Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Evening Feelings Discussion with the Kids

We have this new thing we do each week, sometimes each day in our family.  It all started of course with the release of this fantastic documentary...I mean, Pixar movie, Inside Out. We added the minion too. He represents "silly," an extension of joy. 

I heard a lot of friends raving about the movie when over the past few months. "Have you seen Inside Out?" my friends asked me, some of them a few times.  No, I definitely had not seen it yet when it first came out on DVD. I have seen about 4 movies in a movie theatre since November of 2008.  I guess that's one movie every two years. Yikes. It's just that in 2007 we began having children and therefore my relationship with the movie theatre was surrendered. It was just way to much work to keep up. I mean, having to either find a sitter or take a baby or child whom I had to keep quiet for 2 plus hours, buy tickets, pay for snacks/drinks, find seats together in a good spot, set everyone up with snacks/drinks, and sit in seats that 800 other people have sat in that day, while I stare at a screen just does not compare to the alternative of putting the baby to bed according to his/her regular routine, sitting on my own comfy couch in my pajamas, with my blankets, eating a bowl of ice cream and being allowed to ask all of the questions out loud that I want about the movie while only getting frustrated looks from my husband instead of everyone else in the theatre. I have taken my two older kids to the movies...those 4 times in 8 years and it was great fun.  We, however had our third child last August, which is why I had not seen this new, revered movie.  Anyhow, I've brought myself slightly off course here, but I did finally see it and I LOVE it!!!

After a friend of mine loaned it to us and I watched it with the kids. I made my husband sit down and watch it with us. The comparison of this movie to a documentary actually first came from my husband after only a few minutes. He thought it was a fantastic movie, especially since teaching children about their emotions is a very high priority for the two of us.  With Scott dealing with anxiety for so many years and me coming from a family who deals with depression and having my own moments of fear and anxiety, we try to find as many teachable moments as possible on understanding our own emotions. 

Our Activity
Scott ordered these little characters to use for these teachable moments.  We came up with a game to play at dinner one night.  Each of us took a turn with the characters, showing each other which characters we had in our heads that day and what happened when the characters showed up, and the results of allowing those characters to take over. 

Of course we had someone who was not so into it and said something like, "I just had Joy all day, okay there I'm done." As the rest of us said our emotions, he decided to add one or two more.  I think this activity can be really beneficial to the kids in multiple ways.  

The Benefits

Recognition of Emotions
First,they learn to recognize emotions they feel throughout the day and when they are feeling a particular emotion.  As they hear our examples of situations as parents, they can better understand what is happening in their own situations. As they get better at it, they will learn to catch themselves in a moment of a particular emotion and stop themselves from going further into it if necessary. Today my daughter asked me the name of a particular emotion character.  She said, "Mom, my friend and I had a little bit of...angry...angerness....what's his name....and another name for him?"  I told her the words were anger and frustration. 

It is okay to feel 
Next, they learn that it is okay to feel certain emotions that maybe they thought was not okay or that "adults don't feel that." They might discover that they may even share the some of the same emotions during the same circumstances such as frustration when we are waiting in the forever long pharmacy drive through.  An important one for them to realize that we have is sadness. I think the movie's point about our need for sadness was excellent! I will not say any more and give away the story if any readers have not seen it.  My children can clearly tell when I feel frustrated and angry sometimes, but they may not always realize when I feel sad and so verbalizing that during our activity brings it to their attention and reminds them that adults feel sad sometimes too. For some reason, that one is the most uncomfortable to admit, even as an adult, but also because of that, can help the children have compassion for other family members.   

How to solve a problem
 Also, these conversations lead to discussion of what they can do to solve their problem and problems can much easier be solved once we have identified our emotions.  The insight and independence they gain in learning to solve their problems may lead to more joy and peace within the children.  After my daughter told me that she and her friend had anger she also told me that they were able to solve their issue. 

Compassion for others
One great hope that I have for this activity is that they kids become more compassionate towards others  in our family as they think about how someone else was feeling that day and why they were feeling that way. After the children learn about their own feelings, they may be able to recognize those emotions in someone else throughout their day and hopefully develop compassion for that person. Tonight, at bed time, my daughter volunteered the information today.  We missed our dinnertime discussion due to after school activities. She said, "Dad, who was in your head today?"

Here are some photos of us practicing some different facial expressions!  Mental wellness education is on the way!


Excessive joy





Trying to look disgusted...but disgust looks funny sometimes!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Music for Babies: Merrily We Roll the Ball

"Do you play ball with her?" my mom asked me when my second child was 9 months. 

"Um, we explore and play with them but we don't like sit on the floor and roll it to each other yet.  I don't think she can yet."

"Well, she'll learn.  You just need to practice with her.  When you were her age I would come home from teaching and we would play ball."  

"I know, but she may not be at that developmental milestone yet." I told her as she sat down across from Adelyn to roll the ball back and forth with her. 

Well, she couldn't do it yet, but she sure did love it. And I realized after a while that she was trying to roll it.  It looked like a little jerk of her hand and foot.  Well, who knew? Obviously, not me and obviously I didn't spend much of my time as a music therapist working on motor skills with babies. 

So after that I played a lot of "ball" with Adelyn.  Of course, she loved it. How many babies do I know that were in love with rolling objects by the time they turned one?  My three year old son loved watching and trying it with her too. 

Here is a video of my third child practicing to roll a ball with me.  He is just about 8 months.  As most babies do, he also loves to play ball!  Here I used the tune of London Bridge and made a spin off of the song, Merrily we Roll Along (same tune as Mary Had a Little Lamb), changing the words to Merrily We Roll the Ball. In this version, the time that each of you receive the ball has a slightly different melody than the time that you roll it. 

If you are looking for fun songs and music activities to do with your baby (or toddler), this may be one you both enjoy and a great way to teach other children to play with the younger ones. This activity can benefit gross motor skills, eye contact, turn taking, impulse control, object identification, names of people, and also of course, provides another opportunity for quality time where all participants are interacting together.

Happy rolling along!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Auditory Input Sensitivity Pros and Cons

Pairing auditory and visual input to calm Lincoln in the car

When our third child was born, I believed what people say about the third kid being a piece of cake and told myself that understanding the sleep milestones would set me up for even better success at teaching my child to sleep and that knowing so much more about sensory systems would help me set up an even better environment for his learning, play and comfort.

I still do think that the third time around, many many things are so much easier.  I was much less overwhelmed knowing about baby sleep and sensory systems as well as developmental milestones, diaper brands and sizes, pumping, when to start them on solids, how to identify acid reflux and food allergies, packing a diaper bag of some sort and so forth.  I was still in for a surprise when I realized in the hospital that our newborn son did not sleep the way I remembered my other two newborns who slept through anything.  In fact Adelyn, our second, was so incredibly hard to wake for feedings that we had every light in the room at full brightness, voices, music, and her down to the diaper.

Lincoln startled at the drop of a feather. Surely the next day he would sleep better.  Maybe it is just day one.  Was that how it was 5 1/2 years ago when Adelyn was born? As we continued throughout that day and the next I realized that it was not just day 1 and he did not stay asleep well either. Zachary didn't stay asleep well in the hospital either, but it was not due to sounds and startling like Lincoln.  When the nurse came in to do the hearing screening I said, "Oh he DEFINITELY hears." So the newborn sleep phase as I remember it, did not happen.  Lincoln went through the phase of staying asleep for long periods of time, but we were tiptoeing around him like we had a pack of sleeping wolves.

He has grown used to many sounds in the environment we provide, especially our immediate family voices in a variety of emotions, but many sounds still startle or make him uncomfortable.  I know that most babies find the hair dryer and vaccuum distasteful so some of this is typical, but I find his sensitivity to be more extreme.  New discoveries of issues began to be uncovered about the time that he became 4 months old. He is not happy in a room of chattering mothers, especially when he is tired or hungry which makes moms meetings difficult to handle. One of the most recent discoveries is that Lincoln is not cool with other people expressing their emotion of laughter when something is funny if you are going to exceed his decibel level comfort.  In his opinion, if you are going to find something funny and laugh, you should probably retrain yourself or better yet stuff a sock in your cheek for the time being. It does not seem to be an issue for those of us he is used to being around.

I have determined to myself that Lincoln's auditory system is sensitive, but I believe it is due to having his defenses up against anyone or anything unfamiliar that could compromise his comfort or safety.  In other words, anxiety to the unknown. I think this because he has become used to the loud sounds that any of us in the immediate family make.  He watches our facial expressions when he hears the sounds and determines whether or not it is good or bad.  Zachary was not quite to the extreme that Lincoln is, but he also was a little sensitive and a little anxious as a baby.  It may just be something that Lincoln will grow out of.  Zac did and has overcome some anxiety with some assistance from us (he does still use headphones to mow the lawn like I do).

A pro to Lincoln being so aware of auditory input is that he is mesmerized when I sing to him.  During car rides of all lengths, especially the first 6 months, I spent a good deal of time singing to him. Sometimes it calmed him enough to get him to sleep.  But not always!!!! He finally, at 6 1/2 months learned to fall asleep in the car without assistance, praise the Lord!! Of course, there has been almost nothing consistent about his sleep except that for the first 5 months, he only stayed awake an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes between naps.  In the early months a Disney Lullaby Cd with arrangements by Fred Molin, worked at calming him in the car. For the most part, live, vocal singing by voices he recognizes has worked the best in calming him.

Car Ride Torture
The kids have joined in helping, especially on car rides.  On our Christmas trip, we spent about 45 minutes singing familiar tunes over and over to Lincoln during the first part of our journey.   Unfortunately, it seems that being strapped down to a seat in a moving object makes children angry and frustrated.  I thought we would never make it to my parents house in Houston and then my grandparents in Louisiana.  We had split the trip up in two days. I was absolutely DREADING the 7 hour trip getting home.  Scott took the train to meet us in Louisiana and as soon as I saw him, before "hello" and "how was your trip" I said, "I want to fly home when we leave next week.  Just me and Lincoln."  As it turned out, the 1 way ticket would be $600.  We were driving. Actually, we were riding. I sat next to Lincoln on the drive home. I patted the back of his car seat to lull him to sleep when it was time to sleep.

Paring Sound and Visuals
By the last couple of hours of the journey toys were not enough to keep him happy, nor were books and my beloved singing trick. Finally, I picked up a book which contained a song as lyrics and sang it to him while I showed the pictures.  He was enthralled.  Thank the Lord. I was spared. Why in the world had I not pieced this together? I mean after all that time studying sensory integration for music therapy?? Hello!! So this is how we made it home the last two hours.

Today, at 7 months, he likes exploring toys a lot. He likes exploring books a lot.  He loves family members singing to him!  But his favorite is someone singing lyrics to pictures in books.

Sometimes it does seem like the road never ends.  Each day though, we grow wiser as parents.  We learn a little each day.  And sometimes we figure out solutions! Temporary and permanent! And our babies grow.  They develop.  Old phases pass and new ones come up.  My hope for others is to know that comfort can be found.  Comfort and peace to all as we live, love, laugh, struggle and resolve.

There is a cross, but there is also resurrection.  Happy Easter 2016.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Our Journey to Staying on Task

"Oh, What? I'm Suppose to Be Doing Something Right Now? Right...I forgot. I'm going.  I'm on my way.  And oh look! Here is my such n such.  Isn't it great? I like to set it up like this. Yeah, now this goes like this. There we go, now I'll straighten out the top and...oh what? Oh I forgot again. I'm going.   And oh yeah, I also forgot that I need to finish that craft project I started yesterday. It's over there. I didn't finish coloring this part.  Let me just color it real quick. And...okay! I'm going!"

Have you ever been on either side of this conversation? If you have children there is a good chance you have.  Have you felt crazy and mentally exhausted by the end of the day after relentless conversations like this? 

It is rather common for young children to get distracted.  Some just happen to have this conversation a little more than others. Me, I have been on both sides. I remember getting distracted as a child. During school or at home.  At home it was usually during homework time.  Now, as an adult I have a similar conversation almost every day, however, now I am on the other side of it.  The other participant is my 5 year old daughter.  

Adelyn is very distracted at home.  It is not a spiteful, "I want to do wrong" behavior. She tries hard, but staying on task is difficult for her to achieve. I can ask her to do something and she has forgotten by the time she makes it up the stairs. She also happens to be very creative (common for those who get distracted). She can turn a rock and two coins into something to play with for extended periods of time.  I remember myself, playing with two pennies on the design of my grandparent's kitchen floor.  When nothing else is around, 5 sticks can turn into a family of characters with different personalities.  Because of this creative characteristic, anything can be distracting.  Everything you see can be something to play with, something to create, or an adventure waiting to happen.  

The interesting side of this is that she does just fine at school. Although her teacher has many teaching tools and visuals on the walls, Adelyn is able to focus on her work and get it done within the designated work period. Without her toys and things in front of her and only her brown table area, she does great.  Her teacher suggested the idea that perhaps when she gets home after a very structured school day, she just feels the need to unwind and have the freedom to do at her own pace.  That sounds accurate to me.  

So how do we deal with this "distractedness" in the mean time?  Well, it has taken some work. 

These 6 things have helped drastically.  
1. Music/chanting the task to be done

                           Teaching the chant

     Doing it on her own and getting excited about it!

As I mentioned, sometimes my daughter forgets what she is suppose to be doing by the time she reaches the top of the stairs or the entrance to her room becoming absorbed with all of the inviting distractions around her. We recently have tried a fun way to keep her focused on the current task using music/rhythm.  

The following steps have helped us to put this idea in place.

  1. I chant the task/tasks that must be done.
  2. Repeat them 4-5 times.
  3. Have her chant with me 3 times
  4. Send her off! 

If you are doing a set of tasks you can chant all three in the sequence in which you want them to be performed.  Use only a few words per task. Start out by explaining each one and then pick one or two words when chanting. Think Dora the Explorer when the map told her where she needed to go. 

For example:
Take off your shoes
Pick out a snack
Sit down at the table

Chant (and clap for extra reinforcement:
Pick Snack

2.  A timer

This is a great visual to help understand the concept of time.  Children need something concrete. The red shows how much time she has left.  She has become good at telling a difference between a lot of red and a little bit of red.  You can set it to beep when time is up if you desire.  This helps us a lot during dinner when her talking is taking the place of eating.  We definitely encourage conversation at the table, but she needs this timer to keep her eye on and that really helps her balance it out. 

3. A BIG clock at EYE LEVEL

I hung this big clock right at eye level and in a place where Adelyn walks by frequently.  This is definitely helping with her telling time skills. I show her the big hand and what number it is going to be on when her time is up.  Works like the red timer, but it is working towards helping her tell time.  

I HIGHLY recommend getting an analog clock for your kids.  It teaches about telling time, gives a concrete visual understanding of time and has an impact on planning and spatial awareness.  When I think about planning my day, I see the clock in my head and schedule events in my mind by each number. Planning is very visual for me.  

4. Counting

"You have 10 seconds to get your hair wet.  You have 10 seconds to open up the shampoo, squeeze it out and put it in your hair.  You have 10 seconds to rinse it out."  

I was amazed at how quickly she got finished showering when we tried this method.  I used a very enthusiastic and encouraging voice when I said the above words.  Adelyn got pumped up and she counted to 10 while she did each part.  We were finished in about 3-5 minutes total instead of 15-20.  What a change!

5.  A picture routine  

Our brains process images and color faster than words.  Words take more conscious thought. We have to process what each letter stands for, what it sounds like, put all of the sounds together to make a word, and then process what the word means. Pictures win. 

It is even better to have a schedule with REAL pictures from your house.  I am in the process of making her one with her own stuff. I think that will help her process the pictures even faster.  With these clip art pictures, she still has to generalize those to her own things. 

As they learn to read, it is good to increase vocabulary and spelling words by having the routine written out.  Since our 3rd baby was born, my husband has impressed me, helping out a lot with the routine reminders.  He made this list above. 

6. Rewards!!

The first step to increasing any behavior is rewarding the behavior. Help children want to work to improving on task skills.  
This gives them something 
  1. concrete to see and therefor can
  2. track their own progress,
  3. take initiative to reaching the goal,
  4. and build self esteem in the whole process. 

Adults work for rewards whether we realize that or not.  I was delighted when I came to this realization in college during the time we worked on self direction projects.  Woo hoo, ice cream for me! The reward of a clean room is sometimes motivating enough for an adult (and sometimes that was me for a while).  For children, that is too abstract.  They need a concrete tracking system and reward that they can see with their own eyes and feel with their own hands. 

We have three different lines they can earn stars on. When they reach the end, they get to pick from our prize box (full of consumables for the most part).  They can also LOSE stars.

We divide the day in half. They can earn one per morning in each category and one per afternoon/night.

Respect- top line of the chart.  Includes kind words, gentle hands, personal space, honesty, helping others, taking care of someone else's things.

Chores- middle line of the chart.  Includes regular house chores, some daily, some weekly.

Responsibilities- bottom line of the chart.  Includes homework, packing for school, taking care of pets, scout homework, piano practice, getting prepared for sports.

 *In order for reward charts to be successful, parents themselves must be consistent.  I  totally know it is hard....I have caught myself having to hand out stickers for the previous two days plus the current day.  Pick a consistent time to do it every day. We do it after dinner. On crazy nights it is before they go to bed while I am still trying to hold my eyelids open. 

Also, hand out the stickers in a designated amount of time that works for each child.  Maybe it is at the end of each day or maybe at noon and the end of the day. As soon as they reach the end of the row show them to the prize box!

To sum it up:
These six things have put some fun back into our after-school routine, allowing tasks to get done, arguing to diminish, and enjoyment of being together to take place. Most of the time.  I did raise my voice pretty loud yesterday. It is better though, with these new methods in place. Patience and gentleness are two virtues that have challenged me during this journey with our daughter.  I am still learning.  Whether it is now or in the future, there will be things about me that will drive her crazy and require her to learn that same patience and gentleness with me.  It's all part of that beautiful family community.  My heart's delight and the people I gladly get to journey with every day, flaws and all.  

Monday, January 11, 2016

Easy Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Part I

Part II

A fun song we probably all remember from growing up, used to teach us movement and our body parts is Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.  Kids often enjoy this one with all of the movements and the gradual increase in tempo that is sometimes included. Adults...maybe not so much with all of the bending over.  Who is still that flexible?? The only issue with this version is that when teaching it to toddlers for the first time, or anyone with a speech/motor delay, it must be taught at a very slow tempo. 

When my oldest child was a toddler, we attended Library Story Time here at one of the public libraries. Our wonderful librarian, Yanira, taught us this song instead to the tune of Frere Jacque.  This version is wonderful because it focuses on only two body parts with one move with a repeat before moving on to the next two.  In the other version, four parts were introduced and the only part that was repeated was knees and toes. The tempo is also much slower in this new version.  Definitely works well for anyone who takes  more time to process speech.  

Our baby sure smiles when we sing to him.  At 4 months he seems to remember melodies which he shows by smiling big on the songs we do frequently.  When introducing a new song, he still smiles, but he looks as if he is doing more listening to process the new song. I did not realize the video was in two parts until posting so I have the song split up in to Part 1 and Part II. Hope many more can enjoy this one!