One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my two sensory sensitive children, is the importance of inner peace, or what we like to call, “calming our insides down”. For my little family, this lesson wasn’t just good for our overall health, it was also essential to my children’s functioning.
Two of my four children were born with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which is a neurological disorder that interferes with the brain’s ability to effectively process sensory information. The sensory organs take in information from the environment, but the brain doesn’t understand what to do with the messages it receives.
I explain it to others as how one feels walking into a packed mall during the Christmas season: too many people, too much noise, so many different smells…and that’s how my sensory-sensitive kids live every day. Living with SPD causes tremendous stress and anxiety so teaching my children how to calm themselves down was the main goal of each day.
I prefer more natural, holistic approaches to helping my children cope with SPD, especially since each of them is affected in different ways and required different calming methods to help their bodies feel more organized, ‘safe’ and ready to start their day. For me, even though it was strongly suggested from the outset, putting a preschooler on anti-anxiety or anti-depressants was not an option.
Aside from the specific exercises tools each of them needed, there were basic things I made sure to do with both of them. Allow me to share a few of these ways I kept our insides calm in our house.
Breathe. Any of us who practices yoga understands the importance of paying close attention to our breathing. It’s much more than feeding our brains and bodies with oxygen-rich blood to rejuvenate and regenerate. It also helps to calm us and helps us to refocus when the world becomes too overwhelming.
We used deep breathing practices when either of them starts to feel anxiety levels rise because once it boils over, it’s too late. Reminders to breathe in and out to a slow count of three for a few moments can help calm the child enough so they’ll talk about what’s wrong.
Feelings have names. All young children can have difficulty relating to their feelings. If they don’t understand what a feeling means or where it came from, they aren’t going to be able to express it to us. If we teach children to describe what their bodies are doing or going through when they experience a certain emotion, they’ll learn not only to name that feeling, they’ll also be able to recognize how their bodies react to certain situations or experiences. And this is an invaluable lesson for SPD children whose emotions can change almost minute by minute due to the level of their sensory sensitivity.
Voices are beautiful. Let’s face it, children’s first reaction to things most of the time is physical. It’s easier, faster and gets instant results, even if they are bad results. Unfortunately, adults also act before taking the time to talk things out and that’s where a lot of children learn such behavior.
Teaching a child to use their voice instead of physical reactions to work through problems is important for their future relationships and interactions. SPD children are physically reactive by nature so teaching them to use their beautiful voices to communicate first will help them to resolve issues (personally or with others) more peacefully. After all, we can’t make things feel better for them if they don’t verbalize what’s upsetting them.
Do activities that calm. In our house, we had a box filled to the brim with different sorts of arts and crafts they kids can choose from to ease anxiety. Things such as puzzles, coloring, bead crafts, Lego, board books or, even, PlayDoh are all simple but fun activities children can use to exert energy as well as help to refocus their attention and get some necessary vestibular and proprioceptive input. PlayDoh was popular in our house because I made it with KoolAid to not only tap into the color (visual) but smell (olfactory) on top of being able to squeeze, roll or punch frustrations out (vestibular and proprioceptive), tell stories while manipulating the Doh or even use it as a tool through which to interact with others.
The most important thing I learned in teaching these things to my children was that I, and all those around them, needed to keep my insides calmer too. After all, I wouldn’t be helping them much if I didn’t ease my own stress and anxiety in an appropriate manner.
On days when I forgot to practice what I preached, my kids were always kind enough to say, “Mama breathe and use your beautiful voice to tell me what’s wrong so we can help you feel better.”
What do you do to keep your insides calm?