In a few short days, COVID-19 changed families’ way of living with crisis. As mothers we might feel overwhelmed with the change and need support, but what about our children? They seem to cope alright with change, however, children manifest their feelings at different and sometimes in explosive ways. Already as an overwhelmed mother, taking a course on crisis parenting may not be an option- we’re here to help!
Guest author, Joelle Ainsley, is a mother to eleven children, six of which were adopted through their state foster care system. Many of her adopted children suffer from a variety of struggles as a result of their difficult backgrounds; many of whom are diagnosed with a range of autism spectrum and sensory processing disorders.
Joelle has a master’s degree in Public Administration and a bachelor’s degree in Human Services. She understands more than most how to think outside the box to help several different children cope with their emotions during a crisis. Joelle has graciously agreed to share her wealth of knowledge with us in a series of articles. Today, Joelle is sharing her family’s top tips to helping their kids cope with a crisis in all shapes and forms.
Healthy Coping Skills & Calming Activities
Healthy coping skills are beneficial for all ages and abilities. There are numerous techniques that can assist children and adults when emotions are high and reasonable solutions seem out of reach. In our family, we have multiple meltdowns and angry emotions displayed daily. We have children that struggle to adequately function and interact with others, due to past trauma and current disabilities, which often involve overwhelming behavioral and emotional problems. Many of our children experience impulse control issues, literal thinking, suffer from sensory processing disorders, unhealthy attachment styles and anger issues on top of A-typical kid behaviors. Children have difficulty learning when they are outside their “Window of Tolerance” (Gill,2017).
Through years of front line experience, we have learned a variety of coping skills that work best with our children. Here are the 11 most effective ways we help our children cope with crisis situations.
1. Deep Breathing Exercises:
- This can be taught online (there are numerous videos, make sure you find one that fits your child’s age and ability). Educate your child onto the proper way to Deep Breathe and they can use this anytime they feel worried, anxious or angry. We have our children deep breathe on a yoga mat or a child-size yoga ball.
2. Kids Yoga:
- There are many fun family yoga videos that help children direct negative energy into something positive. I have tried a few and my favorite ones are produced by GAIAM. They are themed with outer space or dinosaur adventures and simple to follow along. Jodi Komitor is the instructor in “Yoga for Kids”. These DVDs are found on Amazon for under $20 and are focused on children ages 5 and up. There are multiple authors and styles to choose from. Find one that suits your child’s needs and let them discover new methods of mindfulness that will help them relax and have fun.
3. Calming Jars:
- These are so much fun to make and can help children relax when emotions seem out of control. Calming jars may be personalized with watercolor, a variety of glitter additives, and specialty glitter shapes. Found a kit you can buy on Amazon here. Our children love to watch them while listening to their favorite music (typically one without lyrics) to help promote mindfulness and process their anxiety or anger issues. Calming jars are easily portable making them a great tool at home or traveling in a car. Below is the website we used, there are numerous ones to choose from.
4. Sensory Play-dough:
- Many children love the time they spend making and playing with play-dough. Our children are no exception! This is an easy project that requires minimal ingredients and time. The gelatin provides great elasticity and the smell of the various flavors makes playtime more engaging as children work through difficult emotions. The recipe we use requires no cooking and makes up in minutes. The dough stores for a couple of weeks in plastic zip bags. Below is the recipe we used, there is a wide variety choose one that works best for your family and enjoy creative family fun!
5. Kinetic Sand
- Use essential oils to make this experience one your child can feel, see and smell! This is a favorite among our children with a variety of grit textures and colors. Simple cookie cutters and plastic utensils make this play project fun and entertaining while the child uses this time to calmly process their emotions. We found many different kids on Amazon here.
6. Butterfly Hugs
- Butterfly hugs are something our children learned while attending counseling. Basically it is a self hug and while the child’s arms are crossed over the front of the body, they slowly tap their shoulders with their fingers while alternating hands. It is a simple movement that is intended to stimulate both sides of the brain. This method is used to help process trauma or associated feelings such as fear or anxiety (often felt by children in crisis situations) A few minutes of this process should help a child quickly calm down.
7. Weighted Blankets
- Weighted blankets are becoming increasingly popular and can be found at retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart, and Amazon. They are meant to help a child feel safe and secure by adding pressure to the muscles. Be advised that not every child tolerates this method and the weighted blanket should NOT exceed 10% of the child’s total body weight. For example, a child weighing 60 pounds should use a 6-pound blanket.
- Pets can be little miracle workers for children of all ages. We have two golden retrievers who are very intuitive to our children’s needs. They are fairly tolerant of loud or even explosive behaviors and work to gently calm our children when they are struggling with challenging emotions and behaviors
9. Calm Music
- Our children love music! We listen to music during family contributions, getting our wiggles out (make sure your phone camera is ready…these moments are priceless. ), exercising or calming down from the latest melt-down. We use a variety of tunes; however, in our experience calming a child using soft, slow instrumental is best. Music provides a pleasant and encompassing distraction allowing a child to separate from stressful situations. Some of our children’s favorite genres include: instrumental, religious, Disney tunes, nursery and lullabies. Long bouts of sleep often follow as an added bonus.
10. Essential Oils
- Essential oils have incredible healing properties and should be used after proper education and careful consideration. We are fairly new to using oils and I am still learning. There are many brands of essential oils as there are opinions on how to use them. After trying some brands, I decided to purchase my oils through Butterfly Express. For the record, I do not personally work for this organization or sponsor any of their products- I’m just a fan!
- What I love about Butterfly Express is the Idaho based, operated by a mother/daughter company dedicated to sharing their knowledge of oils. They offer free online courses and sell samples of their oils for next to nothing. I’ve have had an amazing experience with them.
- HOW we use oils: We use essential oils in a variety of ways: in the bath, on favorite plush animals, on the skin (mixed with carrier oils such as coconut, almond, grape seed or olive) and diffused through the air. I have never ingested essential oils and would not promote that without the approval of your healthcare provider.
11. Child Directed Special Time
- This is a favorite activity among our children. “Special Time” is offered every other day in our home. This privilege does not have to be earned and is given in fifteen-minute intervals to a specific child. Because we have six children at home. My husband and I split up and do our best to spend quality time with three kids each day. This time is child-centered and they direct the play or activity. We have shared some interesting moments as we spent time connecting with our little people.
- My youngest son came up to me, stared right into my eyes and started blinking a slow consistent blink. A bit confused I asked, “Are we playing a game?” He looked at me and laughed, “NO!” I looked at him even more perplexed and asked, “Okay, what are you doing?” With the biggest grin on his face he said, “I’m taking your picture so I can make a memory!”
- Making positive memories especially in times of crisis is vital to our children’s well-being. I learned a valuable lesson from my little guy that day…time connecting with him was not only meaningful and fun for him; it was valuable for me and for our entire family. Take the time to connect and “play” with your children. It will be worth every moment! For more information the How, I know Mommy Convos has an article and printable that work wonderfully with this technique- I’ll share here.
Believe me, when I say, my family and I understand (maybe better than most) chaos and crisis situations. Our adopted children have taught us to be flexible and think outside the box. My hope in sharing this article is to share some strategies and skills that have worked for us to help maintain some order in our home. Please be aware that not all tactics work with every child; some require a new approach each day while other and some mornings a few of us wish we never got out of bed! Whatever your feelings are, know they are real and valid. This is a tough situation for every family! Please use the above ideas to inspire a plan that will work for your family, instill feelings of peace and calm the chaos.
What a privilege and blessing this has been for me to share this information with you! It is my sincere desire that you will remain strong and courageous through this uncertain, even frightening time. Focus on what you know to be true. Reach out and utilize all available resources and personal support systems. Above all love your family, stay focused, faithful and pray that the Lord will direct your paths. Thank you so much for your daily sacrifice as you love, teach and direct your little ones…YOU are the inspiration to the world as you work to bolster the foundation of our future generations!
Love, Health and Best Wishes,
For an entire list of educational resources, the Mommy Convos team put an amazing list together for you. Head here to check it out!