Here are the top 10 tips I have given to parents in 2014. May they be helpful to you also!
Tip #1: Remember that every child has a purpose and a gift to give. Regardless of a child's IQ or skill based "achievements", each child has a gift to give. We are each designed with purpose and for purpose. Helping a child discover his or her gift is quite a gift in and of itself.
Tip #2: Understanding basic principles of sensory processing and utilizing positive sensory processing strategies can help ALL kids, but those strategies are essential to some. Learning how a child takes in information best is helpful for all children, but to those that struggle, knowing how that child takes in information best can make all the difference in the world. Providing enriching environments is helpful to all children, but providing enriching supports to those who struggle can make the difference between sitting in a classroom and learning in a classroom.
Tip #3: Sensory processing difficulty and anxiety go hand in hand. If in doubt, begin by responding to the anxiety the child is feeling and then develop a positive plan for progress. Most children who experience sensory processing difficulty also have some level of anxiety that they deal with on a regular basis. It is stressful when your body is not working in coordination and it feels as if your body is often working against you and not for you. Having compassion toward the child and recognizing the anxiety is often the first step to a positive plan for tomorrow.
Tip #4: For positive results, we must REPLACE negative behavior with a "better way." Our goals is not simply to make an undesirable behavior go away, for it may go away and morph into something much uglier than the first behavior that wasn't our favorite. Our goals is to replace that first behavior that is not our favorite with a better way. We need to identify what we want to see the child doing instead and then we know what we need to TEACH. When problem behaviors crop up in development, identify them and make a plan to replace them with a better way.
Tip #5: If we spend time really looking at and building a person's repertoire of liked things, we are not only giving ourselves "carrots" to encourage hard work, but we are building toward a happier, more productive future that is not overshadowed by anxiety and depression. Working to help expand a person's list of favorite things is one of the best gifts you can give them. When we have a nice variety of liked things, we have more than one thing to look forward to tomorrow. When we like many things, we have more natural rewards. When we like many things, we are more likely to have something in common with a new potential friend. Do you see a pattern? Liking a variety of things enhances the day because the day has the potential to be more rewarding. Liking a variety of things also increases the potential for internal motivation toward progress to happen more naturally because our interest is hooked.
Tip #6: The child will use the best tool in his Behavioral Backpack to respond to a given situation. If we want to see a better response to a given situation, we must TEACH a better tool! Each of us uses the best tool in our Behavioral Backpack to respond to the situations we encounter each day. There are times when we get through a tough situation only to look back and think of better ways that we could have responded in the situation. The problem? When we get stressed, anxious, or angry, we tend to revert back to "old" ways of doing things and we forget that we know a better way. The same is true with kids. We must teach them tools that they can use in tough situations and we must give them enough modeling and practice time that those tools are solidly available in their Behavioral Backpack and available when tough situations arise.
Tip #7: Core strengthening and midline crossing exercises are always a good idea and support healthy sensory processing skill development. If you are not consistently engaging in these activities, start today! This one is pretty self explanatory - strengthening and midline crossing skills will help advance a person's processing and skill development. Period. You will notice that exercise science already has this secret in the bag and they are doing their best to get the word out! Look no farther than Zumba, Tae Bo, Tae Kwon Do, Crossfit, Jazzercise, or Boot Camp to see that there are two things all of this exercise instruction has in common: core strengthening and midline crossing. What is true for adults is doubly true for kids -- get started today!
Tip #8: Create a WIN-WIN situation. Identify the plan that positively accomplishes what both parties in the situation need. When there is a plan for positive forward progress for your child and it is designed in a way that is doable and functional for you, your child, and your family....that's a WIN-WIN! Make no mistake, WIN-WIN solutions don't just happen, they are purposefully designed and put in place. Don't wait for a positive, proactive, healthy plan to fall in your lap because you will be waiting TOO LONG for it will not just magically happen. Jump up, form the team of smart people that you need (sometimes this is just high-fiving your smart self in the mirror!) and get your groove on to start planning for a better tomorrow. Don't settle for "good enough." Keep stepping forward toward a plan where everybody wins.
Tip #9: Turn on the LOVE for your child. LOVE BIG. Be "all in." Start looking for the best thing about your child and you will end up finding many. Do you love your child? Absolutely! Most parents I meet love their children more than anything in the world! Are you acting in love? Sometimes love is a decision. A decision to put love into action. There will come a time in your child's life when feeling love for them is not enough. There will be a day when you and your child run headlong into a barrier. On that day, love the feeling is too wimpy for the battle. On that day, you must pull out the big guns and turn on love the action in a big way. You won't feel like working hard to fight for a better tomorrow. You won't feel like making one-on-one time to invest in your child every day, but you know what? There is simply no medicine that is as powerful as your love in action. There is no therapist more effective than your love in action. Your commitment to be "all in" and supporting your child toward a better tomorrow is one of the biggest gifts that can ever be given. It's worth it because the journey to giving this big gift will shape and change you too. The coolest thing? When you choose to start looking for the great things about your child...you won't just find one, you will find many. You have precious treasure at your house.
Tip #10: Create positive sensory opportunities for enrichment in order to support a child in discovering the joy of learning. Just as you would never force-feed a child food, I strongly caution against force-feeding sensory activities. Think about this: I can push you to clean out a pumpkin or eat the stringy innards, but does that build a great memory that you want to repeat? Does it truly encourage you to do it again? When you force-feed sensory (in most situations) activities, it is the equivalent to handing a child (and yourself) a piece of tin foil and chomping down on it -- painful for both of you! And, it doesn't set up a positive reinforced learning track in the brain. Your goal is to create positive sensory opportunities and experiences that will build into confidence and develop a natural foundational belief in that child that learning is fun and feels good.