What a crazy past two years this has been for everyone! With all of this unpredictability and change, your child may be experiencing some big feelings at home. If this is the case, we are here to help! Below, you can find some tips on how to empathize with your child during feelings of frustration, anger or sadness. These moments can be very challenging for primary caregivers and other caretakers, especially when additional stressors are present. Experts from the field of Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry have provided essential information to help us support both young children and adolescents through heightened emotions. These tips are short, simple and straightforward!
Our sensory system is how we experience the world around us, and when we have difficulty processing one or more of these senses, our daily experiences can be hugely impacted. Children also use their senses to take in the world around them and learn new skills, whether through watching a bubble float by with their eyes, feeling gooey slime squish between their fingers, or tasting that delicious piece of cake with their tongue. While some of the senses are better known, there are others that are “hidden,” but equally as important in your child’s development. Some children have difficulty processing sensory information and producing a response that is appropriate, which can be seen through a variety of challenges in completing important daily activities. Understanding what our senses do for functioning is the first step in improving our ability to process them!
What is interoception?
It is likely that you learned about the “five senses” sometime early in your life: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. These senses help you initially interact with the world around you and are important in helping you participate in everyday activities as an infant and young child. As you got older, you may have learned of the next two senses that are not as obvious but still very important to daily functioning: the proprioceptive and vestibular sense. Proprioception is the sense that identifies the position of your body in space with the use of receptors in your joints and muscles, and the vestibular sense helps us with movement, balance, and controlling our posture.
Interoception is the eighth sense we have; it is often called the “hidden sense” because it is not something we can see, but what we feel on the inside of our bodies. Imagine it is 2:00 in the afternoon and you have not eaten since 7:00 in the morning. Your stomach starts to make a growling noise. That is your interoceptive system working to let you know that you are hungry and that your body needs food to maintain a balanced state. When responding appropriately, you would recognize that sound and feeling to mean hunger, and you may go to the kitchen and get a snack.
Our interoceptive sense allows us to feel important body functions like hunger, pain, nausea, itch, needing to use the bathroom, coldness, and even emotional states such as nervousness, fear, or excitement. This sense uses internal signals that tell us how our body is feeling and can give clues to how we can respond to restore balance and find a place of comfort. Our bodies want to feel regulated, and how we get there may be different for everyone.
What does it look like when a child has difficulty with the interoceptive sense?
When the interoceptive sense is not processed appropriately, your child may have difficulty understanding what the signals inside of his/her body are trying to communicate and then will have difficulty responding appropriately to these messages.
Generally, this means challenges with:
- Bedwetting, constipation, and frequent accidents
- Identifying appropriate ways to dress for the weather/temperature
- Not being able to identify hunger, thirst, sickness, pain
- Self-regulation, self-awareness, and emotional outbursts
- Having flexible thoughts and behaviors
- Social skills and participation
Self-regulation, or the ability to monitor and manage your emotions and behaviors, is a vastly important aspect to consider with your child who may be struggling with interoception. For example, your child may not be able to feel or recognize getting angry; that is, a faster heartbeat, the face getting hot, or muscles tensing. Your child will then have difficulty identifying that these feelings mean anger, possibly not even until the emotion has already produced an inappropriate response. Without understanding and being aware of how these body sensations are making us feel, it will be difficult to identify the emotion being experienced and react in a way that is appropriate.
How can occupational therapists address interoception skills in children?
As daily occupations (i.e. using the bathroom, dressing for the weather, interacting with friends) are often affected by our understanding of our internal body sense, occupational therapists have a role in working with children who may have difficulty with the interoceptive sense. Occupational therapists (OTs) at PlayWorks follow guidelines from the Interoception Curriculum, a program designed by Kelly Mahler, a licensed occupational therapist and expert in interoception.
Using a step-by-step framework, OTs work to improve awareness of sensations within the body by introducing body experiments and body checks. These activities seek to improve your child’s understanding of how his/her body feels and can enable him/her to respond appropriately to improve participation in daily activities. Following this curriculum, OTs may also use a visual representation of the body to aid in recognizing and understanding body signs. This can be accomplished by using a visual drawing of a person with different body parts, combined with a list of different sensations or describing words. This will enable your child to practice matching the descriptor words to different body parts to increase understanding and connection of internal body cues and daily activities.
What can I do to support interoception in my child?
While interoception should be addressed in therapy, you can also support these challenges while at home. It will be helpful to start labeling body language as you notice it during different activities. For example, you can say, “I see that your breathing is getting heavy and your face has become a little red. I think you might be feeling angry.” This may help to link specific body language to emotions that they are feeling.
Additionally, you can try out some mindfulness activities, such as meditation, yoga, or reading a book centered around being mindful. While doing so, you can point out or ask how their body is feeling when they are doing these different activities to bring awareness to internal body cues. While this may be a challenging sense to understand for some children, there are many ways we can work with you and your child to increase his/her knowledge and recognition of these cues to improve participation in daily activities!
Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s interoceptive sense, please contact us at email@example.com or 773-332-9439.
Occupational Therapy Student Intern
Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System (2016). Retrieved from https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/b303b5_ab07aaedc04c45b3a96e519fc262ecd1.pdf
Mahler, K., McLaughlin, E., & Anson, D. (2020). Interoception Across Varying Degrees of Mental Wellness. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74(4_Supplement_1), 7411505251p1-7411505251p1. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2020.74S1-PO9513
Photo Credit: Ketit Subiyanto via https://www.pexels.com
Picture this: You’ve had a long day at work, reprimanded by your boss and had a disagreement with that one co-worker who always gets under your skin. All you can think of is how much you want to get home! You already have in mind exactly what will help you let the stress of the day go.
Children and Stress
Although our children do not have bosses or coworkers, they do experience daily stress and share your feelings of wanting time to relax. The only thing is, they often do not know exactly what will help them de-stress and calm down in the moment. You can help your child by having a conversation about quiet activities they enjoy and items or experiences that make them feel better when they are upset. Discussing and practicing their calming strategies while they are feeling happy and relaxed will be important so your child knows how to use them during frustrating moments. Below are ideas to get you and your child started with their own relaxation routine.
Calming Ideas for Children
- Calm Down Corner
- Different from a time-out spot, the calm down corner is a place your child can go when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. It can be any spot around the house that they always have access to and can leave set up. Encourage your child to put blankets, pillows, and anything comfortable to cuddle with. Let them know that this is their special spot they can come to whenever they need a break.
- Deep Breaths
- Deep breaths are a great tool for calming because once your child masters them at home, they can use them anywhere! Together with your child, practice taking three to five slow, controlled breaths. You can prompt your child to pretend their body is balloon and to watch their midsection fill up while they inhale, and see it deflate while they exhale. Modeling with your own body is a great way to show them exactly how their air should move and sound when they breathe.
- When introduced and practiced safely, yoga can be a great outlet for stress reduction in children. Find more specific therapeutic and beneficial yoga poses here- http://playworkschi.wpengine.com/5-therapeutic-yoga-poses-benefits-child/
- Calm down kit
- The calm down kit is a bucket or bin full of items and pictures that is easily accessible to your child when they are feeling upset. It might include crayons and paper, something to squeeze, play-doh, snacks, bubbles, stickers, a book, and/or a feelings chart. You can also fill it with pictures of any of the ideas above!
What else can I do?
If your child is demonstrating continued difficulty calming themselves at home, consider contacting our office, as our social workers can provide your family with helpful tools and supports to help your child move from angry, sad, and/or scared back to the loving, happy child you know them to be.
Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-332-9439.
As an increasing number of adults explore the practice and benefits of mindfulness, you may begin to wonder if this technique can benefit kids as well.
The simple answer?
But how do we teach our kids to practice mindfulness in a way that is both age-appropriate and effective? Let’s start by reviewing what mindfulness is, and then take a look at some tips for teaching mindfulness to kids.
Mindfulness: What is it and why is it helpful?
Mindfulness is most often defined as one’s personal awareness of present feelings, thoughts, experiences, and environment. It is a mental state in which a person becomes purposefully conscious of what is happening both inside and outside of his/her body at any given moment. This state of awareness involves acceptance and is free from judgment. Mindfulness is the practice of recognizing what is happening right now, without labeling thoughts as “right” or “wrong” and without trying to change anything. Numerous studies find the benefits of mindfulness to include a decrease in stress, depression, and anxiety as well as an increase in focus, attention, and self-regulation. Performing a mindfulness exercise will not only bring about a sense of calm in one specific moment but will also better prepare your body and mind to react more calmly in future moments of stress. With regular practice, mindfulness can eventually lead to improved coping skills and an overall increased sense of daily contentment.
Tips for teaching mindfulness to kids
- Model mindfulness
- As a parent, you are your child’s best teacher! By committing to the practice of mindfulness yourself, you will not only help your child to learn these new skills, you will also begin to feel the benefits within your own life.
- Practice mindful breathing
- One of the best ways to begin exploring mindfulness (for adults and children) is to practice mindful breathing. Find a quiet space to sit with your child and take a few moments to just pay attention to your breath. Set an expectation that together you will take five big breaths and you will both try very hard to pay attention only to those breaths. Help bring your child’s awareness to his/her breathing with questions such as: Where can you feel it? Does it make any sound? What parts of your body move when you breathe?
- Take a mindful walk
- Just as with the breathing exercise, it will be helpful to set expectations before taking part in this practice. Tell your child you will take a walk together and during this walk you are going to pay close attention to what you see, what you hear, and what you feel. You can even turn this into a game to make it more fun: “Let’s see how many birds we hear while we are walking today!”To help your child focus during this practice, talk as you walk: “What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel?”It is also helpful to draw your child’s attention specifically to things you notice. “I hear a dog barking. I feel the wind blowing on my arms. I see three ants walking on the sidewalk.” As you walk, try not to linger too much on any particular feeling or sensation. Identify what you notice, pause, and then move on.
- Stay simple
- Be sure to practice mindfulness at a level appropriate for your individual child. Young children will benefit from language that is more familiar than “mindful” or “conscious.” Instead you can use words such as “listen,” “look,” or “notice.” The focus of this practice is not on the specific language used but on the awareness in a particular moment. Start with simple words and as your child grows (in both age and mindfulness knowledge) you can start to add in more complex language.
- Make mindfulness part of your routine
- Set aside a set amount of time each day to practice mindfulness with your child. You can start by setting the goal to practice mindfulness for 5 minutes each day—adding this time before or after something that is already part of your daily routine. Perhaps mindfulness can become part of your bedtime routine, or maybe it is something you can try every day before dinner. Remember: mindfulness is not just a tool to be used in times of stress. It is most beneficial when incorporated regularly throughout your family’s daily routine. Practice until it becomes habit!
Check out this website (Guided Meditation for Children) for some freeguided meditations for children and more information on mindfulness!
Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your mindfulness or your child’s development, please contact us at email@example.com or 773-332-9439.
Stephanie Wroblewski, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Reference: Wedge, M. (2018, September 18). 7 Ways Mindfulness can Help Children’s Brains. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/
Photo Credit: khamkhor via pixabay.com
It is never a fun moment when your child’s teacher calls, informing you that your child bit a classmate. Or what about when your child bites you or their siblings? Biting is a stressful experience for everyone involved. Let’s discuss why it may happen and what can be done to prevent it.
Is biting normal?
While not every child will bite, it is a very common behavior in toddlers. Biting usually stops by three or three-and-a-half. However, just because it is a normal stage of development does not mean it is an acceptable behavior. In order to try to prevent age-appropriate biting, we first need to try to understand what may trigger it.
Why is my child biting?
Toddlers are experiencing so many new feelings, both physically and emotionally, during this time in their development. These changes could lead to feeling the need to bite. Understanding why your child may be biting may help you support them from biting.
- Teething – This can be a painful process, especially getting those two-year-old molars, and sometimes clenching their teeth on something (or someone) helps relieve the tension they are feeling in their mouths.
- Sensory needs – Our bodies seek out what it needs in many different ways. Some children’s mouths need more stimulation to feel “awake” or regulated. Their bodies may also need more large muscle activities, such as running, climbing, and jumping to release that tension and energy they are releasing with their jaws.
- Big emotions – Have you ever been so excited or angry that your clench your jaw or fists? Luckily you have the inhibition skills to avoid biting those around you in those moments. Toddlers are learning about a lot of new feelings and how they make their body feel. Sharing, tiredness, fear, and overstimulation are really tough to navigate when you’re just learning and can be overwhelming. Toddlers are also learning to be more independent from their caregivers and recognizing that things they want may not be what the people around them want for them. That causes frustration that may lead to biting too.
- Few words – Toddlers are also learning language skills. Often times their communication skills are not developing as fast as the large emotions mentioned earlier. Biting can be an effective way to get a point across when they do not have the words to do so. You may see more biting in children who have a language delay.
What can I do?
- Do some detective work – Are there any patterns to your child’s behavior? Do they tend to bite before lunch/nap time? Is it when other children encroach on their personal space? Have there been recent changes to their regular routine or family dynamics? By noting when biting happens most often, it may prompt you to give extra support during those times, such as offering a snack, making naptime a little earlier in the day, or having two of the same item to assist with sharing.
- Offer an alternative – If your child is biting due to teething or sensory input, redirect them to a chewy tube or teething ring. Sometimes a wet washcloth kept in the refrigerator or freezer offers a soothing sensation to chew on for sensitive gums.
- Model appropriate language – As mentioned before, sometimes biting gets a message across faster than words can come out. Help teach your child the power of words by modeling language they can use. For example, “I need space!” “Move, please” “My turn!” Encourage them to ask for help from an adult if their words are not enough with their peers.
- Read books – There are many children’s book about biting, such as Teeth are not for Bitingby Elizabeth Verdick. Reading together can provide the opportunity to talk through situations without the intense emotions of the moment.
- Reinforce expectations – Remind your child that, no, biting is not allowed. Be firm, but try to not to express anger. You want your child to know that you do not approve of the behavior, but that you still love them. Remember to replace the unwanted behavior with the preferred behavior. Example: “Ouch! It is not okay to bite. Biting hurts. You can bite this teether instead, but you may not bite your friends.”
- Wash, rinse, repeat – Children learn through repetition. They may not remember to stop biting after the first time you redirect them. Or the fifth. Like learning any new skill, it takes time, practice, and patience. Remember that children’s inhibition skills are still developing until age four, even if they know what they are doing is wrong. And to be honest, some of us adults are still mastering avoiding the things we know are not good for us!
Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s biting, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-332-9439.
Becky Clark, MS, DT
Reference:Zero to Three. (2016, February 22). Toddlers and biting: finding the right response. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/232-toddlers-and-biting-finding-the-right-response.
Lieberman, A. F. (1995). The emotional life of the toddler. New York: Free Press.
Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay