TIPS FOR TIMES OF TRANSITION
As a follow up to Raising Resilience's CONNECTIONS CAFE: Parenting Through Change session, we reached out to local occupational therapist and recent Connections Cafe presenter, Lucia Lara. In this post, Lucia offers her perspective and shares suggestions from her colleagues to help families with young and/or neurodiverse children as they transition back to school and activities.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Whether excited or hesitant about the return to in-person learning or social activities, some children might face more challenges when routines change. Anxious feelings come from not knowing what to expect. While some kids might be excited about change, they might not understand the new rules related to Covid. It is important to remind them that although the rules are different, that’s OK. They are there to keep us safe and healthy.
· Social stories, originally designed to help students with autism, can be used as simple but powerful tool to help children cope with anxious feelings and prepare for different scenarios. These short “cartoons” with descriptions are easy to understand and follow and give children tools that help them know what to do.
Here are some examples of social stories (https://www.autismresourcecentral.org/social-stories-for-young-and-old-on-covid-19/) from HMEA’s Autism Resource Central. You can easily research other ones online that best fit your situation and your child’s needs (just type “social stories” into your browser).
· Visual schedules that you can find on the Internet, make yourself or, better yet, with your child, can be reassuring and offer some predictability. If allowed, a small “special something” from home, like a small stuffed animal or a fidget – might also offer a sense of comfort in a new situation.
· “What’s the same? And what’s different?” Playing this game could be helpful in preparation for the big change but also while going through it. When kids come back from school or other new activities – you can play the game again and ask how the changes make your child feel. Then, be sure to validate those feelings.
It is worth keeping in mind that sometimes, the issue we anticipated would bother our child ends up being easy for them. Take this opportunity to recognize their resilience and tune in when they are ready to express their feelings about other troubles that are on their mind.
Keep it Playful
Whether excited or stressed out, some children might not be able to articulate their feelings. It is important to observe their behavior and offer choices to help them calm down and organize their nervous system. Here are some strategies that are both fun and can help support self-regulation:
· Mouth games: use a long straw or tubing and soap to make a “bubble mountain” or create a cotton ball obstacle course on the floor and have your child blow through a straw to promote deep breathing. If appropriate, chewing gum or sucking pudding or yogurt through a straw is also enjoyable and organizing for the nervous system.
· Heavy work and outdoor play: between transitions or focused activities, offer a dose of playground whole-body play (i.e. try wheelbarrow or crab walking races) to provide ample proprioceptive input that supports self-regulation and is sure to elevate moods. Having a dance party after school or at the end of the day, can also help get the wiggles out or set a calmer tone for the evening – depending on the choice of music and your intentions.
· Texture play: offer play dough or putty exploration to help with focus and big emotions. If your child enjoys it, encourage them to help prepare snacks with different textures – ants on a log, pretzel rods dipped hummus, etc. Let their imagination guide them during a playful multisensory break.
Keep Things Simple and Enjoyable
Try not to start too many new experiences around the time of transition. Ease back into it slowly so that there is not too much change at one time. Maybe plan for easy dinners – so that is not an area of battle after school or other new activities? Even if you have to eat pizza for a few days in a row - that’s OK. Try to prioritize sleep and dinnertime. Make this an enjoyable winddown routine to talk about “What’s the same? And what’s different?” Whenever going through a challenging period, aim to simplify and focus on connection to keep things easy on the kids AND on yourself.
Reintegration Anxiety Signs and Interventions
In our Parenting Through Change CONNECTIONS CAFE session, Raising Resilience board member, Wandee Pryor, PsyD from Front Street Clinic presented an overview of how reintegration (or re-entry) anxiety may present in youth who are returning to in-person classrooms. Here are signs and interventions to help you recognize and manage the impact:
• Somatic Symptoms o Stomach Aches o Headaches
- Pain Issues (not medically explained)
- Changes to Sleep/Eating
• School Refusal
• Separation Anxiety/Extreme Clinginess
• Sleep/Appetite Disruptions
• Irritability (feels chronic)
• Lack of Pleasure/Interest in Things They Used to Appreciate
• Issues with Concentration
• Avoidance of Self Care
• Sleep/Appetite Disruptions
HOW TO INTERVENE
• Be patient
• Check in with kids/teens
• Validate/normalize what kids are feeling
• Use relaxation/mindfulness skills
• Practice slowing down expectations and working gradually on building exposure
• Focus on things w/in one’s control
• Generate joy - engage in tasks that allow for play, creativity, or mastery
• Keep all kids and especially teens socially connected in whatever ways work for your family
• Keep up routines
• Keep up traditions/weekly connections between parents and kids
For more on what to expect and how to support children – from Kindergarten through high school - during reintegration, watch the recent Connections Cafe: Parenting through Change session with Raising Resilience’s board members, Wendy Pryor, PsyD and Stephanie Dalton, CHC, CNC, AADP.
We are Raising Resilience Together
If you found this information helpful, please be sure to share it with family, friends, teachers or neighbors so that more youth and families can have tools to thrive.