in rage, because I have the audacity to insist that I hold you while we cross the street.
After the library (where one of you clearly will not respect the quiet rule), I will – despite my better judgment – take you to the bakery next door for a donut. You will argue over who gets the bigger half (news flash – they will be exactly the same size). You will coat every square inch of your face, the table, and the floor with cinnamon sugar.
But today, I will get out of the house.
Here is a list of things I will not do:

  • Fold the load of laundry that’s been waiting for me in the living room for three days.
  • Clean the kitchen, which may be reaching health code levels of dirtiness.
  • Spend any measure of quality time with my husband.
  • Clean out the back of my car, or finally take those clothes on top of my dresser to Goodwill, or do our weekly meal planning, or write, or go for a run, or take a nap.

I will not do any of those things today.
Some days I wonder – what am I doing with my life? Am I achieving enough? Am I reaching for my dreams? Am I doing anything really worthwhile? And importantly – will these kids ever sleep? Will my house ever be clean again?
I am often tired and frazzled, overwhelmed by how much you need me and by my inability to do it all. But I do know deep down that it is all okay, and that nothing lasts forever – not even these days, which are messy, mundane, and maddening … but also magic if I am determined enough to pay attention.
Today, I will get out of the house. I will take you to the park. I will watch as you play in the sand, giggle your way down the slides, and shriek with joy while you chase butterflies. I will push you on the swings, one hand on each of your little backs. I will raise my face to the warmth of the sun and be grateful.

When School Is No Longer a Reliable Babysitter

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
After a fraught winter of flirting with freelance writing (chagrin implied), I’d made some gains. They were almost negligible, and some of the platforms dubious, yet I got published elsewhere. Still mostly for free (more chagrin) but on bigger platforms for a few more likes, shares, and an occasional pocket change paycheck. (No large advance is forthcoming.)
Then school was out, summer happened, and I reacquainted myself with TV, some video games, full-time parenting, and the clouds.
Well, I’m a parent all the time but her first year of school was an amazing freedom for me.
It’s not that summer strips parents of all their free time. The hours between 9:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. were usually open. If I were a real go-getter, I’d have gotten up at the butt crack to “scribble” on the keys then burn the midnight oil after a few beers, but I didn’t.
Not all was procrastination, though. A lot went on this summer, and it started out fantastically with a two-week break from parenting. The g-rents whisked the kid away, leaving my wife and I childless. It was glorious. We were a couple of young adults without a child again. Other parents were jealous.
After that two-week stint without the kid, things changed. We traveled a lot, there was a death in the family, and we went from practically having a live-in babysitter (a niece) to being full-time parents again.
The adult time was over and my hobby sort of dropped off.
It dropped off because writing isn’t a sprint but a distance game, and it requires more than 20 to 30 minutes of attention at a time. I tried to write with her around but that required a lot of TV (something us modern parents aren’t supposed to let our kids overindulge in), and she had questions and concerns every two minutes.
Can’t get mad, though. When your preschooler asks you to come into the bathroom to smell her fart, your heart just swells. These are the precious moments parents carry with them to their graves.
I’ve also found that picking up where you left off only works with pieces that are nearly done. That being said, it’s easier to pick up a book and easier still to watch Netflix, Amazon, Hulu – whatever.
The easiest thing to do, however, is watch clouds.
Being committed to a word file takes focus, time, and, I guess, some will power.
Not making excuses helps, too, but no one else is going to get that paladin to level 99 other than you, bro.
That’s game talk and while procrastination and gaming go hand in hand, they should never be used in the same sentence around a gamer. They’re liable to set you on fire with a level four flame spell.
Instead, I set the writing aside and checked out critically acclaimed works of nonfiction, making sure I brought them with me so people would notice. I didn’t read them, just skimmed reviews in hifalutin magazines in case someone asked me about them. It’s what we procrastinators call “doing adequate homework”.
I also watched a lot of YouTube videos on lions, landslides, volcanoes (just one Saturday night), even Saturday Night Live, tsunamis again (never gets old), and an inordinate amount of Star Wars fan theory videos.
Did you know that not all Jedi are prudes? I didn’t think so.
The kid and I also did our fair share of floating around the pool. Well, I floated and she attempted the world record at most consecutive drowning attempts.
However, before I lay too much blame on parenting and chronic procrastination, let me reiterate the real culprit: summer break. I absolve myself of all responsibility and lay most of the blame, if not all, on the summer holiday. It’s just too long. Really, kids should be in school more. Perhaps all day so that the only time you see them is when they wake up and after dinner.
A parent’s daily peace of mind is worth a little state indoctrination, am I right?
To be blunt, summer break ruins a this peace-o-mind, pure and simple. Yes, it was great having almost three months off from school as kid, but I’m not a kid anymore and their time off offends me.
Of course, we could’ve mitigated all this with summer camps (I will become a convert next year) and a regular schedule. But to have regularity in you and your child’s schedule, you must plan for it. Since I’m neither a planner nor someone who remotely understand plans, this was not the case for me.
That’s why we’re here now, commiserating summer break together and relieved it’s over.
You hear that kiddo? Sounds like first bell. Time for dad to level up.

Goodnight, Sleep Demon

After years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before. But it kept going.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
“My stomach hurts.” “I can’t sleep;” “Can you close my closet?” “Can I just sleep with you?” Sound familiar? You are not alone – and neither is your child.
Obviously all children have times of anxiety when leaving their parents, or meeting new people, or going to a sleepover for the first time. Most will even go through a period of wanting to sleep in your room. But most toddlers or young kids grow out of that.
What they don’t generally do is stay awake all night long, miss school, throw random tantrums about leaving you; or turn down sleepovers with their close friends. What they don’t generally do is bring that anxiety into the school years.
They also don’t spend two years trying to sleep in their own bed, alone in their own room, but just being incapable of it. Seriously.
Approximately 12 percent of children suffer from separation anxiety disorder before they reach 18. While that’s not a huge amount, it’s enough that it should be talked about, highlighted. There should be information out there for parents to know what’s typical and what isn’t. You know what to look for in the flu, but where’s the document about anxiety, or Anxiety – and the differences between them. I wish i had clued into any of the telltale signs before I did. But honestly I didn’t know what those signs were. All my friends had kids who had had some trouble sleeping. And when you are living through it, it feels singular; like you alone are battling these ever-elusive sleep demons.
For a while I traveled a couple of days a week for work – and my leaving was excruciating. It was also excruciating when I called home and could barely understand anything being said through enormous fits of tears and “Come home, Mommy; please come home.” It broke my heart. My husband was hassled, frustrated, and downright cranky: Trying to get her to school was anything but pretty in the mornings I was away. I felt enormous guilt and was torn between trying to calm and comfort Carrie or telling her to just suck it up and go to school. I often hung up in tears myself. But I comforted myself. I just thought “ this too shall pass”.
That all changed one day when my daughter’s kindergarten teacher saw me dropping her off and said “oh it’s so great having you home – no more tummy aches.” EXCUSE ME?? That was the first I had heard of those apparently daily events. The fact that they disappeared when I was home was clearly a sign that she was distressed. Carrie had worried I would get hurt or die in an airplane, or not come home, or any number of things all the time. But we didn’t know that – she didn’t have the words to tell me, was too scared to say it, and Dave and I didn’t stop to ask the right questions.
Things improved when I was home more often. There was continuity, I was clued into her sensitivity and she felt safe. So again, I wasn’t too concerned. She went to school just fine, she liked her teachers, had friends, and had fun. She was actually back to being a bundle of joy, laughter, and creativity. Until she wasn’t.
You know that story of when he was good he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was terrible? Well, let’s just say I do too. Carrie started to turn down play dates – or would only have them at our house. She wanted to only play one on one; she said she felt like a prisoner at school, and she was always worried. She needed to know what the plan was and when it changed? Then watch out – tantrums like crazy came on. Inconsolable tears; fits where she would straighten her back and not get into the car to save her life. She stopped going to sleep overs, or would go but have to be picked up in the night – and believe me, that was not good for anyone.
And then, after years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. Just stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before or something. But it kept going. Night after night, we would check her room and closet for bad guys and people that might want to hurt Mom. She couldn’t sleep because what if there was a fire? What if someone broke into the house; what if she was kidnapped? Or worse, what if her brother was?
Clearly something was off. There was no talking logic to her and there was no sleep for any of us. So when we were beyond ourselves with exhaustion and frustration, we found a counselor and had her start seeing someone to talk to and work through the fears. But now on top of the no sleep, the stomachaches were back; and panic attacks going to school were starting. Carrie was seriously struggling. Unfortunately, by then we were all struggling. Dave couldn’t understand that for Carrie these issues were completely real. Their conflict, the stress and walking on eggshells to keep the peace was taking a toll.
Our efforts to calm her or use reasoning were completely ineffective. Sick of the arguing and tears, we tried letting her sleep with us for a very little while. Wrong choice! So wrong. Then no one slept because the bed was too small and she thrashed around all night. Finally, counselor number two suggested we try something different: put an extra bed in her room and one of us sleep there. That was step one – get her to sleep in her own room again. Eventually, it worked; she got some sleep. Me? Not so much.
Step two was that once she fell asleep, we then returned to our bed. That worked … until she woke up, saw we weren’t there anymore, and started screaming. Or woke up from a nightmare. Back one of us went. By then we were so tired ourselves that we might fall asleep in her room before she did – thereby not affecting any change in the right direction.
A tired mom is a short-tempered mom. A tired dad might be even worse. The house that was once so joyful and peaceful was now filled with angst, anger, and just plain exhaustion. I wasn’t sleeping; my husband fell asleep in her room confounding the issue. So then we were tired and at odds. Add to that an older brother who was tired of all the fights and of his sister being such a nightmare. Everyone’s patience had dissolved long ago and family dynamics hit a new low. Clearly we needed more help and so did she.
By now we had tried all of the tricks to solving this issue. Gentle bedtime routine? Check. Regular bedtime? Check. Warm bath; stories; snuggles? Check, check, and check. We encouraged rituals that soothed her – gave her her blanket and favorite stuffy. We tried meditation, soft music and then white noise when that didn’t work. She read. We read to her. You name it, we tried it. At this point we realized she had some serious Anxiety and we were well beyond our abilities to solve the issue. So we found a new therapist to help us face this sleep demon.
Our new therapist was great – Carrie really took to her and looked forward to seeing her and, I think, to having someone of her own to talk to. One of us was still staying in her room at this point. We again tried leaving after she fell asleep. More tears. Then the doctor suggested a more gradual approach. After getting her to bed and completing our nightly, calming rituals, we (one of us) sat in her room. Not on a bed, not lying down. Sat in a chair so we would not fall asleep. Which, if I’m honest, had it’s own issues, but still.
When she fell asleep, we were supposed to move to the hallway and sit there. Slowly, ever so slowly over many nights, we moved a little farther away within the room, then into the hallway, then further down the hallway, until finally we made it to our own bedroom.
So how did our new therapist help? A few ways. She had Carrie talk about her fears and give voice to them. Apparently that sounds way easier than it is. The Anxiety that Carrie felt also meant she had had a hard time voicing or admitting to the scary thoughts. So her therapist had her look at What Ifs. She talked about those What Ifs. Then Carrie would tell me about them so I could help her at home. For instance if she brought up a fire, we could lead her through that. “Have you ever had a fire or known anyone who did? If not, was there a reason her house might get one? Did anyone smoke or leave on the gas? No, well then was it possible no fire would happen?” Same with a burglar or an airplane trip – or whatever; we learned to walk and talk her through her fears. Which sounds good and is a great starting point. But of course that alone didn’t do it, as this Anxiety is not rational.
Another helpful tip was having her picture her fear and describe it. Then draw it and name it. That helped put some distance between the fear and her. Plus we could use humor and come up with ways for her to yell at it or tell it to go away; we were able to make it a little, tiny bit fun and less scary. Sometimes I had her draw her feelings and we’d throw the drawing away or burn it so it couldn’t come back.
Another winner? While we had tried relaxation and meditation apps (didn’t work for her) her therapist taped her own soothing voice in a little meditation for Carrie. Reminded her what to do, how to relax, how to help herself. We had her play that in her bed when she was experiencing a tough night. And as we got one night of sleep, it went to two, then maybe back a step – but eventually we were able to have enough success that she set up her own goal and reward system.
She would choose how many nights she would stay alone and if she was successful, what fun thing we would do. It became hers; she controlled it. She was sad, mad and therefore determined to banish it. Thank God for her stubborn streak at those moments.
Lo and behold, it took. She realized she could make the sleep demon disappear all on her own. She owned it and she conquered it. And eventually, she even went on a successful sleepover again.
Last week she came back from three weeks away on a service trip where she didn’t know anyone. That is a beautiful thing.

5 Sensory Experiences That Can Enhance Learning and Benefit Any Kid

Sensory experiences can help increase focus and concentration and calm anxiety and hyperactivity in all kids- not just those with special needs.

Sensory experiences can help calm kid’s anxiety, increase focus and concentration, and reduce misbehavior. Although focusing on sensory experiences is highly beneficial for kids, kids will not all react to these experiences in the same way. While sensory experiences have often been associated with children with special needs, they can help increase focus and concentration and calm anxiety and hyperactivity in all kids.
The available research suggests that incorporating sensory experiences to children’s everyday experiences can make it easier to meet the needs of even the most challenging among them. Below are five practical tips to help you incorporate sensory experiences to help your child find calm.

1 | Create a “sensory space”

A “sensory space” is a space filled with varied sensory resources where your kid can find calm. Creating a specific space has been found to help kids struggling with anxiety and anger. In one study, researchers created a “sensory room” filled with a variety of resources such as a mood lamp, a projector, aromatherapy, music, and bubble tubes. The researchers observed and recorded how often each child visited the sensory room. The results showed that the kids who visited the sensory room most had greater self-esteem and also improved emotional well-being.
A “sensory space” does not necessarily have to be a “physical space.” An alternative can be a “sensory box” where you put a variety of sensory items that your child can pick and use whenever he feels the need to. Varying the objects – smooth surfaces, rough surfaces, different smells – makes the sensory experience more fulfilling.

2 | Turn to aromatherapy

The sense of smell is a powerful sense connected to the brain. This explains why essential oils impact behavior. Research suggests that aromatherapy can have a healing and calming effect. There are different ways that aromatherapy can be used to make the sensory experience even more powerful. For instance, combining smell and touch by using essential oils to massage your child’s feet or toes can have an immediate calming effect.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to using aromatherapy but not all essential oils are appropriate to use with children. Before using essential oils with your child, inform yourself about the precautions to take and the oils best adapted to calm kids’ anxiety and hyperactivity.

3 | Provide multisensory experiences

In one study that sought to determine whether multisensory experiences helped children learn better, researchers associated different colors with music, scents, art, poetry, literature, and colored lights. They found that children who were taught colors using multisensory experiences were better able to learn different colors.
Multisensory experiences are those that enable kids to use their different senses. For example, aromatherapy play dough helps kids engage their sense of smell and touch. Remember, however, that all essential oils used with kids should be safe for them and should be diluted first if they are to come into contact with your child’s skin. Another multisensory experience could be playing soft music as your child is playing with her blocks or with sand.

4 | Incorporate sensory experiences throughout the day

Any activity that encourages children to use their senses is a sensory activity. Playing with water or grains, smelling the roses, jogging, running, playing with sand, listening to music, and dancing are all sensory activities.
Different activities respond to different sensory needs. Activities such as swinging, jumping on the trampoline, and doing aerobic exercises release endorphins that help decrease anxiety. Chewing chewy foods, sucking or blowing are different sensory experiences that may also have a calming impact on your child. Finger painting is a great sensory activity. Incorporating different activities throughout the day is a great way to help your kid find focus and calm.

5 | Use deep pressure and movement sensory activities

The pressure exerted by weights has been found to help calm kids’ anxiety and hyperactivity. For instance, weighted blankets have been found to create a natural calming effect.
Although they are frequently used with children with special needs (for example autism), they are also effective with high-energy kids. Many parents have reported benefits with their children, including better sleep, waking up more rested, and happier and more focused kids.
By exerting pressure on the body, weighted blankets release neurotransmitters that have been proven to have a calming effect on the body. Wrists and ankle weights may also have the same effect.
Activities that involve heavy work – raking leaves, pushing against a wall, pushing a heavy cart – have also been found to be effective in focusing kids’ attention and reducing anxiety.
While the information provided here can help calm anxiety and hyperactivity in all kids, it is provided for informational purposes only. If your child has a sensory processing disorder, please contact your therapist before trying the activities proposed above.

Somehow: an Ode to Parenthood

You know the days. The ones where you can’t catch a breath, or a second to stop and think. And still something, somehow piles on.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
You know the days. The ones where you can’t catch a breath, or a second to stop and think. You roll again and again with the punches to keep your head above water. And still something, somehow piles on.
The sleepless sunrises follow sleepless nights of waking upon waking. You try different tactics. Swaddled rocking or scheduled training. Soothing song or quiet dark. Another feed. Another diaper change. Another 24 hours.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
The car breaks down full of groceries. A hungry infant wails as you convey the urgency of your situation to the jaded operator of the towing company. They easily charge almost double what you spent on the food that now sits spoiling in the backseat.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
A virus sweeps through your household and you can’t tell whose bodily fluids stain the sweatpants you’ve worn for days. Taking a shower seems pointless; the laundry has piled up and the only clean clothes no longer fit.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
You’ve diligently stayed late at the office to prepare for a project. Assured colleagues you could handle it. The final presentation is interrupted by a phone call. A newfound allergy, a burst appendix, a broken bone. The rush to the hospital is anger and worry, adrenaline tinged with rationality.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
The voice of critics mounts so loud and consistent that you begin to hear it in your own thoughts. You did something wrong. Said something wrong. Believe something wrong. Doubts compete with self-assurance, teetering for space on the edge of your sanity.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
The school trip slip, or treats for a bake sale, or necessary science project component. Forgotten on the counter where you were sure you’d remember it. You race against time and battle snail-paced traffic, knowing in the big scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. But in the end, the look on their face is all that matters. The clock ticks on.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
You’ve attended recitals and sports practices. Waded through birthday parties and waiting rooms alike. Patiently spent hours on homework problems you never dreamed you’d face again. And you thought you were prepared for the first time “I hate you” crosses their lips.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
Silence fills their conversations with you. You, who are now too old, or too familiar, to truly understand their rage. Days, weeks, months pass with nary a “thank you.” Until all it takes is a broken heart, a misunderstanding of how cruel life can be, to send them rushing back into your arms. Only your words and shoulder can provide comfort.
And somehow, you’re doing it.
The distance between phone calls grows. Visits occur when convenient and thus, not as often as you’d prefer. The static interrupts notifications of promotions and marriage. Then one day, they understand completely. Look up at you with awe as they hold a new child in their arms. The questions flood. How did you do it?
You take a breath. Stop to think.
And somehow, you did it.