Crocodile tears, my son yelling “everything is STUPID” and “I hate that” as I held him in my arms knowing that my fears had come true. It took my son less than two minutes to burst into meltdown mode after seeing me waiting for him at the front gates of the school. As he cried, I picked him up, carried him in my arms and we walked home. I knew that he had held it together all day at school and now the anxiety he had bottled up all day was being released in the form of crocodile tears. My heart broke.
According to the September issue of WebMD magazine, “Stress among kids is at an all-time high. Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.” While I don’t think my son has an anxiety disorder, I do see very telling signs of stress in him. His sensory differences coupled with a new routine, and a full day of academically based school instruction is a lot for him to deal with. Now, we are a week into school and through research and experience, I have a few tips/tricks I’m using to help support him and his emotional/sensory needs.
Maybe it’s the Special Education teacher in me, maybe it’s just me, but I always go for the sensory tricks first when it comes to any intervention with my own children.
1. Ride Bikes (or Encourage Movement)
The meltdown of the first day was something I wanted to avoid after school so the second day we rode bikes home. Sounds silly, but my son is a sensory seeker. When he rides his bike he will be seen riding over every piece of bumpy terrain, off curbs, and into the gravel as often as possible. Before my son was able to walk, he has always loved being outside on a bike riding over any bumps he can find. It makes his sensory system happy. Getting that extra dose of sensory into his system before, and after school has helped tremendously. He is excited to ride his bike to school, talks more on the way home, and seems more collected.
2. Weighted Lap Pet
As a teacher I had weighted bags (fabric filled with dry beans or rice…or a long adult sock filled with beans and tied shut for those who don’t sew and don’t want to buy the pre-made bags) for the kids who had a hard time sitting still and focusing. The kids all knew they had access to the weighted bags at any time, but it was meant to be on their lap and not played with or thrown…yes, we did have to add that rule. The extra pressure can be good for any child seeking deep pressure throughout the day.
3. Chewy Necklace
My son, when he gets nervous or bored, likes to chew on things. He is a thumb sucker at home, but in public he seems to resort to chewing rather than sucking. At church I noticed he was chewing holes into the knees of his pants. I figured we could probably offer him a better alternative so we bought a chewy necklace for him. He seems to use it and enjoy it. The extra dose of sensory during classroom time can really help him.
Tools at Home
The following tips come from the WebMD magazine.
4. Keep Connected
Taking time each day to tune into my son and tune out of everything else is my way of showing him he is important. I think often about my presence with my children. I want to be connected to them, rather than just being around them while they are home. When we ride bikes home, I take that time to put my phone away and just talk. Nothing else is distracting us, so for us it is the perfect time to just talk openly. During these conversations I stay clear of “yes/no” questions. The open ended questions are the ones that will give me the most information.
5. Take It Easy
“See that your kids get regular unstructured time at home when they can engage in free play, rest, read, or do whatever they feel like doing. All kids need breaks” Webmd.com
6. Name Stress and Normalize It
“Stress can make a child feel like her body is out of control. Explain to her that this is the body’s response when we expect something scary to happen. And when she learns to recognize those signs, she can do things like deep breathing to slow down the body’s stress reaction.” WebMD.com
7. Take Care Of You
I particularly liked this last recommendation because I completely agree. Too often as moms we put ourselves last and as a result have less to give. I wrote a few posts about my journey of taking better care of myself and how much it has helped me in motherhood. I really began to love motherhood when I started exercising regularly, eating according to my body’s needs, and taking time to pursue my own dreams and hobbies. As I am settling into a new school year I have taken the time to set aside time for myself. I have a regular exercise schedule, a morning routine that allows for some creative writing, and a few other self-care bits scattered throughout my week.
Now, we are starting our second week of school. We have had our moments of frustration and tears, that I can’t deny. The 7 tips are certainly not a magic formula for happiness and serenity. Rather, it is a list of tools I use to support and help my son deal with the anxiety he faces every day at school. Some days one tool works better than another. It’s a slow process, it always is in motherhood, but I know we are headed in the right direction, though. How do I know? We have had tantrums, I have faced his resistance, but we haven’t had any crocodile tears. I’ll count that as a success!